City councillors have voted to spend $1.6 million to implement a new bike share program.

The money will buy as many as 650 bicycles and set up as many as 65 stations around the city for the new program, which allows Hamiltonians to borrow bikes and leave them at station near their destination.

A capital grant from Metrolinx will pay for the project, which will be operated by the American company Social Bicycles. This is the company’s first project in Canada. Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal already have bike share programs.

“We’re the first city in Ontario to buy into this new model of bike share,” said Coun. Brian McHattie of Ward 1 at a public works committee meeting Monday, when councillors approved the pilot. “I’m looking forward to trying it in Hamilton.”

Social Bicycles operates bike share programs in Buffalo, Orlando and Hoboken, New Jersey. The money just buys the bicycles and stations. The operating cost will be covered by memberships and sponsorships Social Bicycles will attain for the program, said Peter Topalovic, the city’s project manager for transportation demand management.

Social Bicycles assumes all legal and financial liability, a staff report said. And if not enough people use the bike share program, staff said, the city will dismantle it and sell the bicycles.

“At the end of the day, if we can’t make our targets…we’ll get another provider or sell the bikes,” Topalovic said.

Councillors had some questions. Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8 said even though the money comes from Metrolinx, it’s still taxpayer dollars. He’d rather see that money used to improve transit on the Mountain.

But it’s capital funding, so it can only be spent on capital projects, McHattie said. The city could buy a new bus with it, for example, but it couldn’t pay a driver.

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster said he felt “uneasy” hosting the first project of its kind of Hamilton.

“It is a lot of money,” he said.

He liked that bicycles have chips on them, which means if someone doesn’t return one, the city can “knock on their door and ask for it back.”

There will be bike share stations in Wards 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 and 13, Topalovic said.