Toronto Island rental bikes go on sale Easter weekend as new owner takes over
Family that rented out bikes for decades loses city contract, appeals to city ombudsman
The Toronto Islands are what Priya Rao calls the city's oasis — and for the last 32 years her family has been renting bikes to help visitors explore Toronto's little piece of paradise.
But starting May 1, a new company takes over the bike rental contract on the islands — news Rao says was devastating to her family.
"We feel like we're ambassadors of the city of Toronto," said Rao, who was nine when her parents took over the bike rental business.
"I basically grew up on the island, I used to go there every summer playing and swimming until I was old enough to start working," she told CBC Toronto.
Although Rao no longer officially works for the family business, she returns each summer to help out because she loves "talking to the tourists and to the families that come back year after year."
We feel like we're ambassadors of the city of Toronto- Priya Rao, Toronto Island Bicycle Rental
Gordon Chhor started with the company in 1987 when he was just a high school student — he's now involved as a business partner. He says he'll miss the people the most.
"The people who come from all over the world, from across Canada to see this beautiful island ... It brings me a warm feeling, day in and day out," he said. "I would say to our staff, 'I know it's hard work and it's very busy but look how everybody is happy. It's paramount.'"
The bike rental company employed up to 12 people during the summer months.
City started bidding process in February
The city issued a request for proposals on the contract in February. After being the successful bidder for many years in a row, Rao said her family was informed last week that they would not be receiving the contract and were given until Apr. 24 to vacate the premises.
In an email to CBC Toronto, the city said as a result of the bidding process it "anticipates a significant increase in revenue to support Toronto Island Park." It also said visitors would have access to a new fleet of bicycles and there would be an "overall refresh" of the bike rental facility.
According to the city, net sales for the bicycle rental concession in 2016 were just over $435,000. Chhor says the company paid "a good amount of rent" to the city, which included a licensing fee.
The people who come from all over the world, from across Canada to see this beautiful island ... It brings me a warm feeling, day in and day out.- Gordon Chhor, Toronto Island Bicycle Rental
The city would not confirm the name of the company taking over the bike rental business but said there were only two registered bids for the contract. The new agreement is expected to take effect on May 1.
Bike sale starts Easter weekend
A massive bike sale will be held to offload the Toronto Island Bicycle Rental's stock starting Easter weekend.
If you're in the market for a cruiser or tandem bike, there are some deals to be had. Prices start at $75 for single bikes, $100 for tandems and if you want something for the whole family, quadricycles or "Flinstone cars" will start at $500.
The Rao family is trying to find a way to appeal the city's decision, but hasn't had much luck. They contacted the Parks, Forestry & Recreation department and were told to contact their city councillor's office.
But because it is against the code of conduct for councillors to get involved in the procurement process for city contracts, Coun. Pam McConnell's office suggested they instead reach out to the city ombudsman. The family is currently waiting to hear back from the ombudsman's office.
Incredible support from the public
The situation is sad, says Rao, but the support from the public has been overwhelming.
On Facebook, people are sharing their memories of the bike rental stand. One person remembers renting the "Flinstone car" for their wedding.
Another parent wrote: "Our little boy just loved to sit in the front seat of the Flintstone bike while we pushed him around the island."
One Facebook comment reads: "I have SO many wonderful memories both from my own childhood and those created with my own family. From my clan to yours."
"I say to them — I'm so happy you have good memories of the island because that's what we strove to deliver, it was happiness," said Rao.
I'm so happy you have good memories of the island because that's what we strove to deliver, it was happiness.- Priya Rao, Toronto Island Bicycle Rental
The bike sale will take place on Friday, Apr. 14 to Sunday, Apr. 16 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Toronto Island Bicycle Rental on Centre Island.
On the event's Facebook page the family writes: "With a heavy heart and one final time, we hope to see you on the Island!"