BIXI Under Scrutiny: Mixing Better Transportation Cocktails

I hadn't planned on writing about BIXI again so soon, but the results of a research study published last week has finally given us a more critical appraisal of the system's performance. The results generated a bit of discussion on an earlier BIXI related post, and not everyone is happy about what the research has revealed.

The study, conducted by 3 researchers at McGill's Dept. of Urban Planning, is about much more than BIXI. But it's the BIXI findings that have attracted the most attention. The main bugbear is the fact that of the over 2 million BIXI trips taken so far only 10% of those have replaced taxi or car trips. 86% of those trips replaced walking or riding personal bikes or public transit. Some have reacted to that by saying BIXI's overall environmental impact is much lower than official estimates that assume that all BIXI trips replace car trips.

That may be true. But I think that that critique misses the point, as well as other more important information that's in the study. What the 86% stat reveals, really, is that BIXI has successfully reached out to people who are already transit users and cyclists. That's not all that surprising, and providing current transit users with more options is a good way to ensure that people are satisfied with their transit system. I don't think we should be worried about competition amongst multiple modes of green transit. How to extend ridership to beyond people who already bike and ride transit is a more important question.

When it comes to transportation, shifting 10% of trips from cars to bikes is also a big accomplishment. Currently only 1.3% of all trips in Montreal are taken by bike (6% to 7% in central areas). Think what an impact you'd have if you could take the shift made among BIXI users and take it up to the level of the city as a whole. In fact, as we'll see in a second,  the study has some recommendations on how to keep moving in that direction.

A more unexpected findings is that the majority of BIXI trips are not combined with other forms of transit. For a system that is supposed to facilitate multi-modal transit cocktails, that's not great news.  They also conclude that more work needs to be done to provide cycling services outside central areas, especially for people using the commuter rail system.  According to the survey, that is where the biggest opportunities are for getting people out of their cars are onto a mixed modes of transit.

These may be two sides of the same coin: by not providing adequate cycling infrastructure in the suburbs, cycling in general (and BIXI use in the downtown core) may not even be on the radar of many commuters.  Providing good cycle paths and well designed on-site bike parking at suburban transit stations could open up a whole new ridership who would grab a BIXI as they step off the train at the other end.

But there's another issue here.  This study is based on an an online survey of 1,432 Montrealers.  But BIXI itself has en excellent data collection system. That data would allow for a much more precise estimate of the way the system is being used and the percentage of people who combine it with other modes of transportation. I'm not sure why we haven't seen some real analysis of that data yet, but I sure hope we don't have to wait much longer.

If you ask me, BIXI should follow the example of cities like Vancouver and implement an open data policy that allows public access to their stats and mash them up as they please. Think what a team of transportation researchers could do with that.


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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

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