Ottawa needs to join the ranks of cities around the world that offer a bike-share program to improve connections to public transit, say critics of the city's existing draft transportation master plan.
Bike-sharing systems would operate like the e-scooter program that has been piloted in the city over the past few years, but with specified docks at transit stations and in certain neighbourhoods. An app would allow users to locate available bikes and use them for a fee, then return them to another docking station.
The advocacy group Bike Ottawa, as well as the councillor for Capital ward, Shawn Menard, are pushing for the service they say would greatly help people travel short distances, most notably to and from transit stations.
"You eliminate both that fear of theft and worries about maintenance," said Madeleine Bonsma-Fisher, a member of the Bike Ottawa board.
The ultra short-term rental bikes are a good option for many transit users looking to avoid waiting for a local bus, and are much faster than walking several kilometres to reach the nearest transit station, said Bonsma-Fisher, adding bikes are often more appealing than e-scooters.
"People are typically prepared to bike a little farther than they would go on an e-scooter," she said, plus the option of having baskets on bikes for a person's cargo.
Program won't profit, group says
Since 2009, Ottawa residents have seen several bike-sharing programs launch then fail. That's partly because they were aimed toward tourists, according to Bonsma-Fisher, but mostly because the city viewed them as profitable ventures.
"These services should not be expected to be profitable, in the same way that we don't expect transit to be profitable," she said.
Menard says Ottawa should follow the lead of two other Ontario cities, Toronto and Hamilton, which have invested public money into bike-sharing.
"There's a public benefit to having high-efficiency biking in this city," said Menard. "It actually saves you money as a city compared to driving or taking transit and so this would be really positive for our finances at the end of the day."
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Bike-sharing in Ontario's capital is run internally by the Toronto Parking Authority, which last year announced an expansion of the program that includes the addition of e-bikes to its fleet.
In Hamilton, the city gives a not-for-profit $300,000 per year to operate its bike-sharing program.
Report suggested city run its own program
According to a report prepared by City of Ottawa staff in 2021, operating an in-house bike-sharing program was the best ownership option because it would allow the city to focus on placing bikes where residents could easily connect to transit.
The report also determined the city would need an investment of $4 million to launch a suitable fleet of bikes and docking stations, then an additional $700,000 annually to operate it internally. In April 2021, staff stated those amounts would be too lofty.
Menard believes Ottawa should mimic Toronto's in-house approach.
"You think about $4 million to get a bike-share going that can be in almost every part of the city, connecting with our $7 billion LRT," he said. "It's a huge important investment that pays dividends, and it's a small investment for a lot of bang for your buck."
Spending money to bring riders to transit stations is not a new concept in Ottawa since "we certainly build park and rides," the councillor added.
Menard and Bike Ottawa hope speaking up can help adjust the massive update to the city's transportation master plan, which currently does not include any investment in bike-sharing. It does mention the potential impact of the program.
Coun. Tim Tierney, who chairs the city's transportation committee, did not reply to a request for comment.
Menard said he hopes the new city council elected in this fall's municipal election will help the bike-sharing program move ahead.