Bikesharing coming soon

I was just about to call the City to find out what happened, when I found out that bikesharing is coming to Toronto, again. Toronto is looking for a partner to offer a bikesharing system by next year. The Request for Expressions Of Interest (REOI) was put out late last week to find companies interested in creating a system of 3000 public bikes.

I'm quite impressed with the thought that's gone into the requirements. They seem to have carefully studied other systems such as Paris' Velib and Montreal's Bixi. There will be "secure, automated self-serve parking stations" that can be easily moved. Members will use smart cards to get bikes, which they can take out for free for the first half hour. After that members pay. The bikes will be sturdy, with racks, at least three gears, and locked up at the stations located every 200 to 300m in the urban area bounded by Parkside, Broadview, Dupont and Lake Ontario. There will not be any advertising in the "public right of way". After the first year the system may be expanded to other parts of the city.

It appears that Astral Media has rejected the first offer to provide a public bike system supported through advertising. Astral Media was supposedly offered a first right of refusal because the understanding was that the public bikes were street furniture which required advertising.

After Bikeshare closed down 3 years ago, there's been talk of re-starting bikesharing, including a forum that invited various public bike providers, and a visit from Bixi to show off their bikes. By being one of the presenters at the forum, I figure that only a handful of companies can meet the requirements, including JCDecaux, SmartBikes and Bixi. I bet that Bixi will have a definite head-start, since Montreal's system is already designed to deal with North American weather and Toronto's requirement that it be self-funded through membership fees.

I think the City is finally taking serious the idea of bikes as public transportation.


On the whole, this looks like a good first step. Some things I particularly like are:

I) Unlike Bixi, it runs year-round. From the REOI:

"The scheme will be a 24 hour operation 365 days per year, but with the possibility of a reduced operating model during the winter."

It would be great if, as part of the contract, the City was contractually obliged to clear the bike lanes of snow to a performance standard spelled out in the contract. That would be a big win.

Of course, the devil is in the details. See below for concerns.

II) The mandated bike looks good. Front and rear racks, chainguard, full fenders, internal hub gears (at least three speed), dynamo light, etc. This is the sort of bike that I would buy for myself.

III) The distance between stations is 200-300 metres. As Paris demonstrated, it is essential to have close spacing.

Some concerns that I have:

i) Only 3,000 bikes for the proposed service area may not be enough.

ii) How will they ensure that there is a bicycle at each station where one is demanded? And an open spot wherever someone wants to drop a bike?

iii) Winter operation. If "reduced operating model" means "shut down in all but name" then that is not so good.

iv) How will it be priced for the users? It must be affordable, but the REOI explicitly denies public subsidy or advertising in the public right-of-way. How will it be financed?

I'll do mi best to answer in english!
First I agree with Kevin that the path should be cleared for the winter cyclist, hope that more user will extend the service, also for security bike-road in the city.

It's a good test, 3 000 bikes, actually their are no other city in north America that go with a project as big as this one. The project is also a bit more expensive then other city in Europe but it is Quebec prove and it's the most develop project at this point on the planet. BIXI his finance by Stationnement de Montréal, responsible of parking in the street in Montreal. The project is in a way support by parking fees.

I personally think that people how ride in winter are usually people that have their own bike, I also think that winter is something ruff on the bike and that decrease the time life and that may be a reason why the take the decision to do it between November to April.

I'd be seriously impressed if the system operated throughout the winter - there are many adverse factors besides the cold, like: slush, wind, lack of bare roads, lack of daylight, plus the damage salt does to a bike.

With that in mind I think the down time could be limited to December 15 to Mar. 15

Would the city be libel if an inexperienced (or even experienced) rider were to take a nasty spill in the winter on one of these bikes? Seems likely, as I doubt those bikes will be sporting any form of a winter tire.

Copenhagen is a lot further North than Toronto and gets no shortage of snow in winter. Yet the bicycle mode share in winter is still over 1/3 of all trips. They just clear the bike lanes promptly after a snowfall. There were 12+ cm snowfalls in Copenhagen last winter, and the bike lanes were promptly cleared, gritted and ready for the next morning's rush hour.

Bicycles only work as a serious transport mode if they are reliable 12 months of the year. The City has to do its part to make sure the roads are suitable.

Yes, the salt does a lot of damage to bikes. It does a lot more damage to cars. Yet I don't hear of too many car users that stop using cars every November. Before I got my Pashley, I rode my Schwinn through 30 salt-filled winters. It still works fine.

One thing to remember...

In Denmark they pay excessive personal income taxes - and do so willingly. Not the case in North America, Canada, Ontario or Toronto. No matter how many right-wingers think of and call Mayor Miller a 'commie' behind his back, we will never ever reach their kind of cultural dedication to the common good.

The score:
Taxpayers (who willingly elected two successive Harris and McGuinty governments) = 1
Cyclists of Toronto, Ontario, Canada = 0

PS: Denmark also has beer in school cafeterias and porno in outdoor vending machines, so you get what you pay for...

it would be nice to have a share system that also is tied into a website which allows the users of the bike share program to have an open forum like this one.. where we could help to grow the bike culture for recreational and commutters... and give direct feedback to the true needs of toronto's cyclists... share a bike & share your feedback...

I prefer Yellow Bikes. They have soul.

Copenhagen: Avg. Winter temp +2C / annual snow accumulation N/A
*Dec - Mar total precipitation (snow & rain) was 19.0cm in 2006-07

Toronto: Avg. Winter temp. -6C / annual snow accumulation 144cm

  • accumulation: meaning it didn't melt away in less than a few hours

I'd like to ride in Copenhagen too, but you can't compare it to Toronto in the winter. I rode in -22C this year into a 35km wind, I'll bet that doesn't happen too much in Copenhagen; which might be why 36% of its citizens commute by bike.

PS - My cables are good for max 2 winters, my chain 1 winter, my gears 2 winters. I easily spend 80% of my bike fixin' money on winter riding. How does your Pashley hold up?

Agreed. A juiced up, better funded yellow bike system. They gave toronto some character.

Although no two cities are alike, last winter in Copenhagen featured weather that we are quite familiar with in Toronto. Sustained below-zero temperatures froze hard the lakes and canals so that in Denmark and northern Holland there were ice-skating races on the canals. There were several 12+ cm snowfalls and considerable accumulation of snow.

What was different was the reaction of the City government to cycling. One person in Copenhagen wrote about a snowfall like this:

"It's been snowing for a few days now...

The bike lane snowploughs have been working overtime. You can hear them drone past late at night and they continue through the day. A fleet of small tractors are assisting them in keeping the bike lanes clear and salted."


If you want REALLY nasty weather, last winter in Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland was rather dire. Yet bicycle mode share remained above 20%. Why? Fully-segregated bicycle infrastructure that was promptly cleared of snow. There are Scandinavian cities above the Arctic Circle that have fairly high bicycle mode shares.

All these cities can provide valuable benchmarks from which Toronto can learn. Yet I rather like Copenhagen. I've been there, my wife speaks Danish and it has a Toronto "feel" about it. This is what Toronto can be like.

Or, for really far North, take a look at what someone has to say about cycling in Trondheim at:

Trondheim has a bike share program!

There is no such thing as bad weather - only bad infrastructure badly maintained to deal with it.

I got my Pashley in January, so have not been through a complete winter with it. It is designed to be low maintenance with completely enclosed chainguard, internal hub gearing, internal hub brakes, etc.

Before that, my Schwinn experienced 30 years of salt-filled winters, and I did a fair amount of maintenance on it. But the cost was a fraction of what I would have paid for winter maintenance on a car.

Great insight, Thanks Kevin

How did Copenhagen get 36% of its citizens to commute? I'm relatively sure that the case could be made to implement and maintain cycling infrastructure in Toronto if cycling had the same profile here as it does in Copenhagen; of course, the 50% + personal income tax needs to be recgnized when we compare municipal services and infrastructure.

Maybe the city could clear the proposed Bike Lanes on Jarvis (if that goes ahead?) in the same manner as they did the MGT this past winter – to see how this might work.

It just can't be done. The yellow bikeshare program only really worked on a much smaller scale. It wasn't particularly automated and used recycled bikes. I don't think there'd be enough used bikes out there that could be outfitted with one speed coaster brakes. They wouldn't be particularly durable compared to Montreal Bixi system.

The yellow bikes had character and were individualized, but I don't think it would scale well. It wouldn't be any cheaper than the more efficient Bixi system.

In the early 1970's, Copenhagen was a car-centric city. With the 1973 oil shock, the government made a deliberate decision to wean off oil for transport.

The way they did it was to provide infrastructure that made cycling safe, convenient and the fastest way of getting around the city.

This included fully-segregated bicycle lanes, protection through intersections and serious restrictions on where one can drive and park cars. And promptly clearing the cycle paths in winter.

With regards to the tax comments, providing cycle infrastructure is far cheaper than providing car infrastructure. Copenhagen saved and is saving a bundle of cash by having 36% of the population commute by bike.

I highly recommend the excellent blog at:

"Astral Media has rejected the first offer to provide a public bike system supported through advertising. Astral Media was supposedly offered a first right of refusal because the understanding was that the public bikes were street furniture which required advertising."

They were determined to be street furniture, especially the rack systems that would be necessary. HOwever your assertions that the public bikes were street furniture which required advertising is incorrect and implies a negative connotation. No street furniture requires advertising.

It will be an unlikely situation that sees a public bike system that does not advertise in some manner. I'd like to see such a system, I wonder if Astral decided not to supply Toronto with thousands of public bicycles because people advocating to have bicycles such as this spurned the opportunity that was presented and promised to fight any effort to have these bicycles.

That was the way the articles by these advocates looked to me. Given a leg up at any price it sure seems that some activist would rather chew the leg off. That Puritan attitude is a surefire way to block new initiatives and programs as many such programs are now funded by private agencies.

The City made a deal with Astral Media. They would provide some street furniture and in return would get the right to advertising space on bus shelters, etc. In the legal agreement any new street furniture which was going to be funded through advertising needed to be offered to Astral first, for the duration of the contract. Councillor Heaps assumed that a public bike system would require advertising to be financially sustainable, thus the legal department told him it had to be offered to Astral first.

Since the City is now offering a public tender with no advertising it seems that either Astral Media rejected to enter a proposal, or the City changed its mind and left advertising off so they wouldn't have to give it to Astral first.

The issue was not just about advertising pollution, but also that it was being offered to a company that had no previous experience in public bike systems. It's inefficient and could actually hinder public transportation. The City, instead, has chosen the better route by leaving advertising out of the equation altogether. If Montreal can create a financially sustainable public bike system without advertising then so can Toronto. (Though Montreal has a bit of advertising revenue from their stations but it's really a pittance compared to the total costs). So if you want to see your "unlikely situation" look at Montreal.

One anecdotal example in Montreal doesn't stand against the sea of services now provided by agencies funded in part or in whole by advertising.

As for the legal agreement, Astral has the contract for all new street furniture, and this was determined to qualify as street furniture. Whether or not it has advertising on it doesn't change anything about Astral getting a stab at it first.

"o Sponsorship on the bicycles, website and other media, but no advertising may be placed on sidewalks and boulevards within the City of Toronto street right-of-way"

How do you believe that sponsorship in this manner is anything other than advertising? Clearly there will be ads in the form of sponsor information & promotion on the bikes, website, promotional materials, the cards used to access and very likely in other places as well. Even the system in Montreal sports some advertising, this REOI allows for more than that. If acknowledging the support of the sponsor is allowed, and it would be, then what you would probably call an "ad" will be present on the station, right there in the public right of way.

The city is not offering a public tender with no advertising, sponsorships are acknowledged and promoted by the recipient program and the sponsor, not just the sponsor. It's a form of advertising. The REOI makes no such statement of "no advertising", just no direct advertising, ads sold as ads, in the public right of way. That's a lot of room left for plenty of advertising.

As for having experience in public bike systems, well, if that is actually a part of this REOI it is in a white font. It cannot be a requirement as there would be no need for an REOI or subsequent RFP. If that were any part of the City's thinking they could just ask all of the companies with experience in deploying public bike systems as there are very, very few such companies. Any corporation could deduce from observation of and consultation with existing programs, to suggest that Astral would be a danger to the public for lack of experience in deploying public bike systems is ridiculous. With such reasoning I presume we will be in danger, since it is just as likely that the company that works hard enough to get this proposed project will have little to no experience as well.

I don't believe Councillor Heaps assumed anything. You do though. Astral would only turn away this arrangement if it appeared to them a losing proposition being a corporation with the same aims as most corporations. If public perception were a part of their decision they would have weighed that in terms of demand, growth, etc with the program's ability to draw advertisers, revenue and drawn a conclusion based on that.

If they did look around, I'm sure they would not have failed to notice that the most outspoken critics of their involvement in providing thousands of public bicycles were cycling advocates in Toronto.

Fact is, Toronto is unlikely to spend the amounts necessary for such a piece of infrastructure without a partner, and all the likely partners are those that pursue profits successfully. There isn't a readily visible benefactor, an agency that would provide six figure funding without hope of returns. If you know of one, pitch them the idea, have them put in on that REOI.

Considering that the largest funding sponsor of Bixi in Montreal is a UK mining concern. If you'd like more information you can contact their media relations department. Yes, the ad people.

Montreal came about their program the same way Toronto would like to. If only we would let it happen.

I've been stunned, or rather boggled by the constant pronouncements of Montreal's soulfully clean Bixi program. Everyone keeps saying that Stationnement de Montréal is taking care of all that. The parking authority has a mandate to create, install and manage the program. That is legwork, people, they are boots on the ground nothing more nothing less.

The program is financed by Rio Tinto Alcan, one of five such concerns owned by Rio Tinto. Rio Tinto Alcan specializes in Aluminum, Bauxite and related. Rio Tinto in it's other forms also mines gold, diamonds, copper, zinc, you name it, they can dig it out of mother earth for you at any cost.

They don't want their name up in lights, can you guess why now? Every major concern that has critics among you gives large amounts of money to the sort of fund that pays for programs like this one in Montreal.

Personally, I'd rather ride a bike with an honest ad on it, maybe for Honest Ed's.

But more than that, I want the bikes, when given the option of having them, or not having them. The money isn't any more or less evil for being spent on something good, so have something good.

Copenhagen is a breeze, easy as pie compared to Toronto, which is also much larger. Perhaps if we had a similar program we could keep the area bordered by Bloor, Spadina, Sherbourne and Front St, ideal for cycling in the winter, but I doubt it.

The minimal accumulations there coupled with the higher temperatures over a shorter time span and over a smaller land area make these troubles much, much, much simpler for Copenhagen than for Toronto.

That's not to say that we can't do it, just that we should expect to have to devote far more resources, much more with regard to snow, and that currently the city has little incentive. What percentage of Torontonians commute by bike in the winter? How many live within such an area that we would be able to clear consistently, in the downtown area?I believe that 36% is an idealized average as well, human nature tells us they see less than that number commuting by bike in the winter, certainly far less in the falling snow.

It's good to take successful ideas from other municipalities, but Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Portland etc, all the darlings that we're supposed to emulate are hovering at or below a million people. It's not apples and oranges, more like apples and frozen cantaloupes.

Toronto also pours prodigious amounts of salt compared the Copenhagen. A bike that saw 30 years of these salt filled winters in Copenhagen wasn't ridden everyday with any less than 1/2 hour cleaning each day, and it wouldn't make it being ridden everyday in Toronto, unless it were just a block or two and recieved that 1/2 cleaning each day. I think you are overstating on those points. It's good to encourage people but unrealistic is still unrealistic.

To say the weather is comparable is like saying that the winters in Missouri are comparable to Toronto winters. Lots of things can be compared, but to what end?

I've always had better luck facing problems realistically.

So essentially the Bixi program is entirely a paid advertisement for Aluminum, bought by a mining company as a form of hush money that helps it operate where & how it needs to. The mining company is financing the program 100%, even donating the Aluminum to make the actual bicycles.

I'd rather recycled aluminum, but donated is cheaper than recycled.

The Bixi VP told me that only a minor portion of their funds will be from their sponsor. In theory they don't need any sponsors or advertising. Bixi chose to take on an "evil" sponsor which is unfortunate, and they decided to allow Astral to put ads on their stations, but these revenues will be relatively minor compared to the funds from member fees. To me that means if Toronto wanted to run it without any advertising it's possible. I'd guess that with a slight increase in the yearly member fees they'd be able to make up for the shortfall.

I don't believe that Toronto will reject sponsorship or advertising - just not on the public right of way. I'm willing to live with it. But I strongly felt that public transportation should not be dictated by the needs of advertising. At the most advertising is an add-on. (The same goes for websites).

I don't think you are any more privy to the details of the Astral Media street furniture contract than I am. All I have to go on is what Jonathan Goldsbie was able to dig up ( We know from his research the City can contract to other companies for street furniture if it doesn't have advertising. Jonathan quotes the contract in the Eye article. But perhaps you have access to the Astral street furniture contract that might contradict this. If you do, Johan, I'd be interested in seeing it. But from your comments I don't think you do, you just like to talk loudly.

Councillor Heaps assumed that a) bikesharing was the same as street furniture (only makes sense if you never actually ride the bikes), and b) any bikesharing program would require advertising (even though Bixi has some advertising and sponsors, I think they'd still be able to function without either).

By the way, no one said that "experience" was part of the REOI. I'm not sure where you're getting that from. I was merely stating the issue I personally had with the City giving Astral first right of refusal on shaky legal grounds when Astral hasn't implemented any other system out there. The whole point is now that the City is doing an REOI the best candidates will come forward.

It may be hush money, but you completely fabricated that Rio Tinto is providing 100% fo the financing. All that's been said is they'll provide some funding and provide the aluminum for the bikes. If you've got evidence to the contrary we'd all like to see it.

Advertising sucks especially on public domain.
Read No-Logo and get a perspective on the issue if you haven't already.

Toronto's winters are WAY more tough than Copenhagen's.

"Copenhagen: Avg. Winter temp +2C / annual snow accumulation N/A
*Dec - Mar total precipitation (snow & rain) was 19.0cm in 2006-07

Toronto: Avg. Winter temp. -6C / annual snow accumulation 144cm"

Great statistic that debunks all the comparisons to Copenhagen -> Toronto in the winter.
(Not to mention climate change is making our winters colder and giving us higher amounts of precipitation each year.)

Good article Herb, glad to see bikeshare may be happening after that great Doc. at the Revue.

Winter maintenance does not need to be expensive, if the bike is built right. Here's one piece of the puzzle:
Apparently Toronto's public bikes are going to have internal gears and encapsulated drive train. Evidently, also encapsulated gears. Maybe even internal brakes.
That's certainly rough enough for a start.

How do you call those big gloves that are attached to the handlebars and you can wear normal gloves inside?
The Public bikes should have them in winter!