Disappointment as London bike-sharing program fails to get rolling

A bike-sharing program in London won't get rolling forward anytime soon after the city received no qualified partnership offers through a request for proposal process. 

City request for proposals didn't include any operating money

Bike Share Toronto is funded through that city's parking authority, along with a sponsorship deal with Bell Media.

A bike-sharing program in London won't get rolling anytime soon after the city received no useable partnership offers through a request-for-proposal (RFP) process. 

Jay Stanford, the city's director of climate change, environment and waste management, said the city likely didn't get any workable submissions because although London was offering $750,000 in capital funding, the RFP didn't include any city operating funds. 

"We think that was probably the difference," said Stanford. "We are disappointed, but it's not a complete surprise."

The city had called for proposals from companies to help create a micro-mobility system where users could inexpensively rent bikes for short trips. Similar programs exist in other cities, including Toronto. They're often seen as a low-cost way to supplement a city's transit system and encourage carbon-neutral trips.

However, a staff report to be presented at Wednesday's meeting of the civic works committee says successful bike-share programs in other cities have a consistent source of funding in addition to user fees. Also, many cities have sponsorship deals to offset costs.

Toronto's bike share program is funded through parking fees but also has a sponsorship deal with Bell Media. Vancouver's system had $5 million in startup money from the city and also has name sponsorship from Shaw Communications.

The only operating funds on the table from the City of London in its RFP was $85,000 a year to help low-income families rent bikes. 

The report also says bike-only micro-mobility systems have seen a dip in numbers as electric e-scooter sharing systems have become more popular. In some cases where hybrid systems offer both bikes and e-scooters, the e-scooter rentals subsidize the bike service. 

Stanford said supply chain issues and inflation also may have limited interest from potential bike share operating partners. 

Missed opportunity, says cycling advocate

Andrew Hunniford, general manager of the London Bicycle Café, says the city could have done more to make a bike-sharing partnership more viable. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Andrew Hunniford is a co-owner of the London Bike Cafe. He said bike-sharing programs operated by cities boost bicycle use overall, which could help London achieve its climate goals.

"This is a lack of initiative to make a good, strategic investment in a bike share," said Hunniford. "Funding is available if you can find the political will to do it."

Hunniford says the Thames Valley Parkway makes London a natural fit for bike sharing due to the connection it offers between downtown, Western University, Springbank Park and other destinations. 

"We have such a good piece of infrastructure, especially with what's been built downtown very recently. Why not invest a little bit with a partner that can do bike share?" said Hunniford.

Stanford said the failure of the recent RFP doesn't mean a bike-sharing program for London is stalled forever. 

"This is not done, in my opinion, because this is part of the future of improving mobility in a city," he said. 

The report says the city's need for a bike-sharing program will be included in the city's next Mobility Master Plan, which is intended to guide the city's future transit planning.

A business case for bike sharing will also be prepared by staff for the 2024-27 multi-year budget.


Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.