Montreal's Bixi continues to pursue global domination
With 15 cities offering its bike-sharing systems, company can't keep up with new demand
Bixi, the Montreal-spawned bike share system, continues its march across the planet.
PBSC Urban Solutions of Longueuil, Que., which makes and markets the bicycle-sharing technology, announced this week the sale of another 1,000 bikes and 120 docking stations to Toronto, which will double the city's current fleet.
This summer Bixi-style bikes will debut in Honolulu, the Hawaiian capital. In fact, by year's end, 50,000 Quebec-made bicycles are expected to be in service around the world.
Bixi (and its various local variations) are already present in 15 cities and two U.S. university campuses. PBSC says it's having "serious discussions" with another dozen cities in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
To serve the unique markets of Latin America and Asia, the company developed a leaner, lighter bike, which it calls the "Fit".
"The bike-sharing industry has the wind in its sails," said Luc Sabbatini, the company's chief executive, who doubled the number of employees to 50 in a few months.
"A city doesn't feel cool if it doesn't have a bike service. This makes our job easier, since we don't have to solicit those markets. Those markets solicit us. We're having trouble meeting the demand," Sabbatini said.
Where Bixi bikes roam
- Montreal and Longueuil
- Aspen, Colo.
- Chattanooga, Tenn.
- Columbus, Ohio
- New York City
- San Francisco
- Washington, D.C.
- Washington State University
- Stony Brook University, N.Y.
- Guadalajara, Mexico
- Toluca, Mexico
Bixi competes with several companies in what is expected to be an $8-billion industry by 2020, according to analysts. Close to 500 cities in 50 countries have a bike-sharing system.
From bankruptcy to success
Two years ago, PBSC Urban Solutions, the small company in the Montreal suburb of Longueuil, bought Bixi's international sales arm for $4 million. At that time, Bixi, created in 2008, was a para-municipal firm of the City of Montreal but was in financial straits: $50 million in debt, little liquidity, late deliveries, software bugs and facing several lawsuits. At the same time, the provincial government had a problem with a city selling products to other cities.
So Montreal then went from owner to client, just like any other city that buys the service. It's now only responsible for Bixi-Montreal, which has 5,000 bikes and and enjoys a budget surplus.
Sabbatini said it's not in a city's DNA to run a commercial business, but tips his hat to those who launched Bixi in 2008.
"We should be proud of what was created here," he said.
Electric bikes a possibility
PBSC launched last week a call for tenders for its new electric bike dubbed "Boost." It's a regular Bixi bike, but equipped with a motor on the rear wheel, a long-life battery and a regulator to maintain speeds without additional effort when pedalling up hills.
Interested cities will be able to carry them in the fall. Montreal is "interested," Sabbatini said. Bérengère Theriault, a spokeswoman for Bixi-Montreal, said it must stick to the 5,000 bikes in circulation until 2019. Municipal leaders will then decide whether to adopt the enhanced bikes.
Keeping it local
Bixi bikes are produced at a factory in Saguenay, Que., which can churn out 2,000 bikes a month. But even with the high demand, Sabbatini says the goal is to keep operations in Quebec.
More cities, however, are demanding that part of the production be done locally, in their jurisdictions.
"We have to work with this, but it's our priority to favour our Quebec providers," Sabbatini said. "It will be a good problem to have when we reach maximum capacity, but we'll find solutions when the time comes."
With files from Radio-Canada's Thomas Gerbet