Despite losses, city set to pump more money into Bike Share

The city is planning on adding another 1,000 bicycles to its Bike Share program this spring, even though the service isn't self-sustaining and is expected to be $1.1 million in the hole by the end of this year.

1,000 bikes to be added this spring

Toronto Bike Share manager Sean Wheldrake, pictured here, says the service has a 'cash-flow shortage.'

The city is planning on adding another 1,000 bicycles to its Bike Share Toronto program this spring, even though the service isn't self-sustaining and is expected to be $1.1 million in the hole by the end of this year.

The Toronto Parking Authority, which oversees Bike Share, will be asked at its Monday meeting to approve adding the new inventory to its existing fleet of 2,750 bikes. As well, the plan calls for 90 new Bike Share stations and an additional 1,570 docks.

But the plan's $5.2 million price tag is not sitting well with Coun. Stephen Holyday, who represents Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre.

"Maybe they could look at cutting costs, or other ways of delivering the service," he told CBC Toronto Friday. "I appreciate the use of a bike sharing service, but the city should be making money off it, much the same way that it makes money off parking spaces."

Coun. Stephen Holyday says Toronto Bike Share is a worthwhile service, but he's not convinced it should be expanded, especially when it's not financially self-sustaining. (Keith Burgess/CBC News)

Bike Share posted a "cash flow shortage" of $690,000 in 2017, according to the program's manager, Sean Wheldrake, a number that's projected to rise to $1.1 million by the end of this year.

In an email to CBC Toronto on Friday, a spokesperson for Mayor John Tory wrote: "Mayor Tory is proud of the Toronto Bike Share expansion that has been made possible thanks to the funding commitments he's been able to secure from the provincial and federal governments.

"Both the Mayor and Bike Share staff are focused on strengthening the program's finances."

A map that accompanies a report to the Toronto Parking Authority's Monday meeting shows which parts of the city will be getting new Bike Share stations. (City of Toronto)

Wheldrake said the cash flow problems are being caused by the program's lack of a private sponsor.

"We're looking for a big sponsor," Wheldrake said Thursday, one that's prepared to invest "millions" in Bike Share.

TD Bank had been bankrolling Bike Share, but pulled out in 2016. 

The program began as a privately-run business called BIXI in 2011. It was taken over by the city's Toronto Parking Authority (TPA) in 2013.

Coun. Mike Layton, a Bike Share member, defends the planned Bike Share expansion, saying it will become financially self-sustaining as it gets bigger. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC News)

It's now funded mainly by riders, who pay $90 for an annual membership, or buy cheaper one-day, or three-day passes. Wheldrake said there are currently about 11,000 annual members and about 90,000 "casual" users.

According to TPA budget figures, Bike Share cost about $3.9-million to operate in 2017, but only brought in about $3.2- million in revenue, leaving a shortfall of about $690,000. That deficit is expected to rise by another $410,000 by the end of 2018.

Coun. Mike Layton, who represents Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina and is a member of both Bike Share and the lobby group Cycle Toronto, said Friday the service should continue to be maintained by the city, even if it costs money to operate.

Many of the newest Bike Share locations, should the expansion plan be approved, will be outside the city core, where almost all the current stations are located. (Mike Smee/CBC News)

"It's an exciting expansion," he said Thursday.

"People are starting to use them on a regular basis as part of their commuting options, simply because they're seeing the roads packed with cars, the transit vehicles packed with people and we're starting to deliver some of those basic pieces of infrastructure that give people the confidence to cycle around our city."

The expansion will cost the city about $2.14 million, with the federal government matching that figure, through a program called the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, according to a report to Monday's TPA meeting. Metrolinx is adding another  $980,000.

More stations near Union

The Metrolinx money will be used to add 300 new Bike Share docking points around Union Station, which will "ease overcrowding on subways," the report says.

But the bulk of the network's expansion will be beyond the downtown core, according to the report. The target areas are transit stops and stations in North York, along the St. Clair Avenue corridor, west along Dupont Street and Davenport Road, and along the eastern waterfront into East York.

In its 2018 budget, Bike Share estimates that annual memberships will double this year, with casual ridership jumping by 28 per cent.

Ridership growing

They're forecasting 2.5 million Bike Share rides in 2018.

The city wants the fleet to number 6,000 bikes within the next few years, the report says.

Late last month, the city's public works and infrastructure committee deferred a suggestion by Coun. Paul Ainslie, who represents Ward 43, Scarborough East, to add Bike Share stations in southern Scarborough.

About the Author

Michael Smee

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michael Smee has worked in print, radio, TV and online journalism for many years.