Friday, July 3, 2009

The best public bike system in the world?

Adam Cooper, Canadian, on why Canada's BiXi is the best public bike system in the world

Watch out world, the city of Montreal is on the move: this time powered by pedals. The second largest city in Canada is now home to North America’s largest bike sharing program. The BIXI system (Bicycle + Taxi) is Canada’s first attempt at large scale bike sharing; and from my initial experiences I will say it is extremely well done, maybe even the best in the world.

Beginning in the summer of 2008, Stationnement de Montreal, the City’s parking authority, was mandated to design, build, operate and maintain a bike sharing system, by the Montreal City Council. Less than one year later (May 12, 2009) the BIXI program was up and running. Operated by a non-profit company (the Public Bike System Co.), BIXI provides 3000 Canadian designed and manufactured bicycles at 300 stations located across the core of Montreal.

There is no doubt that the BIXI system is a pioneer and that Montreal has raised the bar on bike sharing. BIXI utilizes the latest in technological advances to improve on bicycle sharing systems found around the world, featuring; wireless data transfers, solar powered docking stations and a touch screen interface based on the parking authority’s highly reliable pay terminals. BIXI bikes are fully aluminum and very comfortable to ride, featuring; integrated LED lighting in the frame, an internalized chain, adjustable seat height and proprietary parts to reduce the risk of theft. Additionally, BIXI engineers believe they have developed a better locking mechanism than exists on the market today, addressing many of the concerns currently coming out of Velib in Paris.


Not only do these advanced technologies make the system appealing in terms of their sustainability aspects, they also reduce the cost of installation; no data or power connections are required, meaning stations can be placed anywhere in the city and be up and running in approximately 30 minutes. This adds tremendous value to the BIXI system when comparing against existing bike share systems which require construction crews to dig up the street. This one change presents a real value for the BIXI system, as construction of stations in other programs such as Velib, can take up to one month.

Further adding to the BIXI appeal is the mobility and scalability of the system. The stations are modular, operating on a “plug and play” style of connection, with many options for station configuration (the only thing they can’t do is perfect circles). What this means is that program operators can adjust the location and capacity of the stations after the program has launched. The system can be reconfigured for large public events and stations not functioning at their maximum utility can be expanded or contracted to meet the supply and demand constraints.

Although BIXI is still in its infancy, there is no doubt in my mind that this technology will be exported to other cities in Canada and around the world. For the current BIXI subscribers this adds further value to the $78 annual membership fee, as their BIXI key will allow them access any BIXI system worldwide. The attempt by the Public Bike System Co. is to build a community around bike sharing where members can access BIXI in any city they travel to. Further adding to the community aspect of the technology is the fact that users can log into a website and track the number of kilometers they have travelled, the amount of gasoline they have saved and the amount of CO2 they have offset by choosing to cycle

If any of this sounds interesting to you, then get a hold of BIXI who will deliver the system, scaled to your needs in a turnkey fashion. The not for profit nature of the company means they are willing to work side by side with your community to develop a bike sharing system that fits your needs. Finally, public bicycles are actually public. The option to deliver a high quality 3rd (4th?) generation public bicycle system to your community, free from advertising and corporate interests finally exists. Vive la velorution!
- Adam is an M.A. Planning Candidate and Research Assistant at the TREK Program Centre of the University of British Colombia. He is working on a thesis on public bikes and is participating in the World Eyes on the Street peer network and watchout.

For more on BiXi:
BiXi Home page
BiXi Montreal
Bixi-Velo Facebook
Wikipedia. on Bixi
Article: Number 19 on Time Magazine Best Inventions of 2008
PriceTags on BiXi

Print this article