After more than five years of talk at city hall about implementing a public bike-sharing (PBS) system in Vancouver, the city’s director of transportation will present a much-anticipated proposal to city council Wednesday.
Bike sharing systems provide affordable access to bikes in urban areas, allowing users to pick up and drop off bikes for short trips at strategically located pay-stations.
The city is staying tight-lipped about who might win the contract to install and operate Vancouver’s system, but Keith Ippel, executive director of BikeShare BC, said six companies, including his, submitted bids.
“The city over the last year has been very thoughtful with all aspects of the proposal and just trying to make sure they pick the right partner long-term,” he said. “They’re very mindful of what it takes to be successful and run a bike share, and they’ve been very good about talking to other cities and learning what worked and what hasn’t worked in other cities.”
Ippel said even though he’ll be disappointed if BikeShare BC doesn’t get the deal, he’s thrilled either way that Vancouver is moving forward with PBS, which received 85 per cent support during public consultations last June.
Washington, D.C.-based international bike-sharing expert Paul DeMaio, who has helped Vancouver with its research, said Thursday he didn’t know either who has won the city’s favour, but he has some suspicions.
“My guess would be a Canadian company from Montreal, Public Bicycle System Company,” he said, noting PBSC, also known as BIXI, already runs bike sharing systems in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, and just won the contract for New York City.
“They just seem to be the gold standard in bike sharing.”
Another contender is a Richmond-based company called SandVault, which runs PBS services in Golden, Oklahoma City, Miami Beach, and Long Beach, NY.
Whoever wins the contract, one thing is certain: They will be footing the bill for the capital and operating costs. The city and TransLink are only going to provide things like space for stations, marketing and communications support, and permitting support and costs.
There are more than 400 PBS programs worldwide, and between 30 and 40 of them are in North America.
What about helmets?
Coun. Heather Deal said the city is well aware that the need for helmets poses the biggest threat to the success of Vancouver’s bike sharing program.
“We have a helmet law here, which is a provincial law, and many of us here, myself included, think it’s an appropriate one, but it means that if you’re using a short-term rental you need to have a helmet,” she explained.
“Most people don’t walk around carrying one, so you need to be able to rent one, or the bike rental needs to include a helmet, and the issue is finding some way to make sure they get a clean helmet. People don’t want to put a helmet on that’s just been on someone else’s head.”
She said whichever proposal is successful will need to include a helmet provision that addresses hygiene concerns.