British Columbia

Vancouverites mull $6M bike share approval

As Vancouver prepares to invest $6 million in a privately owned public bike share system, some residents are concerned over the use of disposable helmets and the cost to taxpayers.

Impact of bike sharing in Vancouver

CBC News Vancouver at 6

8 years ago
The city has already approved the multimillion-dollar progam 2:19

As Vancouver prepares to invest $6 million in a privately owned public bike share system, some residents are concerned over the use of disposable helmets and the cost to taxpayers.

The system is expected to launch in the downtown core and the area between Arbutus Street, 12th Avenue and Main Street by early 2014.

Some 1,500 seven-speed bikes and 125 solar-powered docking stations will eventually be available, along with specialized helmet vending machines in order to comply with B.C. laws.

But Sahba Saffari of Stanley Park Bikes said he takes care of his rental customers, in a way the proposed helmet vending machines never could.

"We've got some pretty sweaty helmets over the years. I've seen helmets come back, dropped in sea water. I've seen some disgusting stuff over the years."

Saffari cleans all returned helmets, drying off the sweaty ones and spraying them with disinfectant.

Boston connection

Vancouver's bike sharing system will be privately owned and operated by Alta Bicycle Share Inc., which also operates the Hubway bike share system in Boston, Mass.

Boston's Hubway bike share system is sponsored by New Balance (CBC)

The Hubway system was first proposed in 2007 by Mayor Thomas Menino and Director of Bicycle Programs, Nicole Freedman.

Freedman says it drastically changed the cycling culture in the city when it was launched in 2011.

"We hear a lot of people that haven't ridden a bike in decades or would never have ridden in the city but it's so convenient, so inexpensive."

Freedman is credited with doubling the number of cyclists in Boston in five years.

Taxpayer costs

Boston's Hubway system is entirely paid for through a mix of sponsorship, advertising, grant money and user fees, some of which are put back into the system.

In contrast, the City of Vancouver will spend $6 million of taxpayers' money to set up the bike share program, then $500,000 per year to maintain it.

Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayer Federation questions whether spending so much money is a good idea, when a private company is taking half the profits.

"That's a lot of money and there's no guarantee that when this thing goes belly up, three or four years down the road, that the private company won't come back to the city holding them over a barrel and threaten to cancel the whole program." he said.

No figures have yet been announced for user fees, although the city say Alta Bicycle Share will aim to set prices which discourage competition with bike rental shops. 

Riders will be able to buy daily, weekly, or annual memberships to the system, allowing unlimited trips of up to 30 minutes.

Trips longer than 30 minutes will incur additional fees.

With files from the CBC's Jodie Martinson