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Council denies funding for Hamilton’s SoBi program, bikes to go into storage

Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

Hamilton city council has denied a lifeline to the city’s bike share program as the current operator walks away from its contract this coming weekend.

In an 8-8 vote early Thursday morning, council rejected Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann’s motion to spend $400,000 in area-rating funds from three wards to maintain the system for the rest of this year.

Instead, 900 city-owned SoBi bikes will go into storage while staff launches a search for a new private operator, a process that’s expected to take six months.

READ MORE: Short-term bike share solution tabled at Hamilton city council

Nann notes that Hamilton’s bike share has 26,000 subscribers and says colleagues have “just taken away their safe mobility option during a pandemic.”

“What we’re supposed to be doing is leading and providing safe opportunities for people to physically distance and move around the city in the way that they need to, to get the essential services that they need to get to and from work. And we’ve just taken that away from 26000 subscribers,” Nann said.

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She calls it “a sad moment for our council.”

Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins countered that spending taxpayer money on SoBi at this point in time would be “completely oblivious” to the city’s current financial situation.

“I think the laissez-faire approach to the city’s finances is regrettable. It’s actually embarrassing. We’re financially adrift right now. And as a collective, we are fiscally leaderless and completely out of touch with what’s going on around us,” Collins said during deliberations.

Uber informed Hamilton last week that it would be abandoning its contract to operate the city’s bike share program on June 1, even though the contract doesn’t expire until February 2021.

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More than 7,000 people then signed a petition asking city council to step in and ensure the continuation of the system.

READ MORE: Future unclear for Hamilton’s bike share program as private operator backs out

Three lower-city councillors — Ward 1’s Maureen Wilson, Ward 2’s Jason Farr and Ward 3’s Nann — offered up the combined temporary funding where the bulk of the bike share network is currently located.

While the city isn’t the operator of the bike share program, it owns the bicycles and related infrastructure.

Elise Desjardins, volunteer and member of Cycle Hamilton, told Global News the decision was “incredibly disappointing.”

“It’s baffling to me that a strong show of leadership wasn’t successful because by voting to continue the funding in the interim, it would have brought benefits citywide. So I’m personally very, very disappointed.” said Dejardins.

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