Hamilton

Hamilton will put money toward bike share program, helping to ensure its long-term future

Hamilton city councillors voted Friday to contribute more than $300,000 per year to the popular program.

'We cannot continue to operate this system from crisis to crisis,' mayor says

The city has voted to give more stable funding to the Hamilton bike share program. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The city is a step closer to putting tax dollars toward keeping Hamilton's bike share system afloat.

Hamilton city councillors voted in a budget meeting Friday to contribute more than $300,000 per year to the popular program. They also voted for the city to sign a new contract with Hamilton Bike Share, the not-for-profit that runs the program. 

City council still has to ratify the decision. But Friday's vote signals a more stable, long-term future for the program known for its big blue bicycles.

"We cannot continue to operate this system from crisis to crisis, and that's kind of where we've been at," said Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who moved the motion.

Two councillors — Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster and Tom Jackson of east Mountain — voted against the move, saying taxpayers can't afford it.

The Hamilton-based band Arkells led an organized SoBi ride to Tim Hortons Field in 2020. (Arkells)

But everyone else was in favour of the city contributing $302,400 per year to operating the program, or about $28 per bicycle. From May to December 2022, the city will pay $201,600 toward operating the program.

A contract would also see the city contribute $5 per bike, or $36,000 this year and $54,000 in subsequent years, to the Everyone Rides initiative, which is also run by the organization and provides accessible bikes and subsidizes memberships for low-income residents. 

Another $87,000 this year will be spent on connectivity fees, which will cost $130,000 in subsequent years.

Some of these costs will come from a reserve funded by developer fees.

The support is a far cry from June 2020. That's when the program, which provides as many as 400,000 rides per year, nearly died. 

The program was owned by Social Bicycles LLC, hence the nickname SoBi. Uber Inc. owned Social Bicycles, and in May, 2020, Uber told the city it would pull out of its contract and stop offering the service.

The city still owned the bicycles and stations, which it purchased with a one-time Metrolinx grant of $1.6 million. It signed a deal with Hamilton Bike Share Inc., which had already been running the system, to temporarily operate the program. At that time, council rejected spending city money on it, and money instead came from memberships, sponsorships, grants and donations. 

Two councillors voted against the plan, saying the city needs to keep taxes as low as possible. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The program's website says it has roughly 26,000 members, over 800 city-owned bikes and operates across 25 square kilometres. Its hubs can be found from Ottawa Street to Dundas.

Jason Farr, Ward 2 (downtown) councillor, breathed a sigh of relief at the meeting.

"We have been all over the place in an attempt to get some stability on this file," he said.

City councillors are in the midst of hammering out the 2022 operating budget, which they expect to pass on March 30.

The current draft of the budget sits at a 2.8 per cent increase over 2021. 

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