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Profitable Bike Sharing

bixi-bike

Bixi Bike Share Station

Alt Transport is reporting that Bixi, proprietor of bike-share systems across North America and Europe(including in my own Minneapolis) is facing hard financial times. According to the article, the Montreal based company was able to raise enough revenue to cover it’s own day-to-day operating expenses, but not enough to cover capital costs associated with startup or expansion.

This is a familiar story. You could say the same thing (or worse) about any transit agency in the US.

It would be unfortunate if Bixi’s financial collapse convinced cities that bike shares are a bad investment, although that is kind of the unavoidable conclusion here. After all, Montreal taxpayers ended up covering the entire bill for a system that was designed and operated by what was technically a private company. The question is whether it matters if bike shares a bad investment, and whether the positive externalities of a still-experimental transit system like a bike share (fewer trips made by car, slightly cleaner air, less traffic, a healthier citizenry, the general encouragement of bicycle use) are worth going into debt over. If a city answers “yes” to this question, it needs to be prepared to keep its private partners on a shorter leash than Montreal apparently did.

Locally, it raises some important questions. Our own Nice Ride depends heavily on grants from Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, both funding sources that probably won’t be around in a few years. I remain optimistic that Nice Ride will be successful, but I don’t necessarily define that as being profitable.

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