Bixi popularity helping small business owners despite concerns

Just around the bend from La Bicycletterie J.R., on Rachel Street, is a Bixi stand.  But the public bike service now known around the world doesn’t threaten owner Jaime Rosenbluth’s business.  

“It’s good for business,” Rosenbluth said. “With Bixi, people discover the joy of biking, they buy a bike, and then I fix it. I have competitive rates, so I’m not too worried.”

Other shops around town echoed this attitude, suggesting that regardless of Bixis’ popularity, the service can coexist with established local bike shops.  

“Our shop hasn’t been hurt at all,” said Marissa Plamondon-Lu, who works at Bikurious Montreal on Amherst Street. “There is a raised awareness, making it more accessible for people who wouldn’t want to buy a bike.”

Steven Dennis, manager of the Martin Swiss bike shop in Westmount, has even noticed an upswing in business since the arrival of the Bixis: “We’ve seen an increase in both repairs and sales. Fantastic.”  

Despite these assertions, however, others have raised concerns about Bixis’ impact on the business of small, local bike shops.  An article writen earlier this week by Sophie-Helene Labeouf for Radio Canada cited numerous shop owners who have seen Bixis as a threat to business. Complaints have focused on the fact that small shops cannot provide 24-hour service, bike equipment sales have gone down, and short-term rentals have decreased. The cautionary tone is expected, given how popular  Bixis have become in less than two years.

Bike shops may also feel threatened by Bixis’ immense scope and funding. 24-hour rentals are offered May though November, and the service is not directly run by the City of Montreal, but rather by the Public Bike System Company (PBSC), an appendage of the Montreal Transit Corporation (STM).  The plan was unveiled in 2008, and when it was put into motion on the streets the following spring, it became the first public bike system in North America.  

Helped by a $33 million loan from STM, the service soared in popularity.  By the end of the first summer, Bixi had expanded to Melbourne, London, and Boston, among other cities.  To top it all off, Time Magazine recognized it as the 19th-best invention of 2008.  

In Montreal, though, there have been a number of complaints—both official and unofficial—that the large-scale municipal Bixi project was implemented with little regard for the local bike culture already established in the city. But many issues seem to have been resolved over time or by Bixi’s willingness to cooperate.

“[Bixi] has helped sometimes,” Rosenbluth said. “Someone will come here to drop off a bike to get repaired, they take a Bixi downtown to work. They come back at 5:30 to get their bike.”

“We have this BIXI stand on the corner,” he added. “If you look on the side of it, you will see a sticker for my shop, saying that for longer trips it is cheaper to rent from me.  People weren’t following directions and were taking Bixis for long days and getting huge bills.”  

The sticker, however, was not there from the start.

“This [advertisment] was partly because of complaints from bike shops,” Rosenbluth said. “But to me, it’s a nice sign of goodwill.”

The fact that many local bike shops have not seen a downturn in business may be due to this co-operation, mixed with a broader phenomenon brought on by Bixi’s presence—more people are using more bikes in more parts of the city.  The efficiency of Bixi allows for its widespread use by Montrealers heading to work or school, who might normally rely on other forms of public transportation.

“It’s getting people on bikes [who] wouldn’t be on bikes before,” Plamondon-Lu said. “And perhaps they realize they could get used to it.”

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