The Bike Share Feasibility Report discussed last week at the Standing Policy Committee (SPC) on Transportation and Transit will go before City Council on Monday, February 6. The motion before council asks the City to prepare a business model and funding strategy for a public bike share program by October this year, and at the same time to report on progress on the implementation of the Comprehensive Cycling Strategy. You can watch the informative discussion at committee here (first part starts at 1:15, second at 2:30)
Bike share is a good idea, and Council should try to make it happen sooner rather than later. This means making sure that dedicated, safe cycling infrastructure is in place throughout the Centre City by the time a public bike share program is rolled out. There is no need to delay investigating a funding plan and business model, if Council also takes a clear stand with Administration that cycling infrastructure downtown is a priority. [more...]
The Bike Calgary Advocacy Committee presented a position letter to the committee which is included in the agenda for Monday’s meeting (attachments 1 and 2 contain the study itself, if you'd like to read it). In short, we offered our support for a public bike share program, conditional on safe cycling infrastructure being implemented before the “roll-out” phase of the program (now planned for 2014). Without safe infrastructure (bike lanes and physically separated cycle tracks, especially through the Downtown core), we fear that a bike share program won’t be as successful as it could be, and it might turn into a tourist-oriented, recreation-only service that’s used on the Bow River pathway and not much elsewhere. That fear may be unfounded -- Toronto also does not have a lot of cycling infrastructure in their downtown and by all accounts their bike share system (launched in Spring 2011) is very successful and slated to be expanded next year. In any event, the Calgary cycling community believes that providing a bike share system without a safe place to ride the bikes is not a good idea. Infrastructure and education are certainly more important measures aimed at making Calgary more bike friendly than a bike share program, but a bike share program has significant potential to contribute to that goal and to expand the reach of the Cycling Strategy to the “interested but concerned” segment of would-be cyclists.
The Cycling Strategy (passed by Council in July and funded in the November budget deliberation) includes as one of its recommendations (action C10) the implementation of a bike lane network in the Centre City (bounded by the Bow and Elbow rivers, 17 Ave SW and 14 St SW). Council instructed the Transportation Department to revise that network plan in consultation with the cycling community to include separated bike lanes. Bike Calgary was involved in that consultation with an online survey conducted in October, an internal planning workshop and two workshops with the City. This resulted in a list of recommendations which we communicated to the Transportation Department in December. If a bike lane network on the basis of these recommendations can be implemented in the next two years, we think a bike share program will be successful.
The question is, will the Transportation Department adopt these recommendations and will they be implemented in time for the bike share program to roll out?
In comments at committee, Don Mulligan, Director of Transportation Planning, conceded that the infrastructure is currently not adequate, but stated that planning is well on its way, and that the staff is there. He also said that compared to 4 years ago, there has been “significant progress” in the Downtown. Commuter cyclists would probably beg to differ: We still have zero dedicated on-road cycling infrastructure in the Downtown core, and in the entire Centre City we only have the bike lane on 11 St and the “floating” bike lane on 10 Ave. So Council will have to make sure that Administration actually puts in the bike lanes, whether or not they pursue plans for a bike share.
Aside from concerns about the lack of safe infrastructure, a number of other arguments have been floated against a public bike share in Calgary. Many of these seem to rest on misconceptions about the purpose of a bike share, and some were addressed by the Transportation Department in the SPC meeting:
“A bike share would not result in taking cars off the road”
The primary purpose of a bike share program is to replace short trips by other means with short trips by bicycle, and as such it wouldn’t significantly reduce commuter trips other than those from people living in the service area. A study from Montreal has been cited in this regard that found that only 2% of Bixi (the Montreal bike share system) trips replaced car trips. However, the study was not a survey of Bixi users; it was aimed at transit users and cyclists and, as a result, significantly under-counted car trips replaced by bike share trips. Surveys of bike share users demonstrate 20-40% of car trips have been replaced by bike share trips (e.g. in Minneapolis and Denver). In addition, cities with bike share program have also seen overall increases in cycling, in part because more people will start to consider riding their own bicycles (bike share use as the “gateway activity” to becoming a transportation cyclist). We’ve consulted with our sister organizations in Ottawa and Toronto, where new bike share programs were launched last year, and they’ve confirmed that that seems to be happening there.
“Shared bikes will just be stolen and vandalized”
Paris’ Vélib’ bike share system had significant problems with theft and vandalism when it was introduced in 2007. However, Paris has been the exception, and of course Paris had a larger problem with disturbances and riots around that time. North American bike share systems haven’t had that problem.
“If it’s free to use, it won’t generate revenue / Why should the city provide free bikes?”
Bike share isn’t free. Users have to purchase a subscription (usually an annual or a daily subscription). Once a user has paid to use the bike share system, they can take out a bike for a short period (usually 30 minutes) for no additional fee. In most cases, the operation of bike shares is additionally funded through sponsorship and advertising on the bikes and docking stations.
“The private sector should provide this; no tax dollars should be used”
Some people like to think of bike share as an extension of public transit, which is funded by a combination of tax dollars and fare revenue. Others think of it more by analogy with a taxi service: a service run by the private sector, but regulated and supported by the City (through the Taxi Commission and by providing road space for taxi stands, for instance). In either case, to be successful, a bike share system requires municipal support, whether that’s building the cycling infrastructure required, providing road or sidewalk space for the docking stations, or simply the political support required for corporate sponsors to buy into the idea. That said, it is possible to start public bike share systems without committing City funds to the capital or operating expenses of the program. In Toronto, for instance, City Council agreed to provide support but no tax dollars, only a loan guarantee, and a bike share system was set up without the city involved in operating the scheme.
“We should just wait and see how it works elsewhere”
There are now upward of 400 public bike share systems of varying sizes operating throughout the world. Just waiting to see what other cities do won’t be enough since of course potential sponsors, geography, layout, climate, traffic patterns, etc. are different in Calgary. Lessons from Ottawa and Toronto, which launched their systems last year and are going to be expanding this year, will be available when the time comes to pick a funding and operating model.
“Calgary’s winters are too long/cold/snowy; a bike share system can’t be used for long enough to make sense”
The current proposals call for closing the bike-share in the winter. That said, we generally see significant ridership levels from May through October. The relatively long spells of warm and dry weather (just as we’re experiencing right now) do mean that cycling is an option in Calgary’s winter -- if not every day then at least some of the time. In Toronto, bike share operates year-round.
If you'd like to let your Alderman know how you feel about a public bike share system, here's how.