By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton politicians are leading the pack after agreeing to a new five-year bicycle sharing contract with a United States company that is scheduled to begin next spring.
Members of the public works committee agreed at their Dec. 2 committee meeting to hire Social Bicycles, a three-year-old company, to install up to 65 stations across parts of the city, and buy up to 650 bikes for public use.
“This is great for the city,” said Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie, a proponent of alternative modes of transportation. “(Hamilton) is the first city in Ontario to buy into this bike share program.”
But Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson said sometimes it not that great to be a pioneer.
“It’s a lot of money,” he said. “It makes me uneasy.”
The province is providing the $1.6 million in capital funding to build the stations and buy the bikes. Social Bicycles, which won the tender with a $1.3 million bid, will fund the operation through user fees and advertising. It was also assume all liabilities and incidents of the business. Any profits that are earned during the first five years will be re-invested into the program, said city officials.
The $1.6 million is part of the Metrolinx funding to the city to be used for transit infrastructure.
Politicians are scheduled to vote on the recommendation at their Dec. 11 council meeting.
Social Bicycles operates bike-sharing programs in Hoboken, New Jersey, Tampa Bay, and Buffalo.
Under the agreement, said Peter Topalovic, project manager of the bike sharing program, Social Bicycles will be responsible for covering all operating costs for the five years. If the business is unable to fulfill its contract, the assets revert back to the city, andHamiltonwill either seek another contractor, or sell off the bikes.
He said to properly establish a bike sharing program, the capital costs have to be covered, and the Metrolinx funding does that.
Topalovic said the bike stations will be located in wards 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, and 13. Some of the locations that have already been identified are Mohawk College, Concession Street andValley Park.
The bikes are a classic Dutch-style design, and can be locked up to any object. Social Bicycles charges a monthly fee to use the bikes, and a set cost per hour of use.
In Toronto, the municipality is looking at trying to save about $4.5 million in its bike sharing program that has been a financial burden since it was introduced in 2011.
“We have learned fromToronto,” said Dundas councillor Russ Powers. “Clearly this is different. It will take us back to the basics. It’s worth a try.”
And even though Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead supported the recommendation, he remained wary of the program. He questioned the cost, calling it a subsidy, while also pointing out in his ward residents are looking for more bus service rather than bikes.
“You don’t have adequate bus service (in Ward 8),” he said. “Where are our priorities?”
Social Bicycles is scheduled to install the bike stations in March 2014, with service beginning a month later.