If you’ve been at least semi-conscious for the past week and a half, you’ll have gotten your fill of buzz around Bixi, the city’s new shared-bike scheme. Perhaps you’ve already taken one out for an under-30-minute spin. Whether sold, confused or afraid to commit, Torontonians continue to ask questions about how—and why—Bixi operates the way it does. Montreal-based Bixi spokesman, Michel Philibert, offers some answers.
Thirty minutes seems so short for a bike ride! Why can’t I take the bike out for at least an hour?
It’s a bike-sharing system, not a rental system. If we all take one hour, we will have no bikes to share. Think of it like a cab. You take it for short trips to get from point A to point B, not to “discover” Toronto.
So, Bixis aren’t geared to tourists?
They’re geared to Torontonians and tourists—tourists who want to explore the downtown core [Bixi] station by station, not to take a bike for the afternoon.
Black doesn’t seem like the safest colour for a bike…
Each city can choose the colour they like. In Montreal and London, they’re grey. In Minneapolis they’re yellow. Toronto chose black. It’s very sleek and beautiful. Someone in Montreal asked me, “Why are the bikes of Montreal grey? Why not black like Toronto?” [Laughing.] We will not paint 5,000 bikes.
Will people clean and maintain the Bixis?
Cleaning and maintenance of the bikes will be handled by The Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF), an organization that provides employment and skills training to vulnerable individuals. So this is another social cause for Bixi.
What have you learned from establishing Bixi in other cities?
Every time we go to a city we improve the bike and the quality of service. In London, they wanted to modify the basket and rack, so we did that, and now Toronto has a sturdier, more convenient rack. In Minneapolis, they wanted to have customer service 24/7, so now we have that in Toronto.
There’s been a lot of talk about Bixi’s incompatibility with helmets. How will you manage safety in a city where helmets aren’t mandated?
We encourage wearing a helmet, even if it’s not a city by-law. On the pay station and in every document we send to subscribers we suggest wearing a helmet and give advice on how to choose and adjust a helmet. But when people are biking, they are their own person. If we tell people to be careful, in the long-term we will increase security. It’s the third year of operation in Montreal and we see more and more people riding Bixis with a helmet.
But have you tried incorporating helmets?
No. It’s not possible for three reasons: we can’t guarantee the integrity of the helmet; to protect well, a helmet has to be [individually] sized; and hygiene. On a sweaty day, if you’re the 14th person who rents the bike and helmet, well…
Who is liable for damages to the bike?
It depends on the situation. We understand that accidents can arise. If you have an accident or a flat, of course, you will not be responsible for that.
But how could you know what had happened?
We have the experience. We are able to have an opinion on that. If you [cause damage] on purpose, it’s not the same question.
What if someone steals my Bixi and never comes back?
We’ll do a police report and we’ll understand.
Was there ever talk of buying insurance with Bixi?
It’s not a possibility. In three years [in Montreal], theft has never happened.
Are people using Bixis late at night, like after midnight?
Yes. In Montreal, we observe a lot of people using Bixis to get home from the bar.
So people are drinking and riding?
We cannot make this connection. Maybe they didn’t drink a lot, or maybe they didn’t drink at all, or maybe they drank and made a judgment. It’s like people who leave bars and take their cars. Some are drunk and some are not.
Who’s your target demographic?
In Montreal, the main clientele is between 25 and 35, but we also have important categories of people who are younger or older. This week, a man came to me and said, “I’m your oldest member.” And I said, “maybe not.”
Do bike owners use Bixis?
We have a strong percentage of people who have their own bikes. What they told us is that, when they go for a long ride, they do it on the weekend, but for short trips during the week they use Bixi. It’s an advantage because the bike will not get stolen.
Do you think Bixi can lead a bike revolution?
I think bike-sharing is another way to do your daily trips. It will relatively increase the number of trips in the downtown core of Toronto. In Montreal last year, the people made 3,300,000 trips in 7 months. The first year it was 1.1 million and this year it increased by 40 per cent. If Bixi continues year after year and becomes part of people’s habits, then maybe it will be a kind of revolution.