A plan for saving BIXI Toronto seems to be shaping up. Councillor Minnan-Wong may be on to something with an idea to scrap the expensive self-cleaning toilet contract with Astral Media in exchange for Astral Media paying down BIXI Toronto's outstanding loan. Even Councillor Vaughan thinks it's a good idea. The self-cleaning toilets seemed to be a great idea during Miller's term but it turns out that they aren't nearly as popular as BIXI.
Astral Media made a deal with the City a few years ago, promising to pay for street furniture in exchange for plastering its ads around Toronto. There was a marginal but expensive self-cleaning toilet project that has been having trouble finding locations. Turns out toilets are not as popular as BIXI bikes.
From the Toronto Star
The 20-year Astral contract allows the city to “cash out” of the toilets after 10 years — that is, force Astral to pay the city a certain amount of money in exchange for the right to not build the majestic thrones. Minnan-Wong’s proposal: persuade the company to allow the city to cash out now, four years early, and funnel the proceeds to the Bixi debt.
“It’s an initiative that the details have to be worked out on. But there is a synergy and an interest on everybody’s part,” said Minnan-Wong, a North York conservative. “The public wants to save Bixi. The city wants to save Bixi. The city is not so interested in the toilets. And Astral is willing to help out.”
It seems that the City also got some interest from companies in purchasing or just operating BIXI. The most promising is Alta Bikeshare, which is already operating a number of BIXI Toronto's sister systems, including in New York and Chicago. They are willing to assume the debt servicing but only if they can reduce costs and increase revenues slightly (read increase prices). It's unclear if the City will be pursuing private operators in addition to paying off the debt by scrapping toilets. It might be a good way to clean the slate and let an operator and the City invest in a much needed expansion. We'll find out more today as BIXI goes back to Exec Committee.
Update: The Exec Committee item provides some more details but no mention of the toilet deal.
None of the six respondents to the RFI were of the view that the BIXI Toronto operation could be assumed by a private operator/owner without some level of City subsidy; however there appears that there could be some potential to reduce the City's financial risk, to some extent, through a new arrangement with a private sector firm.
The six respondents:
- Alta Bicycle Share (operates other large BIXI systems and likely has the best chance of running BIXI Toronto in my estimation)
- B-cycle (operates its own bikesharing system in smaller American markets. Would it want to replace BIXI bikes with its own clunky model?)
- CycleHop (site offline but claims to be involved in bikesharing management. small potatoes)
- Four Square Integrated Transportation Planning (has done some bikesharing planning for Capital Bikeshare)
- StartUpNorth (if it's this site, it seems to have no experience with managing such systems)
- Toole Design Group (transportation planning)
The respondents were able to provide some useful comments (p.4):
There was a general consensus among the RFI respondents that bike share programs cannot fund the start-up capital equipment costs through membership and usage fees and sponsorship contributions. Bike share programs generally require some form of funding for the initial capital investment, either through municipal funding, government grants or a large title (i.e. naming rights) sponsorship.
How BIXI Toronto compares to other systems - performing well in some areas, poor in others:
- Has reasonable operating costs;
- Has a low number of members per bicycle compared to other systems;
- Is generating a large number of trips per bicycle;
- Has a cost-recovery, through membership and usage fees, that is generally in line with other comparable systems;
- Appears to have a lower than expected level of sponsorship revenue on a per bike basis; and
- Could increase membership, stimulate usage and generate sponsorship opportunities by expanding the system.
Davis MIrza (not verified)
Dear Toronto City CouncillorsWed, 07/03/2013 - 14:30
Dear Toronto City Councillors and Executive Committee.
Over 1,000,000 riders cannot be wrong!!! That's how many rides BIXI has reached to date and many of us who ride BIXIs bike vote! So we are appalled that some city councillors on the executive committee are lining up behind bike-unfriendly Mayor Ford to scrap our BIXI bikes.
BIXI Toronto operates on a shoestring. One only needs to compare the price tags among public transit options to see how cheaply BIXI provides flexibility to urban transportation, all without any real subsidy. The TTC capital expenses are 100% covered by the public purse. One subway train alone costs around $8.6 million, whch is more than the entire capital cost of the current BIXI Toronto system ($4.8 million).Yet BIXI Toronto has to pay all of its capital expansion costs, with only a small break in interest payments through the loan guarantee.
Toronto has made no bicycle expansion plans since BIXI's launched last year yet ridership has steadily increased even through the winter, where we, as cyclist continued to ride to work and school. Some right wing administrators are reluctant to support an expansion of BIXI.
Denzil Minnan-Wong, the conservative chair of the public works committee, has been a reluctant champion of BIXI by posing for photo-ops when BIXI launched, saying "But now that it's here, you've gotta support it". Minnan-Wong more recently told Torontoist that “You want to get your finances done right. It may be more incremental, but what we want to do is ensure BIXI’s success, and that may require smaller steps than big leaps.” He noted that Montreal's BIXI ran into financial difficulties even with three times the number of bikes. “We don’t have a lot of extra money to put into any projects right now,” he added, citing a transportation department backlog “north of $300 million.”
Yet City councillors have no problem throwing $25-50 million dollars to keep a crumbling Gardiner expressway from falling down even though city engineers say it needs to be torn down as it is a danger to pedestrians and drivers alike. What gives with throwing money at an aging expressway when 1,000,000 BIXI riders are safely and economically shaping the future of public transit in T.O?
What Councillor Minnan-Wong fails to mention, however, is that Transportation Services is actually incapable of spending the capital budget it is already allocated in this budget year. The City has a capital budget for Transportation Services and the City will pay interest on that funding whether it gets spent or not for that year.
The City, however, doesn't have enough planners, engineers and other staff to plan and carry out all the capital projects. So the money just sits there costing us interest. As Bixi bicycle supporters, why not make good use of that funding to support BIXI expansion? We live in the Queen & Broadview neighborhood, which is settling thousands of new residents in condos and townhouses but none of us can access BIXI bikes because its hubs end at Jarvis Ave..
As a turnkey operation, BIXI Toronto could quickly be expanded, by accessing the existing capital budget thus eliminating costs to taxpayers. In fact, the Board of Trades recommended congestion tax on gas guzzling SUV's could help subsidize the costs of bicycle expansion in Toronto, which may actually reduce congestion, like what happened in London,UK and Bogota, Columbia. And it would pay dividends down the road by reducing transportation costs and carbon emissions (that cause Green House Gases).
BIXI is growing to be a key part of our urban transportation infrastructure, extending the usefulness of public transit.When riding a BIXI bike along King Street West, Councillor Mike Layton noted that his bike ride was faster than going by car or streetcar. “I think if I park a BIXI next to these streetcar stops, people will get fed up and hop on a BIXI,” Layton said. “Then within six months they will have purchased a bike.” Our investment hasn't matched that potential, though.
City staff need to work harder to find ways to expand BIXI, including requests to guaranteed funding from all levels of government. Another "creative funding tool" is to expand BIXI in partnership with corporate sponsors or seeking out Section 37 development funds as Councillor Mike Layton had recently accomplished with a development in his own ward 19. We urge Toronto City Council to develop a sustainable funding model that would allow a BIXI expansion strategy that would serve all Torontonians who would gladly support bikes on T.O streets if we could just get BIXI beyond Bay & Queen Street.
As active members of Cycle Toronto, we hope that City Council will become convinced of the economic benefits of BIXI and will listen to the many businesses, tenants groups, condo and homeowners that want BIXI bikes to extend to their neighbourhoods as quickly as possible.
We need to get beyond the tired rhetoric of "gravy trains" and "war on cars" now that City Council is sitting on a hundred million dollar surplus and expand the system with its potential economic benefits staring us in the face.
With city elections upcoming, we will be supporting those city councillors that promote sustainable transit as a way of making Toronto a liveable (and less congested) city, specifically ensuring BIXI hits 2 million riders by 2014.
Davis & Rhonda Costas-Mirza