11/07/2012 08:05 EST | Updated 01/07/2013 05:12 EST

Vancouver Bixi Bike Share Takes Taxpayers For Ride


Vancouver's Bixi public bike-share program may sound like good public policy but in the end, it will be taxpayers who will get taken for a ride.

It seems like a no-brainer in a city with three thriving car-share companies and a massive taxpayer investment in new bike lanes that a bicycle share program would be a huge success. But still city hall has offered to subsidize this Bixi system because no entrepreneur, knowing Vancouver's helmet laws, Bixi's dodgy software issues and Montreal's multimillion dollar bike-share bailout, would take a risk on funding the project themselves.

Vision Vancouver has offered up taxpayers to give Bixi an advantage none of the three Vancouver car share programs got -- millions in corporate welfare. Vancouver City Hall has pledged $1.9 million per year for the next 10 years for the bike-share program, plus untold expenses for advertising, free rental space and other incidentals.

Why are taxpayers paying for bikes when the car shares have proven transportation co-ops and businesses can be started and sustained without taxpayer dollars?

Much ink has been spilled over the Vision Vancouver obsession with bikes. City Hall has been criticized for the Hornby bike lanes, lack of enforcement against Critical Mass protesters , the suggestion of removing parking along Stanley Park's Pipeline Road for more cycle paths and for looking at radical changes to the Granville and Cambie bridges, to name just a few.

While some say Vision is waging war on the driver, a more apt description may be a war on taxpayers.

The subsidized bike share will likely put private bicycle rental companies out of business. If they do survive, their taxes will be used to prop up their competitor.

Bixi is a business -- and not a profitable one. It was bailed out by Montreal taxpayers in 2011, when that city hall pumped $108 million into it, despite a scathing report from the Montreal auditor general. That money is to be paid back to the city by Bixi pulling other cities into the system, meaning Vancouver dollars will go to remedying Montreal's bad decision.


Other systems have been delayed by Bixi's ongoing legal fight with its former software developer and lack of a better tech solution. New York City and Chicago have delayed their Bixi start dates after Chattanooga's launch was riddled with glitches. As NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, "The software doesn't work." Vancouver is likely to delay as well -- the new software just isn't ready.

B.C.'s helmet laws will further hurt the potential for the bike share to operate without taxpayer subsidy. In warmer and sunnier Australia, where riders must also wear helmets, bike shares haven't worked in Melbourne or Brisbane. The average Brisbane share bike is only used once every four days. In Melbourne, it's once every three days.

Vancouver has said a helmet solution must be in place -- but helmet vending machines, subsidized $5 helmets and even free helmets left on the bikes have not worked elsewhere. It won't work here either.

Finally, the zone set out for Bixi misses key areas like south, central and east Vancouver, Commercial Drive, UBC and elsewhere. It is limited to the downtown peninsula and north of Broadway between Main and Arbutus.

Vancouver taxpayers are dangerously close to being forced to pay a big bill for furthering Vision's bike agenda. Until the bike share can be run without a taxpayer subsidy -- as the car shares are -- it should be put on hold.