Bike Calgary president Agustin Louro, pictured on the St Patricks Island connector bridge in East Village, believes cycling infrastructure needs to be improved before a bike-share system is viable in Calgary. Photo by Wil Andruschak/For CREB®Now

Calgary falling behind on bike-sharing initiatives, say experts

The norm, rather than the exception: that’s how cycling advocates describe the future of bike-sharing programs, which, like Car2go, offer a fleet of bikes (instead of cars) to the public for brief-period rental.

According to Google’s Bike-Sharing World Map, 977 cities worldwide already participate in such systems.

Calgary is not one of them.

City of Calgary cycling co-ordinator Tom Thivener notes that bike sharing is one of 50 action items listed in the City’s cycling strategy, which council approved in 2011.

Yet while the City has conducted a feasibility study on bike sharing in Calgary – as well as a business-case analysis, examining how such a system would be owned and operated – the most significant obstacle remains funding.

“It’s not going to get off the ground without funding. It would be a $2-million to $3-million investment, and it’s currently not funded by council,” said Thivener.

And without council funding or private sector sponsorship – like Citygroup does in New York or TD Bank in Toronto – a bike-share system in Calgary is on hold indefinitely.

“It’s pretty rare you’ll get a sponsor that pays for all the upfront costs,” said Thivener. “You almost need some city investment. Ultimately, the decision rests with council as to whether this moves ahead.”

Instead, the City has been focusing on the much-publicized downtown cycle track pilot project, which is set to end its pilot phase in December 2016. The pilot, approved in 2014, includes tracks on Fifth Street S.W. as well as on 12th, Eighth and Ninth avenues.

A bike lane on Seventh Street S.W. has been in place since July 2013.

“Some feel the cycling infrastructure needs to be improved before a bike-share system anyway,” said Thivener.

Bike Calgary president Agustin Louro agrees.

“People who use bike shares are your regular, everyday people. Designated bike lanes remove another barrier for them,” he said.

Avid bike blogger, author and Calgary Herald producer Tom Babin admits he wasn’t keen on the idea of a bike-share system before the cycle-track network opened.

“When city council was first considering a bike share, I didn’t love the idea. I didn’t think Calgary was ready,” he said. “If people feel unsafe, they won’t ride.”

However, Babin says he has now “softened” on his stance on the issue following the downtown bike lane pilot project.

Currently in Canada, there are bike-share systems in Hamilton, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.

“I enjoyed getting around Montreal using the bike share. It’s easier than fighting traffic, or figuring out transit,” said Babin, who believes the program would be a hit with Calgarians.

Louro believes that for bike sharing to work, it needs to be “accessible and reliable.”

“When you want to find a bike or a docking station, there should be one there,” he said, adding it’s important to locate these stations near transit hubs.

Thivener said the City’s feasibility study suggested initiating a bike-share system in Calgary’s inner-city only, with an initial 40 docking stations and 400 bikes.

Users would buy modestly priced passes to access the bike-share network. They then would pay additional monies according to how long they have the bike.

In other jurisdictions, the first few minutes of usage are usually free.

“The more successful bike-share systems are those that are treated as part of the transit system,” said Thivener. “They can solve that ‘last-mile’ problem, which sees people needing to cover the last two kilometres from a C-Train station to their destination. A bike-share system could be a cost-effective solution.”

Louro admits a local bike-share program is currently not on Bike Calgary’s list of advocacy priorities – simply because “the conversation hasn’t really happened, yet.”

“We would look for initiatives to be taken on the part of politicians. They would need to open the door for discussion at a political level,” he said.