A wise man once told me “A Bixi is like a prostitute. It’s only five bucks, and everyone gets a ride.” I countered that a Bixi can’t contract venereal diseases, a safety feature that has certainly helped the Bixi system attract millions of riders since its introduction to Montreal’s streets last summer.
The Bixi—a contraction of bicycle and taxi—bicycle sharing system is the first of its kind in North America. A similar system, Velib’, was launched in Paris in 2007, and in typical Quebec fashion, the idea was imported to Montreal. The bicycle network has been successful and now rents nearly 5,000 bikes, introduced in stages from season to season. In winter, you won’t see any around (although I’m patenting a sled-dog-xi system), but as the snow starts to thaw, the stations are gradually reintroduced. The stations are removed starting in September, when the cool temperatures forces Bixis into hibernation for the winter.
You’ve most likely seen two or more people riding a Bixi—often the same one—and wondered how the system works. Drunken riders who take their Bixis home for the night may wake up to hundreds of dollars on their credit card bills, and many sober ones still mistakenly think that the first 30 minutes are free.
There are two ways to rent a Bixi: a daily rental, or a longer term subscription. Daily $5 rentals last for 24 hours. Then, for each bike that you rent in that 24 hours, the first 30 minutes of riding is free; the second half hour costs $1.50 (plus the $5 for the 24-hour rental), the third half-hour another $3, and each subsequent 30 minutes run you $6. You can re-check out bikes at no additional flat-rate in the 24-hour period (although the time rates still apply).
The other rental method, a subscription, permits users to access a Bixi for a month or a year. A 30-day subscription costs $28, while a year runs for $78. However, the same ride-time-usage charges apply as the 24-hour rental. These charges are in place because Bixis are intended to be used as a form of transportation, not for longer, leisurely rides. The goal is to keep Bixis constantly moving from station to station so that other users can have access to them as well.
The monthly or yearly subscription comes with a key that you simply insert into the bike rack to go for a ride, while the day rental requires you swipe your credit card at the kiosk and enter an unlocking code each time you want a bike. Daily renters will be charged a $250 holding fee, which is returned when the Bixi is checked into another station. There’s also an option to report damage to one of the bikes.
The Bixi stations are powered by solar panels on top of the kiosk, which means the stations are sometimes moved in order to get more sunshine. Similar systems are spreading to other North American cities, from Waterloo to Minneapolis. Bixis are a great replacement for bicycle owners, as well as a unique engineering achievement with advanced counter-theft measures and bicycle design. However, they’re not going to replace the STM anytime soon. While McGill security won’t let you ride your Bixi through campus, it’s still a great way to get anywhere on the island, from St. Viateur to the Old Port to the Mount-Royal chalet.