Electric bike service pedals into Montreal

Hundreds of electric bikes are rolling into Montreal this month, making it the first Canadian city to embrace Jump — an app-controlled service that, unlike Bixi, doesn't require docking stations or nearly so much leg power.

Uber-owned Jump to start popping up around downtown this month, bringing users to their destination at 32 km/h

Jean-Christophe de Le Rue, Uber's Quebec-based spokesperson, says Montreal is a bicycle city and that is why the company picked it for its first Canadian launch. ( Jérôme Labbé/Radio-Canada)

Hundreds of electric bikes are rolling into Montreal this month, making it the first Canadian city to embrace Jump — an app-controlled service that, unlike Bixi, doesn't require docking stations or nearly so much leg power.

The Uber-owned, on-demand electric bikes, coated in a bright red paint with the white logo clearly emblazoned on the side, rest on kickstands rather than docking stations. Currently, Jump is accessible in 20 cities around the world, though it is mainly in the United States.

"Usually, it was always Toronto that received all the new innovations," said Jean-Christophe de Le Rue, Uber's Quebec-based spokesperson, during a Thursday morning news conference.

"This is the first time that Montreal is first on the list because Montreal is really a city of bicycles."

The date of the official launch was not announced, but the service should be offered within "the next few weeks" or even "the next few days," he said.

Each Jump bike is equipped with a 350-watt motor, powered by a battery with a range of about 60 kilometres. Each bike has a wireless internet connection and an active GPS unit.

They are useable on the bike path, do not require a driver's license and can hit speeds of 32 kilometres per hour. To use Jump, users download the app and scan a QR code on the bicycle. That unlocks the integrated locking system. 

"We respect the Highway Safety Code, we put on a helmet and, when we finish, we find a bicycle rack that is available, we lock the bike with the integrated lock, and that's it," said de Le Rue, noting riders are charged by the minute and there is no base fee per use.

Every minute the user keeps the bike unlocked, he said, they are charged. The cost of renting an electric Jump bike will be about 30 cents per minute — or $9 per half hour.

Serving up competition for Bixi

While it costs $2.95 for a one-way trip of 30 minutes on a Bixi, the price will be three times higher with Jump — but cyclists will arrive faster at their destination, Uber argues.

According to de Le Rue, Jump will be "complementary" to Bixi, even if the not-for-profit organization is also thinking of offering an electric bike service by expanding the pilot project it conducted last summer.

Without a docking station, the electric bikes are unlocked with a phone, using an app. The integrated lock will automatically unlock when the user scans a QR code. (Jérôme Labbé/Radio-Canada)

Christian Vermette, executive director of Bixi Montreal, said a decision will be made shortly after the data from the pilot project is reviewed. He said he believes users will stay loyal to Bixi, which made 5.3 million trips last year.

Bixi recently added 1,000 bicycles and 60 docking stations to its fleet, for a total of 7,250 bikes and 600 stations in Montreal, he said.

"We cannot deny that there will be a financial impact with the arrival of a company like Jump or Lime, but we are confident of the effectiveness of our system," Vermette said.

Montreal's policy on such services in place since April

Uber expects a "customer transfer." In San Francisco, for example, its main service, Uber X, saw a 10 per cent drop in demand after Jump's arrival.

Uber's announcement that Jump, which also offers an e-scooter service, is launching in Montreal comes not long after city council approved its new policy allowing unregistered, self-service bicycle companies to operate without docking stations. It was approved April 15.

This new regulation prohibits the parking of bicycles and electric scooters anywhere other than on a bicycle rack or in one of the 43 zones that will be created specifically for this type of service in the borough of Ville-Marie this summer.

It also provides that each operator will be responsible for moving any bikes that obstruct the road or are not properly parked. If the operator fails to keep bikes out of proper zones, the city reserves the right to charge them for removal and storage costs.

These fines could reach $2,000 each in the event of a repeat offence. Jump says it will pass fees for illegally parked bikes onto its users and offenders may be expelled from the service.

Bright and clearly labelled with the Jump logo, the electric bikes can travel up to 60 kilometres on a single charge and are unlocked with a phone app. (Jérôme Labbé/Radio-Canada)

The new regulations will also require Uber to obtain a license that could cost up to $27,500.

Although the new by-law will allow e-bikes to be put into circulation in the 19 boroughs of Montreal, Jump's first motorized bicycles will be deployed in the city centre, said de Le Rue.

Negotiations would also be underway with Westmount to convince the municipality to adopt a regulation similar to that of Montreal.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Jérôme Labbé