Hamilton's bike share program is back on the streets

After a crowd-funding campaign and a last-minute injection of charitable dollars, Hamilton's bike share program is back up and running.

At least 3 companies are interested in operating the system in the long term

Hamilton's bike share program is back up and running. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

After a crowd-funding campaign and a last-minute injection of charitable dollars, Hamilton's bike share program is back up and running.

And one city councillor says there are already three organizations interested in operating it permanently.

The city and Hamilton Bike Share Inc. (HBSI) are relaunching the program Tuesday after its near death earlier this month. The bikes, colloquially known as SoBis, been out of service since June 1.

The program, known for its blue bikes, has about 26,000 members, including 600 who have signed up since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its 130 hubs are located from Ottawa Street to Dundas, and there are more than 800 city-owned bikes.

When the program started in 2015, Social Bicycles LLC ran it via the not-for-profit HBSI. In 2018, Social Bicycles became Jump Mobility, and not long after, Uber bought Jump.

Uber took over bike share operations last May, but HBSI stayed on to do the Everyone Rides Initiative, a provincially funded program that offers low-cost memberships and accessible trikes. Uber signed a one-year contract with the city in February, but said last month that it was walking away from it.

The program will operate until February using $100,000 donated from the McNally Charitable Foundation, and money from IBI Group, LiUNA, the Royal Connaught, Effort Trust, Roxborough Park Developments and Urbansolutions, plus other donated dollars, including $70,000 from an HBSI online crowdfunding campaign.

This came after three lower-city councillors volunteered to use ward-specific capital dollars to fund the program until the end of the year. That failed on a tie vote after a debate that went into the early morning. Those who voted against it were opposed to city tax dollars being used on the program.

Coun. Jason Farr, who represents Ward 2 (downtown), says three other companies are interested in operating it beyond February, so bike share may be here to stay.

"The attention that has received, I think, is going to see an increase in ridership," Farr said. Also, "there have been people making offers, unsolicited, to operate it for the long term."

"Three, if not more, have come in. These are qualified operators."

Anyone who has a past bike share membership can log in via hamiltonbikeshare.ca or the SoBI app and select a plan, the city said in a media release. New riders can also sign up via the website or app.

Hamilton Bike Share is continuing its pay-as-you-go (15 cents per minute) and monthly ($20 per month) plans too, and offering a new seasonal supporter plan, which is $100 for six months. The Everyone Rides Initiative is still available at everyonerides.org.

"We are thrilled to partner with Hamilton Bike Share Inc. and bring Hamilton's bicycle sharing service back online," Mayor Fred Eisenberger said in the release. 

"We look forward to seeing the fleet of iconic blue bicycles back on our streets."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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