Two companies recommended for Vancouver's public bike-share program

Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share and Montreal-based Bixi emerged Wednesday as the likely candidates to run Vancouver's public bike-sharing system (PBS), but private bike rental companies are worried about the competition.

Under the proposal Alta would be the system owner and operator, while Bixi would be a subcontractor, responsible for infrastructure, bikes, and pay stations.

Geoff Sharein, manager of Spokes Bicycle Rentals on West Georgia Street, came to City Hall to watch the presentation and voice his concerns. He said existing rental companies feel "like a mouse under the feet of an elephant."

"We'd like whoever is putting it in to be extremely careful so that we don't get crushed," he said.

City staff insisted user fees would be set up to discourage people from using public bikes for anything but short-haul commuter trips, with fees rising sharply from $1.50 for the first hour to $8 an hour after 90 minutes.

Sharein said he was pleasantly surprised by councillors' receptiveness to the concerns raised by Vancouver's 12 or so existing bike rental companies.

"It's just a matter of careful planning to make sure that a gigantic multinational corporation isn't offered public space in order to directly compete with genuine local businesses," he said, praising councillors for being open to the idea of keeping the Bixi system away from tourist hotspots.

"I think protecting areas like Stanley Park, which are obviously more tourist-oriented, as opposed to serving commuters, which the bike share is supposedly for, would be a huge step."

Vancouver's director of transportation Jerry Dobrovolny said the city will need to put in $1.9 million per year in capital costs and subsidies over 10 years to get the system up and running.

Dobrovolny said the city is looking at a variety of options to mitigate the city's financial contribution through sponsorship deals.

The city hopes to have the system up and running by spring of 2013.

Bixi, an industry leader in bike sharing programs, already runs PBS systems in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.

City won't pursue helmet law exemption

Vancouver will not seek an exemption from B.C.'s helmet law for adults cycling in urban areas, as some other cities have done to try to ensure the success of their public bike-sharing (PBS) systems.

Director of transportation Jerry Dobrovolny said Wednesday the system's owner and operator would have to subcontract a service provider to ensure Bixi users comply with the law.

"After each use (each helmet) needs to be inspected for structural integrity to make sure that it's still safe, and hygiene, to be disinfected and returned," he said.

Dobrovolny conceded that helmet vending machines like those used in other cities with PBS systems are not capable of doing safety inspections.

"My assumption is that there are tremendous opportunities for social enterprise," he said.

City staff said they are learning from problems that arose in bike-sharing systems in Brisbane and Melbourne, Australia, after helmet vending machines and subsidized helmet rental schemes failed to win over the cycling public.