Bixi confusion

A young woman checks out the Bixi terminal at de Maisonneuve and Stanley

A young woman checks out the Bixi terminal at de Maisonneuve and Stanley

A couple of weeks ago I walked through downtown on a nice day to check out the new Bixi bike rental stands. I saw a few random people go by on these new bikes and it seemed a lot of people were at least trying them out, which was good.

Among them was a young woman who spent a few minutes checking the bikes out and then decided she wanted to try them. So she went to the terminal and pressed some buttons.

Everyone's curious about Bixi

Everyone's curious about Bixi

It took a while before anything happened. Probably because Bixi has a 50-page service agreement you have to read before you can take out a bike. After a few minutes, she swiped her credit card and picked up a ticket.

The ticket didn’t come with instructions, apparently, so she wasn’t quite sure what to do to get the bike out. Had one been unlocked for her? Was she supposed to have a key?

A team of four couldn't free this Bixi bike

A team of four couldn't free this Bixi bike

Eventually some others tried to help her out. They tried all sorts of things, including waving the ticket in front of the machine in case it had an embedded RFID chip or something. They tried keying in the code printed on the ticket, but that didn’t work either. They tried again with another bike stand.

After about 15 minutes of wasted time, she gave up and left.

I figured this was a fluke. Perhaps she had problems reading instructions, or something was wrong with the stand or something.

But The Gazette’s Andy Riga had similar problems when he tried his first Bixi. Pierre Foglia had trouble too. (UPDATE June 4: Riga has more problems.)

These people aren’t morons. So I’m forced to conclude that Bixi has some usability issues, particularly when it comes to the procedure of actually removing a bike from its stand.

Riga points out other problems (there’s no map to nearby stations for when one is empty or full). Let’s hope they’re ironed out quickly, before we start seriously marketing this to tourists.

28 thoughts on “Bixi confusion

  1. J.

    I’m thinking they’ll be simpler to remove from their racks when it’s -20. You just break them off and go. So I’m waiting until Winter for my test drive.

    1. glaframb

      Sorry, J they will be no Bixi this winter in the fall they will remove the bixi one by one and put it back next spring.

  2. Khosrow

    I tried one last weekend, and had problems too. Though it was clear to me how to get the bike out. FYI, the receipt that is printed has a code, and you punch in the code at the keypad next to any bike.

    What I had problems with was when I had returned the bike, and then decided I wanted to take another one an hour later. I did notice workers installing a panel next to a bixi stand at St. Catharine and McGill college. Maybe it will have clearer instructions.

  3. Marc Barrière

    J’ai essayé Bixi tantôt. Je me suis abonné pour une année aprèes l’offre (qui viendra) à 39$ pour les abonnés de la STM . J’ai reçu ma clé hier. Je l’ai activé ce matin car hier leur serveurs étaient downs (à 11h, disons OK!)… J’ai pas eu une seconde de problèeme. Tout a bien été. Deux fois. L’allée et le retour. J'”ai trouvé un moyen de savoir où sont les postes Bixi sur mon ipod touch ( car Stationnement-Montréal a interdit une application intelluigente et gratuite.
    Bon, J’ai bien aimé et je suis trèes satisfait.
    Continuez à parler contre BIXI, ça fait bien mon affaire car je suis certain ainsi que j’aurai ainsi toujours des vélos disponibles (hihihi). Le gros problème arrivera quand il y aura plus d’usagers que de vélos… En attendant c’est super!
    (voir )


  4. JoHell

    How do you people manage to fill out your tax report and not die crossing streets if you can’t figure that out???

  5. Arya S.

    All you need to do is put your credit card back in (assuming you bought the $5 daily pass with it) and it’ll give you a new code for the new bike. You can reuse the card as much as you want within the first 24 hours.

    And personally I didn’t have any trouble. Credit card, accept (I didn’t actually read it all….. who ever does?). Code, bike. Go. A little more instruction would be good, I remember in Paris they had a huge poster explaining it all. But thats an easy fix…

  6. Shawn

    I just rented on at Beaubien and Drolet and yes, if your stand has the printed instructions, it’s fairly easy to understand.

    However, the key pad where you enter your code, next to the front tire, is so darn well-engineered some people might have a problem recognizing it as such. But in this age of iPods and the like, where people are used to sleek surfaces that are buttons, it shouldn’t be a problem.

    What I don’t like is when I returned the bike, I saw no way of knowing how much I’d be charged (I did the $5 for 24 hours). My rental was definitely free (I hope!), but is there a display that shows you how much extra is going to be added onto your card?

  7. J.

    Marc: Awww – bad news. Those tanks seem like they could really take on a snowdrift. Oh well. Thanks for the lowdown.

  8. Julie Bélanger

    I wonder though if Bixi is limited to people carrying 1)credit cards 2)with $250 dollars available on it?

    What if you want to rent a Bixi but don’t own a credit card? What if you’re 16 to 18 years old and can’t have a credit card?

  9. Bryan

    The item that grabbed my attention from Andy’s article was the fact that you could arrive at your destination and the rack could be full…thereby forcing you to find the nearest rack with space. And I sincerely hope that a tourist doesn’t try to ride a Bixi down the deMaisoneuve path sans-helmet. That would be a horrible headline. They’ll work the kinks out the the system soon enough.

  10. Shawn

    People are incredibly curious about this.

    I took out bikes three times today. Twice strangers on the street stopped to ask me how to work it, like I was the expert (a joke in itself). The third time a colleague in a cafe pumped me for info on how it works.

    I think it’s a bit of a fad right now. I don’t know that the Bixi system will be quite as popular after the novelty wears off, but I suppose you can say that about just about everything.

    I’ll likely never use it again. At 6’4″ these bikes are just too small for me, even with the seat post fully extended. My knees were sore after using it. And they’re heavy beasts, with fat tires. Also, it’s been so long since I rode a three-speed I forgot how nice it was to have 21.

  11. Alex

    You need a credit card… But it’s simpler to register online and get the “bixi-key” mailed to you. I guess that doing that is the best option for the under-18 crowd. The key makes the system quite seamless, it’s clear the credit card bit is really a fallback.

  12. mare

    So I tried Bixi (and this Google maps hack pointed out above) out today. I went to Jean Talon Market. According to the map, there should have been 7 free spots at the Henri-Julien/Jean Talon stand. None. Next stand, 300 metres further away on Chateaubriand/Belanger. According to map, 5 free spots. In reality, none. Finally we found one free spot on the Breboeuf/Jean-Talon stand, about a kilometre from our destination. We changed bikes (our time was up) and went back home.

    If the information on the Bixi website is not correct and up-to-date, you can’t plan a trip. Without my iPhone, I wouldn’t even have known the locations of the “nearby” stations. Bixi is nice, but you shouldn’t want to use it to go to a destination, like the Jean Talon market, or a cinema downtown or things like that. The bike/stand ratio is just not good, there should be three times more parking spaces than bikes. On the Bixi website they talk about 300 bikes and 300 station. Most stations don’t even have 10 places, so when nobody uses a bixi, like at night, all bikes should be parked and everybody should be put them very spread out over the network. Ain’t gonna happen.

    And those instructions: 50 pages of legalese interspersed with instructions is just a big riot. Quebec user interface designers are either terrible, or those things are designed by the son of the director who is studying graphic design at a Cegep and so is very qualified. The same goes for the STM Opus terminals.

  13. J.

    A perhaps underanticipated audience for the Bixi is the drunk-on-weekends kids of rue St-Laurent. My friend just spotted a crowd of doods tipsily charging their cards and drunk bixiing up and down Prince-Arthur (several grave crimes committed simultaneously!). What happens when these kids forget to bring the bikes back – just crashing into their front gates, vomiting, and going straight to bed? I expect there will be a number of ‘unreturned’ fees charged this first season.

    So maybe they can install a breathalyzer on the check-out machine? I’m not sure I want the usual stumble-home set to easily obtain extra KPHs for their trips home. They’re trouble enough without the wheels.

  14. Shawn

    Mare may be right: you need more spaces than bikes. Users will find during off-peak periods that they cannot return bikes, even after trying multiple stations.

    Admittedly, this will not be a problem for the bulk of users, since when most most people are renting, spaces will be free. But it’s another impediment to people depending on this as a regular way to get around.

    I think the issue may be start-up cost: those stands look expensive. But I’m guessing that adding extra slots will be something that’s looked at in the coming years.

  15. Marc

    Tried a Bixi last night after strolling around the St. Lawrence street fair. I had no problems getting/returning the bike. Two sour points: the steering is way too lose, and the seat is hard like a rock. My ass was numb for about 15 minutes after being done with it. Another thing these bikes really need, especially for downtown riding – a mirror! Needs improvement.

  16. CJ

    I am interested in the BIXI – however there are two problems – one I’m not going to carry a bike helmet with me everywhere I go – in the event that I might want to rent one – an I’m sure as hell not riding a bike in this city without one – the drivers here are nuts!
    Second problem is – Id be concerned that there won’t be enough spaces to drop the bike off at my destination. And twice now the station is full and I’ve seen people upset because there is no place to drop off the bike. Last night a girl was in tears because she was late for a dinner party and this was the third station she had tried that was full.

    What’s the point of using teh system if you are going to end up 3 kilometers away from where you wanted to be? and how are you supposed to know where the other stations are?

    I hope this isn’t going to be another hair brain scheme that was put into affect without someone thinking about this stuff.

  17. mare

    If she had read the 50 pages of instructions she would have known what to do.

    If the station is full, you have to swipe your credit card again, and then you get 15 minutes extra and supposedly instructions to nearby stations that aren’t full. That last feature might not work yet, but is advertised on the Bixi website.

  18. Pingback: Montreal’s Bixi Bikes — Khosrow is Dreaming

  19. Alana

    I bought a bixi subscription after trying it out on a few one-day passes. So far, so good! There are certainly a couple of problems: mostly that a lot of the racks have been full when I’ve tried to return the bikes. but I like the concept enough that I am more than willing to put up with this, with the hope that they will work out the kinks. Go bixi!

  20. Z1antonio

    A student cannot afford the Bixi.
    If you opt for a 24 hours access you pay 5.00$ (you did not use the bike yet).
    Take it for 1h30min and you will be charged 4.50$ (0.00$ first 30min + 1.50$ next 30min + 3.00$ next 30min).
    Your total bill will be 9.50$ for 1h30min.
    Take it for 2 hours and you will end up paying 15.50$. (5.00$ 24h access+0.00$ first 30min + 1.50$ next 30min + 3.00$ next 30min+6.00$ next 30min).
    2h30min = 21.50$
    3h00min = 27.50$….
    This is a ripoff…

  21. mike

    seemed like a good idea, but the bikes do not “dock” back into thier stations (3 out of 4 did not work and we were stuck waiting for a technician). BUT more importantly: they charged three of us more than $200 for an hour – each of us have to contest it with our credit card company. rip off and pain in the ass – DO NOT USE BIXI

  22. davidson

    can anyone clarify the payment charges more clearly??? i thought that the first 30 minutes were free…
    so, for example, i could go to and from work on a bixi, as long as it was under 30 mins. my girlfriend got charged $5.00 each time we used one under 30 mins, so whats the deal really with the charges???

    1. Fagstein Post author

      There are two charges: the subscription charge and the usage charge. Subscription is $5 for 24 hours, and also available by month or by year. Usage is free for the first 30 minutes, and then goes up from there. So if you don’t have a subscription, it’s $5 a day, and you can use the bikes as much as you want, but only 30 minutes at a time.

  23. Robert

    I’m from Toronto and visited Montreal on the weekend of August 8th.

    I rented the Bixi, and was off on a bike within minutes.. I didn’t have to read the agreement, I just clicked ok.. printed the ticket (my memory isn’t that good), and was off..

    Nothing could be easier, more intuitive, or more simple.. It just works. I’m impressed.. Except it cost us $15 to rent three bikes where a cab would have cost $10.. however, it was FUN!!

    I hope Toronto gets these as well..

  24. MGB

    Yesterday, May 11, 2010 at 4:30 PM I grabbed a BIXI on the corner of Mackay and Maisonneuve and made my way to central station to catch a train. The BIXI rack at Mansfield and Rene Levesque was full. The 3 closest racks were also full. I ended up at Peel and Maisonneuve before I found an empty slot to return the bike. Then I had to get myself back to the train station and… I missed my train. I regret buying a year membership in the worst way.


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