Signs of the Times

Bixi Montreal: Urban Bike Sharing Done Right

If you've spent any time in Montreal in the past year and a half you're already acquainted with Bixi, their innovative and massively successful bike-sharing system. Bixi is short for bicycle taxi, and that's how the system is designed to be used; for five dollars a day (or $78 a year) you can take any of the 3,000 bikes to any of the 400 other stations and leave it there. You can fit in as many of these trips as you want as long as they are all under a half hour; you pay extra for longer borrowing. At first these mini-rentals made no sense to my buy-in-bulk brain, but it's what keeps the bikes in constant circulation so everyone can be using them and none are locked to a fence somewhere.

The online support is incredible. You can check the locations of the most convenient Bixi docks before you leave the house. (Or you can use your terribly clumsy French to frustrate the locals, which is what I usually opt for, 'cause I'm classy like that.)

Bixi keeps track of who is biking where and when, and as a subscriber you can watch the patterns of your own behaviour with your personalized online Bixi Space, which tracks usage time, distance travelled, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and gas saved. That's pretty cool. Also kinda creepy, but definitely in keeping with our information over-sharing culture.

Of course, the availability of the bikes isn't constant at all the stations. At around dusk each day you can see truckloads of bikes being brought back up Mont Royal after everyone took the Metro up and cycled down. You can't help but love how creative you can get with your commuting when you can treat a bike the same as a hop-on hop-off bus.

London are all poised to launch similar Bixi systems in short order, too. How rad is it that there will be Londoners cycling around Camden Town and Chelsea on bikes built in Canada? Hey-O!

Toronto is currently rallying support for their future Bixi-ing (Hey Torontonians, sign up) scheduled for May 2011. Ottawa tried it out last year but with only 50 bikes and 4 stations, they really didn't give it a fair chance. People require convenience, convenience, convenience on their commute, and having four places to bike to doesn't seem realistic. Boston's program stands a better chance at success with their 2,500 bike plan.

As an aside to Vancouver, if you're listening, Montreal has 552 km of two-way urban bike paths and no helmet law. I'm a regular cyclist who detests her helmet but wears it anyway because I know Vancouver drivers don't shoulder-check; I am a firm supporter of the Safety in Numbers hypothesis. Doesn't it make more sense to somehow convince drivers to behave more responsibly than to stick head armour on cyclists? I see serious proof here in Montreal. (More cyclists = drivers and pedestrians watch for cyclists = safer roads = more cyclists . . .)



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