Montreal’s bike-rental program: will it work?


Parisians enjoy their city’s Vélib’ bike-sharing program. Photo by malais

Earlier this month we found out that Montreal plans to be the first city in North America to establish a wide-scale bike-sharing program. The first bikes will hit the streets next fall; by 2009, you should be able to rent one of 2,400 bikes, and for about $1 per half-hour, from 300 stations scattered around town.

“The idea is to encourage Montrealers and tourists to use the public bicycles instead of cars for short, inner-city trips. Users will be able to pick up a bike at one station, use it, then drop it off at any station of their choice,” explains Michelle Lalonde in the Gazette. The whole scheme will be managed by Stationnement Montréal, the city’s parking authority, using automatic machines to regulate the self-serve bike-sharing stations. The initial cost is expected to be $15 million, but the system is eventually expected to pay for itself.

As usual, Paris is Montreal’s source of inspiration. This past summer, the French metropolis launched a massive bike-sharing program, known as Vélib’, with 10,000 bikes available at 750 stations. According to the Gazette, “demand has been so strong that the city is adding 10,600 bikes and aims to have 1,451 bike stations in place by the end of 2007.” In order to access the bikes, Parisians can buy a yearly pass, a weekly pass or a one-time pass. Payment is made by credit card; to avoid bike theft, each user is charged a €150 deposit that is refunded when they return their bike.

By all accounts, Vélib’ is a roaring success. Shortly after its launch, Paris’ deputy mayor for transport, Denis Baupin, estimated that six trips were made on each bike every day. That’s 60,000 trips per day — about the same as the 80 Park Avenue bus.

“Vélib is a brilliant way to get around and to discover Paris,” raves the normally aloof Economist. “The overall experience was definitely worth it; I got jealous glares from men in their cars and admiring gazes from women doing their shopping. The going rate is €1 per half hour, which seems more reasonable and more environmentally friendly than the metro or a taxi.”

So, bike-sharing works in Paris — but what about here? Tell us what you think.

9 comments

  1. It certainly is a nice idea, but much like another European fad — the tramway — I wonder how the Montréal version would take our five/six months of snow into account. I could see potential for another Big O fiasco, where what worked for the south of France is crushed under the weight of a Montréal winter. Beware!

  2. Problem is, it’s really expensive if you want to use it for any longish amount of time. For example, unless you have a subscription (which isn’t much cheaper), it’s 7 euros for two hours. Using them to bike to work isn’t really a possibilty then…

  3. Unless I’m mistaken, though, you only rent the bike for as long as you are actually riding it. For instance, you take a bike from one station, ride it to work and then park it at another station. You only pay for the amount of time it takes you to go between the two stations.

    You can bike from one end of central Montreal to another — that’s NDG all the way to Rosemont — in an hour, so that would be no more than $2 for any single trip. Once you park the bike, you stop paying.

  4. Does anyone know what the outcome was of the bikes that were offered on Mont-Royal avenue? I haven’t read any concluding remarks, though the system has been taken down for the winter.

  5. I’m pretty sure the Bécik Vert program in the Plateau was quite successful. I went there with my brother once and they were completely out of bikes by noon. They said they usually ran out at around on weekdays and earlier on weekends. They only had about 30 bikes though and only two places you could pick them up but they were free and you could keep them for the whole day. I used to see them around once and awhile and the looks most people had on their faces was one of terror if they were on the street as they were usually used by people who don’t often bike or tourists so they weren’t all that used to Montreal’s famously aggressive drivers.

  6. I am completely stoked by this idea. Montreal is doing something right! I was just in Paris and saw tons of people using them. I’m not too concerned that the bikes can only be used for half the year. I only hope that the stations don’t get destroyed over the course of the winter.

  7. It is another rip off like the one they made with changing the parking meters,you deposit the money for an hour for example,but you cannot add to it until the hour expires,neither you nor others can benefit from the money left on the meter,plus you have to walk a distance on an icy sidewalk to reach for the machine and freeze before another person is finished punching the numbers…the bike thing is another way for the city to empty the peoples pocket,the last thing they care about is the environment,montreal roads and weather are not fit for these types of projects,montreal is a continious construction site for roads and sewers,not because of the harsh winter,but because of the incomipence,corruption,and the lack of coordination between different departments of public works…wake up!

  8. wweeasel, If you think that $78 for an annual subscription is too much, you will not be required to participate.

    I think this is an excellent initiative not only for Montreal, but also for Vancouver, where I ride.

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