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Vancouver bike share to proceed, despite Bixi bankruptcy

Alta Bicycle Share had originally planned to use bikes from Montreal-based Bixi to fulfill its contract with Vancouver.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Mayor Gregor Robertson says Montreal's Bixi going into bankruptcy protection will not affect Vancouver's bike-share program, even though it was supposed to use Bixi bikes.

"Bixi is not the primary partner in Vancouver's planned bike-share program, and Vancouver has always refused to offer any of the loan guarantees or obligations that have created significant risk to taxpayers in other cities," the mayor said in a prepared statement to the media hours after news broke about Bixi.

Vancouver has been waiting for more than two years to implement a bike-share program. It announced last year that it had chosen Alta Bicycle Share of Portland to run the program, starting with 1,500 bikes.

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Alta was planning to use Bixi, which supplied the bikes for Alta bike-shares in New York, Washington, Chicago and several other cities, as its sub-contractor.

It is not clear what Alta will do now. In previous media reports, Alta spokespeople have said Bixi's financial problems will not affect their operations. Alta has had to delay rollouts of systems in several cities, including Portland, its hometown, the past two years.

Vancouver's bike-share, a much-talked-about project in a city with a bike-riding mayor, has been delayed over the years for numerous reasons.

The primary one is B.C.'s law that requires every cyclist to wear a helmet. Alta was working on a system that would incorporate a helmet-cleaning component.

The city was also more wary about getting involved with financing a bike-share program after reports about problems in other cities.

Transportation director Jerry Dobrovolny said last fall that Alta, which was supposed to be putting in its first stations then, had to meet three conditions: a business plan showing it could be successful, financing, and confirmed sponsors.

"That's why it hasn't moved forward, because of our insistence on those conditions," said Mr. Dobrovolny, who had hoped to see the system operating by the middle of this year.

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Vancouver did commit to providing about $7-million for startup costs and $500,000 a year for ongoing signage and staff work.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said on Monday that Bixi, which operates that city's bike-share program by itself, is still expected to run this summer.

However, he said the City of Montreal cannot lend Bixi any more money.

Montreal has provided $37-million in loans to Bixi and is covering about $11-million in loans for the Public Bike System Company, which runs the bike-sharing service and was created by the city.

Bixi was developed in Montreal in 2008 and expanded internationally to countries such as the United States and Australia.

Mr. Coderre said Bixi has been trying to sell its international operations to raise money, but has been unsuccessful so far.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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