Originally published on Torontoist on May 4, 2011.
“Today we are celebrating the introduction of an amazing new piece of cycling infrastructure into our city’s portfolio.” With those words, Toronto Cyclists Union director of advocacy and operations Andrea Garcia gave her blessing to the long–awaited official launch of Bixi Toronto yesterday morning. Despite the rainy conditions, cyclists and media descended upon Gould Street outside the Ryerson Bookstore to witness the arrival of the first batch of sturdy black bicycles.
Out of the 80 stations and 1,000 bikes that will constitute the first wave of Bixi Toronto, 50 stations and 300 bikes were activated for use yesterday. Some subscribers who might have braved the rain for a day one ride were still waiting for their keys to come, but Public Bike System Company official Gian-Carlo Crivello reassured those attending that 1,200 keys were mailed last Wednesday and will arrive soon. Among other tidbits the audience was told about the bike-share program: local employees of sponsor Desjardins are eligible for a 50 per cent discount off an annual membership; co-sponsor Telus will donate one dollar from each annual membership to the Heart and Stroke Foundation; the bikes will be maintained by Mount Dennis-based Learning Enrichment Foundation; and a smartphone application called Spotcycle will allow users to track bike availability at stations. Concerns about theft were dismissed based on the low rate of missing bikes in Montreal, but it was revealed that the bikes won’t be equipped with tracking devices.
Speaking for the City, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East)—who actually voted against the Bixi program during the last term of council—stressed the ease of use, affordable membership cost, and health benefits Bixi Toronto would bring the city, as well as pointing it out as a fine example of a public/private partnership. “For a guy like me who lives in the suburbs and has to drive downtown, you now have an opportunity to take one of these Bixi bikes to a meeting,” he noted. “You can take it to your lunch appointments—if you’re bicycling from point A to point B, it allows you to order something different on the menu because you know that you’re burning off those calories during the lunch period and afterwards.” We await future studies on the effects of Bixi Toronto on the waistlines of downtown workers.
Since media were allowed to test the bikes, we couldn’t resist trying one. We were shown the light pattern to watch out for after inserting the key into the station (flashing yellow, a pause, then green to go), then mounted the bike. After worrying that the seat was raised too high, and using our feet to break during the first awkward pedals, riding quickly became comfortable. As we did 360s in the middle of the intersection of Gould and Victoria, we noticed the bike’s smooth handling and wished we could have wandered off for a typical half-hour trek.
We also discovered how resilient the bikes are. As the crowd thinned, we wandered by a row of a dozen Bixis that weren’t tethered to a docking bay. Suddenly, there was a crashing sound. One inadvertent swing of our backpack caused the row of bikes to tumble like dominoes. They were quickly propped back up without any signs of damage. If the Bixi bikes can survive a clumsy reporter, they should handle Toronto’s roads just fine.
By 2013, the operators of Bixi Toronto were unable to make payments on the loan they took out from the city. The end result was a takeover by the Toronto Parking Authority. In early 2014, the system was rebranded as Bike Share Toronto. The number of stations has spread across the city, with many close to subway stations.
BEHIND THE SCENES
This was one of the first press conferences I covered, and one of the few I asked a question at: would municipal employees be encouraged to use the system with a discount? Minnan-Wong looked completely puzzled.