If we were only permitted to travel around this city on modes of transport paid in full, upfront by each of us on a fee-for-service basis, we’d all be walking everywhere we went. There’s probably an argument to be made about bicycle use as well. Its impact on infrastructure a fraction of its costs.
For every other way we get from point A to point B? Subsidized to the hilt. Roads for vehicular traffic are not fully paid for through gas taxes and registration fees. While transit users in Toronto pay an unusually high percentage of the system’s annual operating costs, a good chunk of it comes from other revenue sources. And we haven’t even got to the matter of capital costs.
So if our car, bus, streetcar, subway travel all is subsidized to varying degrees, why do we expect the public bike sharing system, Bixi, to pay its own way?
In normal circumstances that would be purely a rhetorical question. You’d think mobility was mobility regardless of the number of wheels under your ass. This, however, is Toronto 2014. Cycling is nothing more than a sport or a jaunty ride about town, to and fro places of latte-sipping.
Reports of Bixi’s financial duress emerged on Tuesday. The Montreal based company is looking to sell off its franchises including the one in Toronto. A couple years back, the city signed on as a loan guarantor to help get the operation up and going. Now it’s on the hook for about $3.9 million.
Unsurprisingly, Mayor Ford is uninterested in helping out. The chair of the city’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, is not any more enthusiastic about the idea. He’d prefer to off-load it onto the private sector.
“Government, fundamentally, isn’t the first place where you look to run a business,” the councillor said. “The private sector is better at making a dollar because it is their dollar. I’m a firm believer that if it can be in the Yellow Pages, it shouldn’t be in the Blue Pages.”
On Tuesday, I wanted to hug Councillor Minnan-Wong to my bosom for having the courage of his convictions in speaking out and voting against a casino. I’d always questioned his courage and believed his only conviction was reducing local government to a heaping rubble. But by later that day, he’d returned to form.
Only the firmest set of anti-cycling minds saw the bike sharing program as some blue chip business venture. According to the National Post’s Megan O’Toole, in a report going to the Executive Committee next week, Toronto’s GM of Transportation Services suggests BIXI has become “’an important part of the transportation mix’ in the city and a key component of the Pan Am Games transportation plan.” ‘An important part of the transportation mix’, you say? Well, let’s just hand that over to the private sector to maximize profits why don’t we.
BIXI was never intended to individually cover great distances. It’s all about short hauls. Think timed transfers we’d like to have on the TTC – hop on-hop off privileges – but on a bike.
Set up to actually succeed, BIXI could immediately begin paying back any investment in it from the city by helping to alleviate the stress along certain transit routes. Right now, I’m thinking the downtown streetcar lines, especially King Street. Reduce the ridership there in order to re-allocate TTC resources in other parts of the city.
Of course, it’s not as easy as simply putting up more stands filled with more bikes. Biking infrastructure also has to be improved to further entice reticent but interested would-be riders to casually start using the system as part of their transit routine. All part of the concept of induced demand. Build it (and maintain it properly) and they will come.
As part of the city’s overall transportation outlay, coming to the rescue of BIXI would be a modest outlay. For a fraction of the amount we’re looking to shell out keeping the Gardiner in the pink, we could triple the number of BIXI bikes and broaden its reach from High Park to Broadview and Dupont Street to the lake. Hardly the ‘drain on the city’s finances’ the Public Works chair pretends to fret about. A concern particularly rich coming from the man who cost the city a couple hundred thousand dollars reverting the Jarvis bike lanes back to a 5th lane for cars and another $19.4 million trying to bury the Gardiner Expressway Environmental Assessment without council consent.
But we all know this isn’t about sound policy or good governance. It never is with this administration. BIXI’s financial problems offer up yet another golden opportunity to kill off a David Miller initiative. That’s really the only kind of agenda they have left.
– sharingly submitted by Cityslikr