Vancouver has committed to launching a public bike-share program that will see 1,000 bicycles operating out of 100 stations this summer, ending several years of debate on how to bring such a transportation option to the city.
The system will be operated by CycleHop Canada, serving the downtown peninsula as well as an area boxed in by Arbutus Street, 16th Avenue and Main Street. The actual bikes will be provided by Smoove, a French company also providing a lock system that will work off a smartphone app.
To get the bikes rolling, the city is paying a $5-million launch and operation fee to cover five years. However, Councillor Heather Deal, designated to speak on the file as it was announced on Tuesday, said pricing for use of the bikes has not yet been worked out.
The announcement caps a process dating back to 2008, when the city began considering its options. The first request for expressions of interest went out in 2011, and the city declared it would work with Alta Bicycle Share of Portland, which uses bicycles from Bixi, a company launched in Montreal. But Bixi has run into financial troubles, forcing Vancouver to regroup.
"We're late to the game," Ms. Deal said. "This has been used in many, many other cities around the world for quite a long time now, and it provides that link between pedestrians, transit users and cyclists so you can combine those things to make your trips around the city as convenient and seamless as possible."
The focus is now on the CycleHop-Smoove combination, with plans to have the 1,000 bikes out this summer, followed by an additional 500 bikes and 50 stations by the end of 2016. Helmets will be available with the bikes.
Of CycleHop, Ms. Deal said, "They're experienced. They've done large urban systems before." The company is operating regional bike-share programs in the Ottawa region, California, Florida and Georgia, among other locations.
Ms. Deal said the city has been committed to the idea to enable Vancouver residents to use bikes as part of their routine for getting around – for example, taking transit partway to their destination and the bikes to complete their trip.
In 2012, Vancouver set a goal to see 50 per cent of trips in the city executed by walking, bike or transit by 2020. However, the city hit the target by 2015. Bike-sharing, she said, will also tie into Vancouver's goals of being the world's greenest city.
However, George Affleck, a councillor with the opposition Non-Partisan Association party, said the city should not be paying money to a private company for such an enterprise, especially when it could lead to competition with businesses in Vancouver that already rent bikes.
"It's the not the bike-share concept that I have a problem with. It's the City of Vancouver infusing $5-million startup capital into what I believe is a competitive company to the private-sector companies that are renting bicycles," he said in an interview. "I don't think that's fair."
Mr. Affleck said there is a business case for the private sector to operate cycling ride-share options. The city should not be investing taxpayers' money in such a venture, he said.
But Ms. Deal, a member of the majority Vision Vancouver party on council, said the cycles being provided through the city's program are heavier and less suited to the longer-distance riding associated with vehicles provided by the private companies.
Ms. Deal said the yet-to-be-confirmed pricing structure will deter longer-distance rides better suited for the bikes provided by the private companies Mr. Affleck was referring to. "They're not good long-distance bikes," she added of the Smoove cycles.
CycleHop will operate the system with equipment provided by Smoove, which is known for bike-lock technology unlocked through a membership or transit card. Smoove also has a smartphone app allowing members to sign up and unlock a bike.
Ms. Deal said bikes would be locked at stations, but could also be locked in regular bike racks and unlocked by customers through the smartphone app.