Vancouver bike sharing program faces speedbump

Vancouver’s bike sharing program has already hit a speed bump – and there aren’t even bikes on the ground yet.

Bixi, the Montreal-based supplier of bikes for the plan, has filed for bankruptcy, according to the Vancouver Sun. Under a a $6-million initiative approved by the city last July, Bixi was to have supplied the city with 1,500 shareable bikes. Rental logistics and back-end support for the plan were to be provided by Bixi’s American partner, Alta.

But Bixi’s bankruptcy filings, initiated after the city of Montreal demanded repayment of a $37-million loan, threaten to put another snag in Vancouver’s bike-sharing dreams. Shareable bikes were originally due to hit the streets in early 2014, but the city had already delayed the launch because Alta and Bixi were unable to provide a solid business plan.

There is good news, however.  While Bixi was among the first successful bike-share companies, many others now operate across Canada and the U.S.  (There’s even a Richmond-based company in our own backyard that supplies bike-share hardware for cities as diverse as Miami Beach and Sao Paulo.)

If Bixi is unable to get back on its feet, Vancouver has other bike suppliers it can choose from and, more importantly, hasn’t signed any kind of agreement locking it into Bixi’s services.

In total, some 500 cities around the world now have bike-sharing programs, where public bicycles can be rented for urban trips of short duration, according to the Globe and Mail. Paris was the first city to introduce shared bikes in 2007.

For Vancouver, the dream of bike sharing has been a long time coming. The first calls for a program began more than five years ago.  Laws requiring all bike riders to wear helmets posed a major hurdle.  But that was cleared when planners came up with the idea of installing dispensers to rent helmets next to bike stations.

The city had planned to unveil the first batch of 250 7-speed bikes docked at 25 solar-powered stations as early as this winter or spring, much to the delight of Vancouver cyclists and tourists.  It’s now unclear when the program will get off the ground.

Photo credit: Alex Pope | Flickr


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