Toronto is taking over the struggling local Bixi bike-share program and looking for a private-sector company to run it and assume the risk.
"Bike sharing will be part of the better Toronto we all want to build," Public Works Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong said Wednesday. "Public bike-sharing is public transit."
The new deal hinges on diverting $5-million from Bell Media, money that was earmarked for public toilets, to cover a city-backed loan the company could no longer carry.
"We believe we've put it on a financial footing that is sound and stable," Mr. Minnan-Wong said. "It's our intention for this ... not to assume a loss."
The company currently costs about $1.5-million to operate annually, with users and sponsors covering most of that. The shortfall of between $100,000 and $200,000 is expected to be bridged by new and richer sponsorship deals and by private-sector efficiencies.
The name Bixi will disappear from the system once a new sponsor is found, Mr. Minnan-Wong said. In other changes, there could be future price increases and there is the possibility of a "modest" fleet expansion.
Bike-sharing programs allow users to rent bicycles on a per-use basis. They have been launched around the world and Bixi appeared in Toronto in 2011.
Supporters of the struggling bike-share network, which has 1,000 bicycles in the city spread among 80 stations, said that the fleet was not extensive enough for it to succeed. Critics said that the business model itself was a failure.
Earlier this year, councillors were told the company was no longer able to make payments on the $3.9-million loan it had been guaranteed by the city.
With bankruptcy looming and Mayor Rob Ford saying the company should be allowed to die, supporters at city hall raced to find a solution. The TTC commission opted not to take it over, but voiced support for the service as a helpful addition to the city’s transportation offerings. Using money earmarked for public toilets was one solution floated.
Bike-share operations have proliferated globally, often with greater success than in Toronto. In New York, where CitiBike was launched in the spring, there are around 500,000 members and riders have used the service 5 million times, according to figures released last month.