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NYT on Bixi's inauguration in Montreal

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  • Christopher Miller
    Message 1 of 2 , May 14, 2009
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      May 13, 2009, 10:35 AMMontreal Inaugurates Continent’s Most Ambitious
      Bike-Sharing ProgramBy IAN AUSTEN

      (photo) Ian Austen/The New York Times
      A curious onlooker inspects a Bixi bike in Montreal on Tuesday. The
      city spent roughly $13 million developing the new bike-sharing system.
      When Gérald Tremblay, the mayor of Montreal, inaugurated North
      America’s first large-scale bicycle-sharing system on Tuesday, an
      uncooperative microphone forced him to shout to the crowd in front of
      city hall.

      Fortunately, the computer-chip based, solar-powered, WiFi-enabled base
      station that’s the heart of the Bixi system worked flawlessly when Mr.
      Tremblay set off on a ceremonial first ride.

      As explained at the Web site of the city’s parking authority, which
      oversees the program, it works like this:

      “The user takes a bike from one of the stations, pays at an automated
      pay station, and drops the bike off at any pay station in the network.
      The bike becomes another mode of urban transport unto itself, a
      practical, economical, ecological and healthy alternative to energy-
      guzzling vehicles.”
      Bixi is nothing if not ambitious. The service is starting out with
      3,000 of the specially designed bicycles distributed among 300 closely-
      spaced stations in its downtown core. But while it was directly
      inspired by Vélib, the service that started in Lyon, France, before
      moving to Paris, Bixi differs in many respects.

      Chief among them was a decision by the city to run the system itself,
      rather than use an outside operator, and to fund it with fees from
      users rather than relying on advertising. André Lavallée, the
      municipal politician who championed the Bixi, said that the
      advertising opportunities are more limited in Montreal, while city
      ownership allowed greater coordination with the city’s bus and subway

      It was at Mr. Lavallée’s suggestion that the development and operation
      of Bixi be turned over to the city’s parking authority. While that
      seems an unlikely choice, he reasoned that it already has the real
      estate and the infrastructure needed for a bicycle-sharing system. And
      while no politician mentioned it, others involved in developing Bixi
      said that the semi-autonomous parking authority, Stationnement de
      Montreal, is also less bureaucratic than other city departments.

      Michel Dallaire, the industrial designer whose firm developed both the
      bicycles and the base stations, chose solar power primarily for
      logistical, rather than environmental, reasons. Because the base
      stations do not need any electrical connections, they can be dropped
      anywhere without any preparatory work.

      Ian Austen/The New York Times

      The system was directly inspired by Vélib, the service that started in
      Lyon, France, before moving to Paris. But Bixi differs in many respects.
      That will allow the city to easily remove them each fall when Bixi
      goes into winter hibernation. And as demand patterns become more
      apparent, the city can easily adjust the size and location of base

      European systems, Mr. Dallaire noted, usually rely on clamping the
      bicycles by their front forks. That can lead to wheel damage. In
      contrast, Bixi bicycles slot and lock into their stations through a
      triangular tab at the front.

      Users release them in one of two ways. An annual subscription for 78
      Canadian dollars — half price for transit-pass holders — buys a chip-
      encoded plastic fob. Day users can pay 5 Canadian dollars (a little
      over $4) by credit card at the base station for a day pass. Like a
      rental car company, the base station puts a 250 Canadian dollar
      security hold (roughly $216) on day users’ credit cards.

      The fees charged after that are intended to encourage rapid turnover.
      The first half hour is free. The second half hour is 1.50 Canadian
      dollars ($1.30). After two hours, the 30-minute rate soars to 6.00
      Canadian dollars ($5.18).

      While the frames are aluminum (and they are sponsored by Rio Tinto
      Alcan, a major aluminum maker), they are mainly designed to minimize
      damage from vandals, to thwart parts thieves and to keep rolling with
      the minimum of maintenance rather than for lightness or speed.

      That being said, the bikes are quite well equipped and include fenders
      (complete with a skirt guard), a chain guard to keep pants separated
      from the chain, LED headlights and taillights (powered by a front hub
      dynamo), a three-speed hub gear, effective drum brakes, a sturdy
      kickstand and a bell.

      “We needed it to be physically robust and visually robust so people
      would have confidence,” said. Mr. Dallaire.

      Most of the drive train is stock Shimano Nexus equipment. Mr. Dallaire
      added a chain tensioner after learning that slack chains are a major
      cause of breakdowns in Paris.

      On a test ride, I found the bike to be stable and comfortable. The
      three gears, while widely spaced, included one low enough for climbing
      roads running up the extinct volcano which forms the island of Montreal.

      My only complaint was the relative smallness of the front carrier. But
      Mr. Dallaire said that anything larger would only encourage some
      riders to abuse it by carrying a passenger.

      Montreal spent 15 million Canadian dollars (about $13 million) to
      develop and start the system, although it is budgeted to ultimately
      become financially self-sufficient. But Montreal has received seven
      patents for Bixi and Mr. Lavallée hopes to sell it to other North
      American cities.

      “We developed this product for Montreal,” he said. “But we were very
      convinced that it’s good for any city.”


      Christopher Miller
      Montreal QC Canada
    • J.H. Crawford
      Hi All, ... Now, what if they had taken that $13 million and just bought cheap, single-speed bikes (geared a little low) from China? I expect they could have
      Message 2 of 2 , May 14, 2009
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        Hi All,

        Here's my take on this:

        >The city spent roughly $13 million developing the new bike-sharing system.

        >Bixi is nothing if not ambitious. The service is starting out with
        >3,000 of the specially designed bicycles distributed among 300 closely-
        >spaced stations in its downtown core.

        Now, what if they had taken that $13 million and just bought
        cheap, single-speed bikes (geared a little low) from China?
        I expect they could have had them in lots of 100,000 bikes
        for $30 each (I myself bought a new bike in Portugal for
        only Euro 40 a few years back, and this included front/rear
        deraileurs). That gives a cost of $3 million per 100,000 bikes.
        So, your $13 million would have bought more than 400,000 bikes.

        If these bikes are:

        Unique in their frame characteristics (doesn't have to be
        much different, just enough to identify them)

        Painted plain white

        Adapted for hard use (solid rubber tires, coaster brake,
        front hand brake, no shifting)

        And possibly equipped with advertising (sigh)

        then, for that money the city could have had a system
        with zillions of bikes scattered throughout the entire
        downtown area. They would have been drag-and-drop, free
        to use, and completely free of hassles for the user (no chip
        card, no pin, no wasted time, no searching for an empty

        I expect that school kids hungry for a little cash would
        have moved the bikes to where they were needed and "sold"
        them to people coming out of the metro for, say, a Loonie
        (a Canadian one-dollar coin).

        There are some operating costs involved, of course, and
        I suppose that 400,000 bikes is at least ten times as
        many as are really needed, but you get the idea.

        If you're caught with a Montreal bike off the island,
        you've been a very bad boy.

        This is like free public transport. It's too cheap an
        idea to accept. It HAS to be made more complicated.
        For some reason.



        ----- ### -----
        J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
        mailbox@... http://www.carfree.com
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