The third season of the Bixi bike sharing program has started with a few changes. More docking stations have been added to four more neighbourhoods, especially in the previously unserved central-western areas of the city such as NDG and Westmount (who grudgingly allowed a mere four stations to be set up in their city) while base times before needing to pay for trips have been extended from 30 minutes to 45.
Also new is the addition of advertising on the bicycles themselves. Despite a promise at the initial launch that there would be no advertising on Bixi bikes, they rolled out this spring with red, white, and green sponsors from three different companies covering a portion of the rear wheels.
The backlash was quick to come with a Facebook group that now has nearly a thousand members and a CBC Daybreak story that interviewed a membership holder who vowed not to renew due to the presence of the advertisements. The company who oversees the program was quick to respond to the criticism with a plea for users and the general public to put up with the ads to help the program cover costs. Indeed, more than just sponsorship was needed; the city just bailed out the company with a $108 million dollar loan after they threatened to pull the bikes from the roads and close up shop.
Obviously, unhappy Montrealers quickly took to vandalizing the ads in a variety of ways. Michel Philibert, porte-parole of Bixi is calling it “un phénomène marginal” but one sponsor is displeased about the negative attention the problem is bringing to its brand. One journalist took a walk around and found that of the 170 bikes observed, 42% of the ads were vandalized in some way or another. If people at Bixi are at all surprised, they obviously haven’t been paying attention to the Bixi programs they have been exporting to other cities, particularly London where their “Barclays Bikes” fell victim to an anti-Barclays sticker campaign within hours of its launch.
Initially, I was put off by the ads on the bikes, but after spending an afternoon walking around downtown taking photos of some of the vandalism, I was pleased to find that the ads have provided a new, mobile space for Montrealers to spread messages and/or express their creativity. Much of the vandalism is simple tags either on a sticker or done with a marker while others are quite artistic. My favourites are the ones that covered the expensive advertisements of giant corporations in favour of advertisements for small local events or causes. Not only can these messages be put on bikes all over the city, but owing to their being a means of transportation, also move from place to place as the bike is borrowed and replaced. Below (after the jump) are some examples of how the ads have been re-appropriated by some industrious residents of the city.
As in London, some of the advertising vandalism attacks the advertisers themselves:
Many are simple tags that have been applied either with a marker or a sticker. This bike has had both:
April 15th was Steal Something From Work Day:
Somebody found a way to simply remove the ad altogether bringing the bike back to its sleek look of past years:
These stickers advertising the annual May Day parade were on a number of bikes all over the city:
A stencil covering a Desjardins ad in favour of an advertisement for Bixi itself:
This stencil incorporates the Telus logo to make it say “Bixi Wait Loss”. I’m not really sure what they’re trying to say with this:
A sticker of a bird carrying a sign:
Finally, a simple piece of electrical tape covering up a logo: