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Did we get taken for a ride?

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How did that old saw go? Bixi can no more run a deficit than a man can have a baby? When former Mayor Gerald Tremblay said that the bicycle-sharing program would not cost Montrealers a cent, did he forget what city he was in, what track record he’d inherited, and where he’d be if he followed the same path? This is Montreal, where our giant toilet bowl of a stadium stands as a constant reminder that, yes, a man can absolutely have a baby. A man can have a great, big, hungry baby that needs to be fed to the point where there’s almost nothing left. And that baby can have siblings, like water metres and aquatics competitions. And that baby will cost us millions.

(As if to make a mockery of former Mayor Jean Drapeau’s famous quip, just over 3 decades later a man actually did have a baby. Granted he was a man-made man. But still.)

Bixi was going to put Montreal on the map. It was supposed to be a panacea for Montreal’s environmental and traffic woes. And it was supposed to pay for itself. Well, we’re five years into the program, and Bixi has filed for bankruptcy protection. So, now what? Do we raise cigarette prices to pay for its upkeep? Do we increase the cost of actually using Bixi? No, we form another company. We come up with a new, original name, like Bixi Montreal. And we bail Bixi out. We give it a $4.3 million contract, a $460,000 short term loan, and a $165,000 grant to help it get started on that $4.3 million contract. Or to get started paying off the loan. However you want to look at it, Mayor Coderre has given Bixi a shot in the arm. But apparently we, as the taxpayers who actually pay for the system, are being asked to do our part. The mayor wants us to show our love for Bixi, whatever that means. It is his hope that starting next month we all hop onto a Bixi and start pedalling, and that we keep pedalling until the city has recouped its losses. Everybody Bixi! Leave your cars at home and Bixi! Bus and Bixi! Fill those bicycle paths with Bixi! We want there to be so many Bixis on Montreal streets that even the Tour de l’Ile won’t have anywhere to go (boy, wouldn’t that be an ironic switch).

Truth be told, I don’t really care about Bixi. I don’t understand it. I mean, as a concept a bike-sharing program makes a lot of sense. It’s good for our collective health. It’s good for the environment because, in theory, if we get enough people on Bixis then there ought to be fewer cars on the road, which would mean less pollution, and less traffic congestion. But who are we kidding? Less traffic congestion on Montreal roads? The people who ride Bixis are not those who normally drive cars anyway. There are some drivers who do indeed eschew their cars for bikes. But since Bixi launched in 2009 have we seen a reduction in traffic? I don’t think so.

I’m also confused as to how Bixi lost money. Over the past couple of Bixi seasons there seemed to be Bixi riders everywhere. The city’s network of bicycle paths looked like a superhighway with bicycles, many of them on Bixis, zipping around in all directions at top speeds, all but ignoring stop signs, red lights, and pedestrians (at times crossing one of Montreal’s busy bike paths is like being in a game of Frogger). At last check there were 54,000 subscribers, and then some. There were times, over the last couple of seasons, when Bixi docks stood empty, not a Bixi to be had. But it’s just not enough to get us over that financial hump. Bixi is expected to run yet another deficit this year, and may not survive into 2015. Unless we can get a good price for its international arm. But if we don’t, then we’ll be saddled with an expense that the mayor doesn’t want.

So will we, as a collective, be able to keep Bixi afloat? Can we commit to Bixi in enough numbers to not only save Bixi, but to raise it to the success it was always meant to be?

The thing is, I have my own bike. When the weather turns nicer (which should be any day, now, right?) my bike becomes my main mode of transportation. There was one year when I even rode throughout the winter. Yes, I was one of those idiots decked head to foot in snow-gear, precariously teetering on my two-wheeler, barrelling down Parc Avenue through the snow, ice, and slush, a helmet balanced on my tuque where it was sure to do nothing in the event of an impact, picking up speed and praying as I approached each red light (On, why don’t bicycles come with ABS brakes?). I like my bike, and I’m not likely to give it up for Bixi. Especially since there are no Bixi docks anywhere near where I live. I’d have to buy a bus pass on top of subscribing to Bixi. The point of riding my bicycle, however, is to save money. So what would I want with Bixi?

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