By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton’s proposed bike share program has had a flat tire as it attempts to roll out its program this summer.
City bike share staff confirmed the $1.6 million-project approved by politicians in December 2013, and confirmed earlier this year won’t be operational until September.
“Installations (of the bike hubs) have started over the next seven weeks,” said Christine Lee-Morrison, manager of mobility programs and special projects, adding “full system operation” should be ready by September.
She confirmed that by July 13, “only a few stations were deployed” during the free demonstration of the bike share program during Hamilton’s Open Streets event in downtown. She said up to 18 stations will be installed weekly throughout the lower city from Dundas, Bay Street North, Hamilton General Hospital, St. Peter’s Hospital, Woodlands Park, York and Mac Nab, Main and Dundurn, the Hamilton Go Station, Main and John to Gage Park and Gage Avenue. In total there are about 100 locations confirmed, with another 10 set to be established. Most of the locations are on public property, such as at city hall, and various parks including Gage Park.
Lee-Morrison confirmed that some of the Dundas locations among the 10 being looked at are still “subject to review.”
Craig Campbell of the Dundas Star News discovered the five bike hubs in the Valley Town are located on public property, on no-stopping zones and no parking zones. The hubs, he discovered, are scheduled to be installed by Aug. 18.
“The locations are appropriate (and) there has been no interference from the city,” said Lee-Morrison.
When the locations were approved earlier this year, it was decided that the Mountain wouldn’t have any hubs. Mountain councilors were upset, arguing their residents were looking forward to accessing the program.
Instead, Chelsea Cox, community manager for SoBi Hamilton, the non-profit company partnering with the city that is introducing the bike share program into Hamilton stated in an email, bike hubs will be installed at the bottom of each staircase “so residents near the brow can walk down and take a bike to their destination downtown.”
Cox said bike hubs have also been established near major transit stops.
“I know that this does not constitute full service to mountain residents right now, but our long-term goal is to cover the entire city,” Cox stated.
She blamed “limited Metrolinx funds” that curtailed the number of hubs that could be established in the city.
“Concession Street and Mohawk College are already on our radar,” she stated. “And while we don’t have a date set, we are confident that a successful phase one in lower Hamilton will translate to system expansion sooner rather than later.”
This is Social Bicycles first foray into Canada with its bike share program. The company has had some success in various parts of the United States including Buffalo, Orlando and Hoboken, New Jersey.
In Buffalo, Social Bicycles has about 75 bikes with 343 people signed up, according to its website. The hubs are located mostly in the downtown near the city’s medical campuses. In Orlando, it has about 200 bikes, while in Hoboken, the six-month trial program, which had 25 bikes, ended in late 2013.
Social Bicycles won the contract from the city with a bid of $1.3 million to operate Hamilton’s new bike share program last fall. Under the contract Social Bicycles is responsible for any operating costs, including damage, replacement of the bikes, and operating the stations. Any profits earned during the first five years will be re-invested into the program. If the company is unable to fulfill its obligations, the assets revert back to the city.
The idea for the program is for a person interested in using one of the bikes to get a PIN that they enter into the bike hub when they want to sign a bike out over the SoBi website. When you arrive, the person enters the PIN to unlock the bike.
While the capital funding is from Metrolinx, the operating cost is expected to be covered through subscriptions and sponsorships by the company.
Monthly memberships are available at $15 per month, which means a 60 minute trip can be about 50 cents. An annual pass is $85, which can make a 60 minute trip cost about 23 cents.
Susie Brathwaite, executive director for the International Village BIA, said her downtown members are looking forward to the bike share program.
“We are very excited about it,” she said. “It’s going to be great for the lower city. I’m a biker myself. So it will improve the bike infrastructure of the city. We’ve seen an increase in bike traffic not only from tourists but local people too.”
The BIA is a sponsor of three locations, including at Ferguson Station, and King William and John Street. But she acknowledged there have been limited contact with SoBi about the hub locations and when the program will begin.
Last April SoBi, located in the Seedworks urban offices in downtown Hamilton on Catharine Street, unveiled the system map of the locations for the 750 bikes. There was an expectation the program when it was approved by politicians in December 2013, would be ready by the summer season, but it was pushed back to mid-July. Now, as city staff says, September is a more likely target.
Cox says the program is complicated to co-ordinate involving ordering the bikes (from overseas) and getting the necessary approvals.
“With a project of this scope, it takes quite some time to assemble all of the pieces necessary to make it a success,” stated Cox. “Parts of our launch timeline have shifted for various reasons, including when the contract was signed and processed and when the funding was distributed. We are still awaiting approvals on a few locations in our system, but the vast majority of locations have been approved and deployment has already begun.”
She said three stations have already been set up.
Cox didn’t respond to a further inquiry where those hubs that had been installed were located or how many memberships SoBi has, if any.
Lee-Morrison acknowledged the initial bike share program had “aggressive targets” to meet in an effort to “take advantage of the summer.”
“We had some initial events (such as the Open Streets July 13),” she said.
But by mid-July the bikes had yet to arrive, she said.
“The delivery was out of our control,” said Lee-Morrison.