Tag Archives: BIXI

Bixi in Toronto

Bixi station in Toronto (photo: Kenny D)

Fagstein reader Kenny D sent in this photo from Toronto, which is the latest city to be assimilated into the Bixi empire.

The official launch is Tuesday, May 3, with an official “first ride”.

The rate is higher than in Montreal, at $95 a season or $40 a month, but that didn’t stop 1,000 people from already signing up. More details are at Bixi’s Toronto website, or the usual Toronto blogs.

I’ve just recently gotten a chance to regain my regular Bixi habits, lugging my helmet around with me wherever I go. It’s still a bit cold, but it’s nice to be able to spend some energy on a regular basis.

Not much has changed on the Montreal side this season, except that subscribers now get 45 minutes free per trip instead of 30, and there’s a new three-day rate of $12.

No word on whether either city will get a tandem Bixi similar to what was given to William and Kate.

In defence of Bixi

A year and a half ago, when the Bixi bicycle rental service was launched in Montreal, I was a bit skeptical of it. I thought it was a good idea, I thought it was useful, but to me the idea of spending $78 a year on a bicycle rental service seemed silly when you could buy a whole (albeit crappy and possibly stolen) bike for just a bit more.

In July, I took advantage of a new discount deal that was just too good to resist: In exchange for signing up for the STM’s Opus à l’année annual pass, I’d get a $59 discount on the price of a yearly Bixi pass. So instead of costing $78, it would cost just $19.

The procedure is a bit awkward to get the discount. First you have to subscribe to the yearly Opus pass, which automatically deducts the cost of a monthly pass from your bank account on the 15th of the month. Once that’s done, you have to email your name and address to the STM, telling them you want the Bixi discount. They give you a discount code, which you enter into the Bixi website when you sign up for a yearly pass. Eventually in the mail you get a new Opus card (you can’t subscribe to the yearly pass on an existing card, but on the other hand they don’t charge you to send another one) and a Bixi key like this one:

Underside of a Bixi key (with personally identifying data smudged out)

Anyway, on July 23, after registering my Bixi key with the system, I walked over to a nearby stand and at 12:23am I rented my first Bixi bike. According to Bixi’s records (they keep a running tab of your use on their website), I’ve used a Bixi 44 times since then for a total of 8 hours.

Though it might be fun to use Bixi as my main form of transportation, I live too far from work to be able to bike all the way there (it takes about 45 minutes to get downtown, while the Bixi starts charging after 30), and the basket is too small for my (admittedly large) backpack and regular grocery run. Still, it’s very useful for shorter trips, particularly those that would be less convenient using public transport either because they would require too many connections or because they’re at a time when buses don’t come as often. I use them regularly after a late night at work as an alternative to one of my two night buses.

Though I’ve become somewhat of a Bixi convert, hooking my bicycle helmet to my backpack when I head downtown, I’m still not sure about the economics. I think $78 is pretty expensive compared to the cost of a used bike, but I highly recommend Bixi at $19 a year (and note that, unlike their current promotion of $30 until the end of the season, the yearly Bixi pass is good for one calendar year, which means I can keep using mine until July 2011, albeit not during the winter when Bixi is not in service). And I’ve gotten a new appreciation of the convenience that Bixi offers. Not only can you pick up and dock the bike almost anywhere, but you don’t have to worry about locking it up, pulling off the seat, lights, front wheel and any other valuables, or dealing with any other elaborate anti-theft measures. All you need is a helmet (and that’s technically optional), and once the bike’s locked up you have no responsibility in the matter.

I bring this all up because of an article in The Gazette last week about a transportation survey conducted by McGill’s transportation research group. The survey, which is available online (PDF) via Andy Riga’s blog is quite long and filled with statistical analysis so dense I gave up on much of it, but one of the interesting points is that Bixi rides aren’t replacing car travel, but walking, public transit and rides on private bicycles.

The study itself – based on an online survey of more than 1,000 people – admits there are two large grains of salt to be taken with the results: a potential for sample bias (many of the respondents were young, single people who are more likely to fill out online surveys about their transportation habits or be friends with people who were publicizing it) and the infancy of the Bixi network might also throw off the data (what neighbourhoods it serves, what kind of people are likely to be early adopters, etc.)

It’s not Bixi vs. cars

Still, the fact that such a small percentage of people who use Bixi would otherwise drive isn’t so much of a surprise. Most people who drive come from far away, and Bixi is installed mostly downtown, in the Plateau and areas adjacent where public transit use is high and car use is low.

The perception that Bixi would somehow significantly reduce car travel is one that is actively pushed by Bixi itself. Its statistics include an estimate of how much greenhouse gas is saved by each ride (notably calculated not by distance travelled, but by how much time the bike is out, even if it’s not in motion). Though it comes with a disclaimer, Bixi is clearly trying to make a point about being good for the environment, and the numbers behind those arguments are sketchy at best.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to think that in the long run that Bixis will significantly impact car travel in the city. Nor will they significantly impact taxi use (much to the relief of taxi drivers, though they cite anecdotal evidence that Bixis are cutting into their potential fares).

But that doesn’t make Bixi a bad thing. People use it because they think it’s convenient, whether it’s replacing a public transit trip or a short walk. And people are paying for this privilege. Replacing private bicycles with Bixis may seem pointless, but they virtually eliminate the problem of bike theft downtown, which is a major motivator for me.

Less public transit use is a good thing

The survey shows that 33% of Bixi trips replace public transit trips – more than any other alternative mode of transportation. This has an indirect benefit: getting people off the buses and metros during rush hour leaves more room for others, and makes public transit more appealing for those who would otherwise take cars. Overcrowding during rush hour is a major complaint of transit users, and Bixi helps alleviate that.

Of course, that’s not much help during the winter, when most of those walkers, cyclists and Bixi users jump back on the bus.

UPDATE (Sept. 14): Riga has a follow-up blog post with reaction to the story, which also brings up a debate over whether taxis should be included as “cars”.

White guys rap about Bixi

This song has been making the rounds on local CBC radio in the past day. The song itself has been out for a little over a month, but the video for it is new.

I don’t know about their “it’s a free ride” line, though, considering the number of dollar signs I see on this page. In an interview Wednesday with CBC radio’s Jeanette Kelly, two members of the band – called Da Gryptions – say that’s actually a “metaphor” for something. Like, free as in freedom, or like … uhh … something like that.

Still, considering the success of the system, it certainly seems worthy of a song or two.

The band tells CBC they’re planning other Montreal-themed songs, including one about the Expos.

The Bixi Anthem is available on iTunes, in case you want to listen to it more than once.

Creative Parking, Summer Edition

During the winter, when huge snowbanks are blocking the sides of streets, I’ve noticed many drivers like to bend the rules when it comes to where they can park their cars.

In the summer, I think it’s just laziness.

Bixi parking

Bixi parking (rear)

Really? You’re going to park across the entire Bixi station? Do you not know what it’s for? Has it not been talked about enough in the news that you don’t recognize it?

I know it used to be a parking space, but you don’t think the giant contraption (not to mention the red “no parking” bag over the meter post) might have been an indication not to park there?

No wonder we need garish concrete barriers installed next to these stations.

A fire hydrant at Sherbrooke and Clark forces this driver to park a bit ahead

A fire hydrant at Sherbrooke and Clark forces this driver to park a bit ahead

Then we have this guy (or girl), who decided to obey that don’t-park-in-front-of-the-fire-hydrant rule but disregard that don’t-park-too-close-to-intersections rule.

You'd think the fact that you have to park at an angle might be an indication you're too close to the corner.

You'd think the fact that you have to park at an angle might be an indication you're too close to the corner.

It looks like it's making a turn, but there's no one inside.

It looks like it's making a turn, but there's no one inside.

What gets me is I’m pretty sure I saw the same car parked the same way in the same space a few weeks earlier. Someone needs to give the driver a ticket or this behaviour is going to continue (or worse, spread).

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.

BIXI’s economics don’t make sense

I find myself agreeing with La Presse’s Pierre Foglia about BIXI:

C’est seulement que je me demande à qui il s’adresse au juste. Je n’arrive pas à me faire une idée du client type du Bixi. Celui qui va travailler en vélo sur une base régulière? Me semble que celui-là va finir par s’en acheter un, un vélo de ville, non? Le touriste? Ne vient-on pas de dire que ce n’était pas un vélo pour se promener?

I like the idea of being able to rent bikes, and they seem to be getting good reviews in the technical sense (except from Foglia). But the high subscription rate and exponentially-increasing use rate make me wonder what kind of person would use this system and how.

As Foglia says, tourists will be easily turned off by BIXI because the system is designed to discourage long-time use. You can’t take out a bike and bring it back a few hours later unless you want your wallet sucked dry.

Commuters, meanwhile, will find the annual subscription fee expensive. You can get your own (used) bike for $78 a year and do what you want with it. Besides, the BIXI footprint is small (I don’t even have one near where I live), and a lot of people will find they’re coming from or going to a place where BIXI can’t go (like NDG).

I just don’t get the exploding scale. It’s backwards to the way economics work. You want to reward customers for purchasing something in bulk, not punish them.

Something tells me a lot of people are going to be spending half their time checking their watches and looking for the closest BIXI station to top up their ride and give themselves another half hour free. As long as they keep bringing it to a station every half hour, BIXI users can keep the bikes for as long as they want.

Does that make sense?

Right now, we’re still in the honeymoon phase, with BIXI reviews from journalists who wouldn’t spend more than half an hour toying with it even if it wasn’t time-limited. We’ll see after this year (or maybe next) whether regular people will find a use for this service.

UPDATE: Just to clarify, I support the idea behind a bicycle-rental system, even one that is partially subsidized by the government. My issue is with the fare structure that uses an exponentially-increasing scale instead of one that uses a flat per-hour rate.

Why do marketing companies hate themselves?

On Île Bigras, they don't tolerate shit.

On Île Bigras, they don't tolerate shit.

Patrick Lagacé has a column in today’s La Presse (and accompanying blog post) about a fake blog put together by a marketing company to promote Montreal’s Bixi bicycle rental system.

Lagacé chronicles the various methods used to pull the wool over people’s eyes: fake authors with fake Facebook pages and a fake story about how they met. He tries to get professional marketing experts to denounce the practice and cites rules for marketers that prohibit astroturfing like this. Patrick Dion also outright condemns the practice.

But curiously, the company behind this fake campaign defends the blog, apparently suggesting that the creation of fictitious personalities does not qualify as deception. Lagacé rightly tears Morrow Communications a new one for that.

So why go through all this trouble?

The answer is mentioned in passing by André Morrow:

“Si on avait fait un blogue hébergé par Stationnement de Montréal, personne n’aurait été intéressé.”

Think about it: This guy runs a marketing company, and says that if people knew a marketing company was behind this, they wouldn’t be interested, regardless of the content.

What kind of self-confidence problem must you have that you need to create fake personalities because you’re convinced nobody will like you?

Of course, I reject the premise of what he’s saying. I subscribe to plenty of marketing outlets. I get press releases from public transit agencies, official notices from the government, blogs from newspaper editors promoting their content, even some CNW feeds. I do this because I want the official word from the company, and in a lot of cases that’s where the news comes out first.

The problem is that this stuff is informative but boring. It’s not edgy or creative, won’t get you talked about in the news or win any marketing awards.

But you can be creative and still be honest. Even knowing it came from a marketing agency, this video of a bike racing the 24 bus (legally) is still impressive. And there are plenty of other examples of this kind of marketing, even clearly labelled as such.

Morrow Communications needs to grow up and realize that they don’t have to pretend to be someone else just so we’ll like them. Be honest with us and we’ll appreciate them for who they are.

A marketing company being honest … now that’s edgy.

UPDATE: More reactions in the blogosphere: