City won't roll out bike-sharing program any time soon

·3 min read
Ottawa has had bike-sharing programs in the past, ending with VeloGo in 2018. (CycleHop - image credit)
Ottawa has had bike-sharing programs in the past, ending with VeloGo in 2018. (CycleHop - image credit)

City of Ottawa staff say it would cost too much to set up a municipally owned bike-sharing program right now, but that didn't stop proponents on city council Wednesday from suggesting ways to find the money to make it happen.

Over the past dozen years, the capital region has seen a number of attempts to offer a fleet of bikes for rent, either docked at fixed locations around the city or located by GPS through an app.

The National Capital Commission (NCC) worked with Montreal-based Bixi for four years until its parent company filed for bankruptcy protection. Until 2018, VéloGO operated 300 bikes in the city, and non-profit Causeway Work Centre ran Right Bike for five years, until 2017.

Last spring, Coun. Shawn Menard asked staff to look into a city-run version that might fare better.

Consultant Stantec determined that operating an in-house bike-sharing program was indeed the best ownership option because it would allow the city to focus on placing bikes where residents could easily connect to transit. Stantec advised the minimum fleet size should be 700 bikes docked at 90 stations.

Staff apply brakes for now

City staff cited several reasons why now is not the time for the city to embark on such a program, however.

The big one is cost. Stantec and city staff estimate it would take $4 million to buy the bikes and set up docking stations, and another $3 million per year for a contractor to operate the program.

Neither does the city have staff free to undertake such a project, transportation committee heard Wednesday. They're currently occupied with a new strategy aimed at improving parking for cyclists citywide, which will include scoring areas to identify where more bike corrals might be needed, and even building more secure sites to prevent theft.

A staff report also noted that the growth in bike sharing "stalled" when e-scooters were introduced a few years ago. Staff said bike sharing would have some overlap with the e-scooter pilot that continue this summer.

Dave Robertson of Bike Ottawa addressed transportation committee and showed figures of the fleet size and ride counts in other Canadian cities including Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, the country's biggest market.

"How can Ottawa afford not to have a bike share system to make our city more liveable?" Robertson asked.

Looking for funds

Despite the recommendation against implementing a bike-sharing program any time soon, Menard was pleased staff agreed an in-house model is best, and asked that they keep exploring options.

He pointed to cycling infrastructure funds recently announced by the federal government, but staff said they didn't yet know details of what projects might qualify.

Coun. Diane Deans suggested the city might be able to raise the money for the capital costs by selling naming rights or branding on the bikes.

Deans said she believes bike- and e-scooter-sharing programs are quite different, and said the city shouldn't choose one over the other.

"I actually see e-scooters as a little bit more of a novelty and a little bit more downtown-centred opportunity than a bike share that could roll out across the city," said Deans.

"We're not against bike share," explained Alain Gonthier, the city's director of roads and parking services.

Staff said they might still look at bike sharing in the future, but not until after the 2022 election, when the separate bike parking strategy is underway.