OV Fiets and Bixi Toronto

Thursday night, I attended a second pre-event for the Complete Streets Forum at U of T Hart House. Kaj Mook, who heads up the OV Fiets program at NS rail in the Netherlands was on-hand to speak about the Netherland’s successful implementation of a bike share program. While that program addresses vastly different needs from the proposed Toronto program, the methodology in place to assess user needs and provide innovative resources to meet those needs, can still be used to model the Bixi system after. Additionally, Sean Wheldrake offered an update on the Bixi Toronto system. The night’s events were hosted by Go Green Go Dutch Go Bike as well as the Bike Union and TCAT.

Link to NS OV Fiets site (you’ll need a dutch-speaking friend)

Link to GoGreenGoDutchGoBike site

The fact that the OV Fiets bike share system is run by the national railway is a good first indicator as to the different needs the system aims to address as well as the different social climate that it operates in. For NS, the main issue is of how to provide transport to and from the station to meet the users commuting and leisure needs? The system is centralized along the rail infrastructure and will support 7000 rental bikes through staffed and automated rental stations by June 2010. In addition, NS includes massive numbers of bike racks throughout their network of stations to ease the commute for those who choose to take their own bike. With this model, NS has been able to rely on businesses for a large part of its business as employers choose to make the OV Fiets system part of their benefits to their employees. This makes a full 1/3 of OV Fiets 70,000 subscribers corporate clients, and adds 125,000 users to the program as well as an excellent revenue baseline. In terms of revenue, the program projects to be profitable in 2011 as it hits a critical mass of users and expands its fleet to include e bikes and scooters as other methods of travel.

The way that the OV Fiets program continues to grow is the innovative ways it has found to be easy to use. Being run by NS means the system can be, and is, fully integrated with transit passes already in use by the railway. To sign up only requires a user to go online or to one of the staffed rental locations where their ID is checked and the OV Fiets system is either linked to their existing transit card or a new OV Fiets card is provided. From there, the customer pays $13 a year in addition to $4 a day for each bike rental and is able to use their microchip and swipe-enabled card to rent bikes at any OV Fiets location. All billing is handled through direct debit and a central website is used to address customer needs.

The implementation of smart card technologies means that OV Fiets users can take advantage of a largely automated system. Unmanned bike lockers and bike storage rooms are accessed through smart card swipes where users are granted access to a key fob for the locker as well as a key that accompanies a heavy lock provided with every bike. They also get a bike, of course! From there, the user needs only scan in again at the end of their day and replace the items. The heavy bike lock is one main difference from other systems, where the goal is point to point commuting supported by a street-level system that aims to ensure easy access from just about anywhere. Since Dutch users will often be leaving the bike locked for long periods of time (work day or errands), a heavy lock is a key piece in assuring a low theft rate. In fact, the OV Fiets system only experiences 1% loss of bikes each year.

So how are Toronto’s plans going to stack up? To start with, the target audience in Toronto is very different from that of OV Fiets and is much closer to Paris’ Velib or Montreal’s Bixi. The idea is to provide a dense web of bike share stations and downtown, all within 300m of the next station. This model runs off of an annual subscription, estimated to be about $80, and then grants free access to share bikes for rides less than 30 minutes. For rides longer than 30 minutes, a fee structure starts at $1.50 for the first additional 30 minutes and then increases from there. Bixi bikes ideally move only between stations, meaning that it is for point to point travel (with each point being a Bixi station). This is a very different mentality than that of having your own bike. Instead of locking up our front of say, the grocery store, doing your shopping and returning to the same bike the Bixi system encourages users to grab a bike, go near the grocery store, lock up at a Bixi station, do one’s shopping, and then return to any Bixi station, grab another bike, and return to a Bixi station near home. On the up side, each bike will be boasting its own 2-4 ready basket. On the downside, this model means the bikes will not come with locks and it will be interesting to see how well the station-to-station model actually works as this seems a high risk for theft.

Toronto will start off with 80 locations, hopefully in May of 2011 and will feature 1000 bikes. The Bixi system is very tourist friendly as a day pass can be purchased at any station for $5. The system is also currently in place or being rolled out in Melbourne, Montreal, Boston, and Minneapolis. The Toronto version will feature stations that are fully mobile and can be taken down and reassembled in one day. All of these are solar powered and wirelessly tie into the Bixi mainframe to track usage. This is a huge point as the system will be able to be reconfigured based on actual use, so make sure to get out there and use the Bixi in your neighborhood when they come if you like having one that’s easily accessible. The initial plan is for a 10 year integration being done through the Public Bike Share Company (PBSC)…strangely, this same acronym works for Peanut Butter Sandwich Company which I personally think would be a great additional offering at each station.

One of the main concerns about Toronto’s Bixi is that the number of bikes has already been diluted by the early proceedings from 3000 bikes to 1000 bikes. This is scary especially when the success of Paris’ system, which is the widest used point-to-point system in the world currently, is attributed so heavily to having the right system from day 1. Having less than enough bikes and/or stations to support travel pattern will obviously hurt use, so we’ll have to hope that the network of 80/1000 is enough to satiate the downtown crowd.

So what are the next steps? Bixi Toronto needs to hit 4 main points to secure its loan for business to be up and running next year.
• $600,000 in sponsorship funding;
• 1,000 subscription pledges;
• 80 approved bicycle parking station locations;
• Marketing/communications plan in place; and

Here’s hoping this comes together to further encourage cycling in Toronto. While debates rage about whether this system is really appropriate for existing infrastructure and whether the fight for infrastructure should happen first, it’s my opinion that this is a chicken and egg situation and movement on any cycling front can potentially beget further cycling investment from the city.

Here’s a couple of other cool links about the BIXI


Ride to and From Hart House (with a stop to James Joyce in the middle)

04/26/2010 OV Fiets at Hart House

Since March 20, 2010
Total KM Ridden: 229.64
Total $ Saved: $113


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: