Cities

Bixi: the Bicycle-Taxi for a Bright Green City


By Daniel Haran.

If you care about cities, sustainable infrastructure, solar energy, life-logging and product-service systems, the Bixi is worth learning about. It is billed as a fourth generation bike sharing system: portable, solar-powered and wireless.

While it has many problems that have been discussed, I want to cover 4 elements that qualify this system as bright green.

Social Engineering wrought large

There’s already been one accident involving a Bixi rider, and the media has been focusing on the dangers of riding without a helmet. No doubt someone will die riding a Bixi, and the media will declare it some kind of bixipocapypse.

Melora Koepke writes that after the introduction of the Vélib’ in Paris, “Parisian motorists seem to have learned to share the road with cyclists and even respect them.” The same will happen in Montreal. Motorists will change their habits, making all cyclists safer—whether or not they’re riding Bixis.

Despite the media, the perception of cycling as a normal mode of transportation will keep on increasing.

Solar with immediate payback

While our parking kiosks also have solar panels, the Bixi stations are a lot more conspicuous:

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Wireless communication and solar panels allow for faster and cheaper installation of stations. So fast that they plan to install temporary stations during special events, something which would be otherwise cost-prohibitive.

Even regular stations get moved. Due to higher than expected demand, a the Bixi station for the Mont-Royal Metro was expanded and moved behind the entrance. Examples like this change the way the ROI for solar technology gets calculated: the cost of saved kilowatt-hours is a small fraction of the cost of installation.

Conspicuous solar infrastructure, off-grid in the heart of the city. Planners from around the world will be looking at the Bixi and integrating this lesson. The meme will spread.

Product Service Systems

Renting rather than owning is not a new idea; We’re used to video rentals, laundromats, libraries, gyms, and taxis. Bixi stations every 300 meters are a high-profile and novel example, creating a teachable moment to talk about car sharing and co-housing.

For those who would compare the bixi to a cheap bike, it’s worth repeating that sharing is often more convenient. Take a bus to get to work in the morning because it’s raining, and you can still bike back at the end of the day. This will change the way you move around the city in surprising ways, just like a cell phone changes how you coordinate social activities with friends. We routinely defer making plans with friends until we’ve arrived near a meeting spot.

Now it’s transportation that’s getting untethered.

Life logging: making the invisible visible

I’ve used a lot of buzzwords already, but this hardly gets a mention in any of the reviews. When you buy a monthly or yearly membership, Bixi tracks all your rentals and that information is available to you on their website:

mytripsdanielharan470.jpg

Bixi is new, and it shows here: there’s no easy way to get all the information. To make matters worse, Bixi’s administrators have sued one developer for unauthorized use of their data, so creating mashups is risky. Whether they’re logging for fitness, weight loss, pure curiosity or an obsession with pretty graphs, a lot of people would like to have their personal data.

To the extent that such applications can encourage more people to use and continue using the Bixi, its administrators should encourage it.

Conclusion

Bixi is a great idea that incorporates many elements of the future we want. Energy efficient, green infrastructure that encourages use rather than ownership. I hope bright green folk will help this meme spread.


This article by Daniel Haran originally appeared on his blog at danielharan.com.

Photo: Daniel Haran
Image: BIXI

Comments

I was happy to discover that Bixi is running a small-scale pilot in Ottawa-Gatineau this summer.

They have four stations set up, two in Ottawa, and two in Gatineau:

http://ottawa-gatineau.bixi.com/the-stations

In Ottawa, the stations appear to be at the corner of Elgin and Queen, and on Sussex near York St.

In Gatineau, there seems to be station on Laurier between Hôtel-de-Ville and Victoria. It looks like there's a second station near the corner of Laval and Du Portage.

Instructions on use are here: http://ottawa-gatineau.bixi.com/rolling-with-bixi/how-it-works

Bikes can be accessed 7 days a week from 7AM-10PM. The trial runs until September.

Posted by: Mark Tovey on June 12, 2009 6:20 PM

I went to test out the Ottawa Bixi last night. At three speeds they won't get you anywhere very quickly (or climb hills easily), but they sure are a comfortable ride.

You stick in your credit card, it spits out a number, you type it in, and away you go.

The BIXI uses LED lights, front and back, which go on when the bicycle is in motion, and which die out once you stop. The bell is actually underneath the left handlebar. It's worth taking your time to adjust the seat.

I went to both stations in Ottawa, one for pick-up and one for drop-off. For locals, the Elgin and Queen Station is just between the NAC and the conference centre, across from the war memorial. The Sussex and York station on Sussex is right up against the wall of the CRA building.

There were a few people looking carefully at the Bixis stop to see what it was all about, but I didn't see anyone else take a bike out for a spin.

I had been half expecting that they would adopt a chainless bicycle model, given that they were making their own bikes from scratch. Especially in the Canadian climate, sealing off the drive and the gears would seem to make a lot of sense.

The main disadvantages of the chainless bicycle are that it lacks a little in efficiency, and has a smaller gear range. But for a comfy 3-speed touring bike, that wouldn't be any problem at all.

See - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaft-driven_bicycle

Posted by: Mark Tovey on June 14, 2009 8:28 PM

There is a pilot scheme in Ottawa, as well, with four stations in total, on both sides of the river.

Posted by: Milan on June 22, 2009 7:13 AM

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