Why Bixi Bikes Are A Bad Deal

Posted on Mar 29, 2012
As a long time proponent of cyclocommuting, I was very excited about Bixi Bikes coming to Toronto. The prospect of having automated bike rental kiosks available in my home city made me even more excited to visit this spring. I'd heard about the $5/24 hr access fee and envisioned myself being able to take a carefree ride around my old neighbourhood on a bixi bike for a couple of hours.

Unfortunately, the 24 hour access fee only covers short trips of less than 30 minutes, and the fee structure is particularly punishing if you want to take a bike out for a couple of hours.

1 hour 22 minutes trip$5 (system access fees) + $1.50 + $4.00 = $10.50
1 hour 50 minutes trip$5 (system access fees) + $1.50 + $4.00 + $8.00 = $18.50
2 hour 5 minutes trip$5 (system access fees) + $1.50 + $4.00 + $8.00 + $8.00 = $26.50
4 hour 5 minutes trip$5 (system access fees) + $1.50 + $4.00 + $8.00 + $8.00 + $8.00 + $8.00 + $8.00 + $8.00 = $58.50

The idea behind the Bixi Bikes price structure is to encourage users to make short trips between stations, essentially treating the bikes like other forms of transit. The bike racks are also placed in strategic locations in the downtown core and are especially clustered around main TTC transfer points, making them well-suited to trips including mixed forms of transportation.

For tourists, however, Bixi bikes are a disaster. For example, if a tourist wanted to use a bike for an afternoon of exploring Toronto's excellent trail system, a 1/2 day Bixi Bike rental would land them with a $70 bill. A full day rate is basically on par with renting a limo for a day! And it only gets scarier as you read the details about liability for theft and damage - the user terminal wrongly makes it seem like your $250 deposit would cover any eventuality, but it does not.

Additionally, I'm surprised to see that there is no attempt at internationalization for the fee terminal. I can't imagine trying to decipher the bizarre fee structure if I couldn't read English fluently. I also can't imagine that a system which started in Montreal doesn't at least have a French translation.

It seems clear that the intended use for the system is day-to-day cyclocommuting, but when I was biking to work in Toronto on a daily basis, I never would have considered Bixi. Why would I pay a hundred dollars a year (and potentially expensive overage fees) to ride a crappy beach cruiser around town and be constantly worried about how long it's been since I left the station? By owning my own bike I was able to ride something nice, adjust it how I wanted, and make door to door trips without any hassle.

Still, as Bixi approaches it's one year anniversary in Toronto, the system seems to have had some success. According to the City of Toronto's website, BIXI Toronto has reached a 1/2 million bike trips since it was launched on May 3, 2011.

Number of Toronto BIXI Bike trips to date*496,477
Number of BIXI subscribers4,445
Number of new casual users40,715
*Data from March 26, 2012

The raw number of trips probably gives an inflated impression of usage, as a single day of commuting and running a few errands might add up to several "trips". It is also likely that there is a novelty factor included in the first year - how many people tried it just once? Still, it seems hard to deny that the system is working for some people, which is great.

My hope is that prospective cyclocommuters don't try Bixi and decide biking is not for them. I also hope that Bixi eventually makes itself accessible to tourists. Finally, I hope Toronto city council is considering Bixi as only a small sliver of it's overall plan to make Toronto more bike-friendly.

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Mike at Chance Cove, NL - photo by Angelina Friskney, http://angelinafriskney.com