The City of Toronto has announced a new plan to take control of the popular, but money-losing, Bixi bike-sharing program.
Public Works chair Denzil Minnan-Wong announced Wednesday that control of the program will shift to the city's parking authority in the spring. The city will also seek a corporate sponsor, which means the program will be renamed.
"This is a real win, win, win," said Minnan-Wong. "This solution demonstrates there are alternatives to having government write a cheque every time a good idea doesn't work out as planned."
As part of the deal, Bell Astral Media will pay $5 million to cover the debt of the existing program and pay for transition costs. In exchange, the media company will also no longer be held to an existing deal with the city to build 20 automated public toilets throughout the city.
When the bike-sharing program started in 2011, the city provided a 10-year loan guarantee of just under $4 million for the operator to buy the bikes and set up stations around the downtown core.
When Bixi struggled to meet its loan obligations, some councillors — including Minnan-Wong — were worried the city would have to bail out the program.
"I was concerned that it would mean taxpayers would be left holding the bag if something went wrong and unfortunately, some things did go wrong that put the program at risk," said Minnan-Wong.
Bixi currently has a fleet of 1,000 bikes and operates 80 bike stations in the downtown core. The program is similar to bike-sharing programs in other cities that allow users to use the bikes for short trips for a small fee.