Hamilton social cyclists: Meet your new ride

Here's a preview of the Hamilton's new bike share system, which is set to roll out in mid-July.

SoBi Hamilton bike share system set to roll out in mid-July

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      Dozens of people got a preview of the tech-infused two-wheeler that’s hitting the Hamilton streets this summer as part of the city’s new bike share program.

      Representatives from Social Bicycles Hamilton (or SoBi Hamilton, for short) brought the bike to the Seedworks co-working space on Catharine Street North Saturday as part of Open Doors Hamilton. Amid intermittent spells of rain, they showed off the bike and fielded questions about the how the system will function.

      CBC Hamilton got an up-close-and-personal look at the bike, which is very similar to the ones that will be available starting in mid-July. (The Hamilton bikes will have added features, says SoBi Hamilton’s community manager Chelsea Cox).

      To see what the bicycle looks like, flip through the photo gallery at the top of the page. And to learn more about the bike share program and how it works, consult this list of key things to know about the SoBi Hamilton system.

      How does it work?

      SoBi Hamilton subscribers will each get user PIN that they enter when they want to sign out a bike. To reserve a bike, a user goes online or logs into the SoBi smartphone app to see how many bikes are available in the area, and then books one of her choice.

      'They can go wherever they need to go in the system and lock it up at another hub or they can leave it at any city bike rack.—Chelsea Cox, SoBi Hamilton

      When you arrive at the bike you plan to take out, you just plug in your PIN and it unlocks from the hub, or wherever it’s been left.

      “Basically, people can make a reservation on a bike in advance if they’d like, or they can walk up to it and enter their PIN or use their smart card,” Cox said.

      “They can go wherever they need to go in the system and lock it up at another hub or they can leave it at any city bike rack.”

      Users face a small surcharge if they don’t leave the bike at one of the 100 or so docking stations spread across the lower city. (A subscriber who picks up a stranded bike and returns it to one of the hubs earns a small credit to put towards the membership fee.)

      However, if you’ve just locked up the bike in front of a shop, but plan to pick it up in a short while, you can do that too , without necessarily incurring an extra fee. 

      “It also gives you the ability, if you want to go get a coffee or pop into a store, you can put the bike on hold so nobody else can come and take it,” Cox said.

      How much does it cost?

      SoBi runs on a subscription-based system. An annual pass, which allows users to take out a bike for 60 minutes per day, costs $85. A monthly pass runs $15 dollars. Alternatively, users can opt for a pay-as-you-go plan for a price of $6 an hour. 

      SoBi Hamilton and Hamilton Community CarShare are working on a plan to offer discounts for people who subscribe to both services. The details of the agreement haven’t been finalized yet, Cox said.

      It’s being rolled out in phases

      The first phase of the program will see 105 SoBi hubs installed across a swath of Hamilton’s lower city spanning from the Dundas in the west to Gage Park in the east.

      In April, Ward 7 Coun. Scott Duvall said he was “taken aback” by the fact that no Mountain stations were planned for the system.

      However, plans are in the works to expand the SoBi system after the first year, said Sean Burak of Hamilton Bike Share, a group that partnered with the city to bring the program to Hamilton. 

      “If we spread it out too far in the first phase, it’s not going to be functional for the people within the service area,” he said.

      How did we get here?

      In December, the city voted to spend $1.6 million in provincial transportation money to fund the capital costs of the program. They tapped New York-based firm Social Bicycles to provide the technology. SoBi Hamilton, a local non-profit, will be responsible for the system's operations.

      City staff, along with Social Bicycles personnel, worked together to decide where the bike hubs would be placed. That process involved creating an online survey asking Hamilton residents where they would like see the bike share stations installed.

      In April, the city unveiled the system map, which shows where the 105 hubs will be located. A total of around 750 bikes will be available for users across the system.  

      Here's a primer from Bike Share Hamilton on how the system will work:

      With files from Jeff Green and Samantha Craggs


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