Photo courtesy of PBSC Urban Solutions
By John Saunders
Bike sharing is booming in Toronto. Through a new supplier agreement, Bike Share Toronto will add 1,000 new bikes and 120 new bike stations to its operations – doubling the capacity of the current network.
"This is all new," says Marie Casista, vice president of real estate, marketing and development for the Toronto Parking Authority, which manages the bicycle sharing system.
"It will expand into the east and west, and also a little bit to the north," she says, noting that filling in the gaps is her organization's first priority.
"It's really filling in or optimizing the existing network."
Through Montreal-based PBSC Urban Solutions, Bike Share Toronto will add the new equipment this spring. It's part of a five-year agreement that will build on the city's existing network of 1,000 bikes and 81 bike stations.
While the computer software will need to be updated, the actual hardware – including bikes and stations – is in good shape, says Casista. Integrating the original system wasn't an essential part of choosing a supplier, she says, but PBSC's ability to upgrade makes for an added bonus. "They will be able to connect the existing system to work fully with the new system."
Toronto will be using PBSC's Iconic line of bikes. Based on the earlier Bixi bike, the aluminum-frame model sports 26-inch wheels and has been adapted over time. "Over 45,000 of our bikes are rolling around the world, some of them since 2009, and our systems are proven to work in different climates," says Gian-Carlo Crivello, PBSC's client relationship officer.
The technology has also improved, Crivello says. "(O)ur breakthrough plug-and-play modules, powered by solar energy or hardwired, are the simplest to use: they can be installed in only 30 minutes, which makes it is easy to use for the cities."
Selecting new locations for bikes requires flexibility and responsiveness, according to Casista. While the (as yet unreleased) Bike Share survey from 2015 was "helpful in a limited way," research carried out by MMM Group provided a solid framework for managing growth, she says. A feasibility study carried out for TPA is "almost" ready.
For Toronto, this means looking at demographic change, increased density and geographic features as key parts of the process. It also means phasing in growth over time, to meet actual demand, "so we could have logical, organic growth." Ultimately, the city's bike-sharing network should have about 5,000 bikes, according to Casista.
This year's expansion is pegged at about $6 million, Casista says. Final locations for the bike stations have yet to be determined, but they will likely closely follow other infrastructure development. "There is a lot of demand for stations at or near transit hubs." She points to east-west connections along Danforth Avenue, as well as Queen Street and eventually Liberty Village as areas for increased coverage. Current plans for northward expansion will see the network expand to St. Clair.
Crivello agrees with the need to follow the tracks (or the tires). "Five or six years ago, bike-sharing was seen as a stand-alone product. Now, cities and users start to understand that it has to be part of the whole transit system of a city," he says.
It's a far cry from 2013, when the network almost collapsed after its former owner faced bankruptcy. After the Toronto Parking Authority took charge, financial and administrative challenges were worked out, Casista says. The network found a sponsor with TD Bank, and last year Metrolinx partnered with TPA to provide nearly $5 million in provincial funding for bikes and docking stations. Twenty percent of those funds are geared for bike sharing in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area – the next frontier, according to Casista.
"I think in the areas densifying, bike sharing as another mode of transportation is essential."
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