Monday, April 15, 2013

Bixi's back for 2013

As of today, Capital Bixi is back in action! For subscribers like me, that means my key should work for the remainder of my one-year subscription (which I bought last June). And for you readers of my blog, that means I'm going to blog about it!

I never got around to blogging my Bixi photos last year (and the year before, my season-opener blog post used photos from the 2009 pilot), so I get to include some of those with this post. For example, the one above was taken last June at the Museum of Nature's east lawn, at Elgin and McLeod. On Saturday night, the bikes had been re-installed, though it was decidedly snowier:

Since the NCC is heading up the Bixi program, many of the stations are at locations significant to the NCC. While the Corktown Footbridge is an obvious choice because of its local cycling connection, it's also right on the canal pathway at Queen Elizabeth Drive, convenient if you live at Ten Driveway or if you want to visit the Palestinian Delegation on Somerset:

Many of last year's downtown stations have been relocated further out. One of them has made its way to Pretoria Bridge, just at the tail end of Elgin, and also along the pathway:

Some people scoffed on Twitter that they'd put a station as far out as Dow's lake this year, but they did. I've seen Bixi bikes at Dow's Lake in previous years, far away from the nearest station, so I think that will see a lot more traffic than you might expect.

In fact, at Citizens for Safe Cycling's Spring.Bike.Ottawa event last month, an NCC representative shared a graph of the time of day of Bixi use. The blue line is people who have season passes (presumed to be locals) and the lighter green line is people who buy day or week passes (presumed to be tourists). The 'locals' have big spikes in usage at the start and end of the workday, whereas the 'tourists' start later in the day but have a more consistent bell curve:

Not all stations can be at nationally-significant tourist destinations. The system has to make money, after all, and be attractive to locals to do so. So there are also more urban locations in Centretown, the Byward Market, and Hull/Gatineau (including Parc Moussette, named after an ancestor of mine). Here's the map for this year:

The location that hooked me was right at City Hall ("Elgin/Nepean" according to the Montréal-based Bixi operators), in front of the heritage building and next to the Human Rights monument. As someone who works at City Hall, this greatly expands my range at lunchtime, allowing me to go further and/or faster than just walking:

Also in Centretown is a small station Bank and James, which is the furthest southwest in Centretown. It's frequently either empty or full, which mimics the commuter-style patterns seen in the Montréal Bixi system.

That's why Bixi staff continually move bikes from station to station to balance out the load. Otherwise it would be a lot more common to get to a station to find there are no bikes to borrow, or you arrive at your destination to find no docks to leave the one you just rode. If you watch the graphs of last-24-hour station use at this third-party Bixi availability map, every now and then you'll see a bunch of bikes being added to or removed from a station, which is likely because they're being moved around.

Here's a screenshot of that website, by the way, taken on the final day of last year's season. The size of the circles indicate how many docks are at the station, and the colour indicates how full (red) or empty (blue) each station is. I find it far more convenient to use (and faster) than the map on Bixi's website:

For the day-to-day redistribution they just use the Bixi-branded pickup trucks rather than these fancy delivery trailers they use to deliver the bikes for the season:

If you buy a 24-hour ($7) or 72-hour ($15) subscription, you'll have to use a single-use passcode to get a bike out of the dock. This code is obtained by authenticating with your credit card at the kiosk (there's one at each docking station), and you can choose to either read the code on the screen or have it print it out for you. It's a 5-digit code made up of ones, twos and threes. You enter this into the keypad next to any available bike, and voilà, you've got your bike!

Three-month ($30.25) and one-year ($80.50) subscribers get a key fob in the mail that connects to your online account.

To borrow a bike, you just insert the key into any docking port to take a bike; you don't have to go to the kiosk first. For the first 30 minutes of each trip (1-day, 3-day pass) or 45 minutes (3-month, 1-year subscription), there's no per-use fee. I got through all of last year without paying any more than the subscription. After that, there's a price escalation based on how long you have the bikes (see the Capital Bixi website and click on "Subscriptions/Fees" for the price scale).

As a subscriber, I can also log in to my account on the Bixi website to check your usage statistics and bookmark your favourite stations. I took 38 trips last year, averaging 10.16 minutes each. It says I travelled an average of 2.03 km per trip, and I'm curious how they calculate that. Since I often return a bike to the same station I got it from, I think I saw once that it counted that as a 0km trip.

The Bixi system originates in Montréal, where they have 500 stations throughout the city, though the concept first caught on in France. There are Bixis (i.e. made by the Bixi company) operating in a number of cities under various names. London (UK), Toronto, Washington D.C., Melbourne (Australia), and Boston are just a few cities. Scroll down to the bottom of the Bixi website for a list with diagrams of the bike design for that city.

Every now and then they'll bring in bikes from other systems to promote their international nature. In October at Elgin and Cooper, I spotted a black Bixi bike from Toronto and a green Niceride bike from Minneapolis. That same day, I rode a blue Melbourne bike:

And in an interesting decision, they located a station at Preston and Carling, right under the Little Italy gateway arch. While far fewer than the 31 spots at Dow's Lake, it's the only one that's near an O-Train station (and when the O-Train goes out of service in late April, the replacement bus route 107 will stop right on this block!).

I have my own bike, but it can be a bit of a ball and chain. I carry various stuff around with me in case I pop a tire, and I have to carry my helmet when I get to where I'm going, and if I go in a building from one door, I can't just keep walking the other side because I have to retrieve my bike. With a Bixi, I just drop the bike at the station and continue my merry way as a pedestrian. You're not renting a bike, you're renting a network.

Also, while I don't need a Bixi, and the 25 stations are still rather sparse, I still have a membership. It's my way of saying 'yes, I want this service in my city, I support it, and I want it to expand'. Hopefully with the new station locations it'll encourage others to get a membership too. When new stations are added, the versatility of the network grows tremendously.

Happy riding!

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