Surprise: Montreal Bike-Share Program Goes Belly Up

Lots of cities are launching these bike-sharing plans. NYC has one. San Francisco just launched one using electric bikes. Many other cities are giving it a whirl or considering it. How’d it work in Montreal?

(Treehugger) Bixi, the Montreal bike-sharing service that debuted in the city in pilot form in the summer of 2008 and filed for bankruptcy yesterday, has definitely had its ups and downs.

When the full Bixi program opened on Montreal’s streets in 2009, it had 3,000 bikes and 300 stations, and was heralded as the coming of full-strength bike share to North America. Bixi (a combination of the words ‘bike’ and ‘taxi’) was popular, too, with 10,000 members and one million trips in the first year. Bixi’s parent company thought its system would become a model internationally.

In its second season, the Montreal bike share was even bigger – more than 5,000 bicycles and 400 stations. But questions about the internal structure of the company behind Bixi surfaced quickly in local press, and Bixi’s debt was feared to affect the city’s bottom line economically.

By the end of 2010 Bixi Montreal had to restructure and get a big loan and line of credit from the city. In 2011 Bixi came back with a few more stations, and advertisements on the bicycles – a feature which many users hated.

There were layoffs in 2011. There were all sorts of software issues. Bixi had to raise prices, then raise them more. They have $42 million in debt. The mayor of Montreal is pledging $1.3 million (US) to making sure that the bike-sharing program is open come spring (do they have spring in Canada? Is that where people stop wearing fur lined hats and switch to lighter weight hats?).

Personally, I like bike-sharing programs, at least in areas that make sense. It wouldn’t work so well here in Raleigh, except for just the downtown area. Probably not. In heavy urban areas they can reduce traffic, get people around quicker, and reduce real air pollution, like smog. Like mass transit (which I support if done correctly), bike-sharing is great in certain areas. However, most of these bike-sharing programs are being done with “climate change” in mind. It’s more about advocacy rather than being a wise business practice. Government is wasting lots of taxpayer money for these limited use programs. Loans that will never be repaid, or repaid at a fraction of the loan value. And then the companies need even more taxpayer money, or the government steps in to kinda or fully run the programs.

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