Toronto's troubled bike-share service has a new main sponsor, with TD Bank offering upward of $1.3-million over two years to cover operating costs.
The program was taken over by the Toronto Parking Authority in the spring after it became clear it could not pay its debts. Its viability remained in question, though, with critics calling it a waste of public money and advocates arguing that it needed to expand to be effective.
The sponsorship announced Tuesday will "ensure continued success of Toronto Bike Share," according to TPA president Lorne Persiko, who said the deal had been in the works for months.
The bike-share program, which was once known as Bixi, has 80 docking stations and 1,000 bicycles spread across the downtown core. It had been sponsored by Telus and Desjardins, to the tune of $200,000 per year.
Mr. Persiko said the terms of the deal with TD were confidential. But he revealed that it would cover $650,000 in annual costs, plus an undetermined additional amount.
Asked about the historic reticence on the part of some councillors to taking corporate money, Mayor John Tory said that "there is no downside" to the sponsorship announced Tuesday. He later drew a line when asked about the hypothetical possibility of a company buying the naming rights to a TTC station.
"I wouldn't change the name of subway stations, I think that's confusing," he said. "I wouldn't have even changed to Line 1 and Line 2, because people still refer to it otherwise. But that's just a personal view and I'm certainly not going to argue with it."
Some expansion of the bike-share program is scheduled for next year. Twenty additional docking stations will be added, initially to serve the Pan Am Games, placed around the CNE and the athletes' village, and later redistributed. And there are plans for other stations funded with Section 37 money, which developers pay in return for a deviation from height or density rules.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said that the Section 37 money could be used, for example, to add stations in her downtown ward. This would allow some of the stations currently in her ward to be moved to another part of the city, one that has less development potential.
"That's good that this is on stable ground," said Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto. "With that said, you know, Montreal's got over 400 stations, New York's got over 300 stations … we have a long way to go before we're going be a world-class bike share system."