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Non-profit offers last-minute plan to save Hamilton’s SoBi bike share program

A Hamilton non-profit is asking the city to let it take over the SoBi bike share program, which is set to discontinue operation in June 2020. Will Erskine / Global News

A Hamilton, Ont., non-profit bicycle group is hoping to save and take control of the city’s bike share program after councillors walked away from funding the system and voted to put the bikes in storage last week.

In a letter sent to the mayor and city council on Sunday, Hamilton Bike Share Inc. (HBSI) says it has enough money from grants to operate the system starting June 1, the day Uber abandons its contract.

“We wish to see continuity of bike share operations in Hamilton past June 1, 2020, so that Hamiltonians can continue to have access to a safe, reliable mode of transportation that allows for physical distance during the COVID-19 global pandemic,” two directors of HBSI said in the letter.

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

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HBSI says it will be able to support its plan to operate the system until February 2021 via revenue from its own internal fundraising, sponsorship, user revenue and organizational contributions. The non-profit is also hoping to use a $100,000 donation made to the city through Coun. Jason Farr’s office toward interim operations.

The organization also says it has an established team to run the program as it did for the city between 2014 and 2019.

 

HBSI also states in the letter that the plan is not a permanent one, as it expects the city will continue to work to secure a new operator.

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

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In a social media post on June 1, Farr welcomed the news from HBSI and said a reconsideration motion will be brought to council on Wednesday.

Hamilton’s 900 city-owned SoBi bikes are set to go into storage after council denied a lifeline to the city’s bike share program in an 8-8 vote early Thursday morning, which turned down a motion to spend $400,000 in area-rating funds from three wards to maintain the system for the rest of this year.

During last Wednesday’s council meeting, Ward 5’s Chad Collins said spending taxpayer money on SoBi at this point in time would be “completely oblivious” to the city’s current financial situation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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READ MORE: Uber sees ride bookings recovering slowly, pins hopes on food delivery demand

On May 15, the city received a letter from SoBi, operated by Uber, saying the company was to stop operating the local bike share service on June 1.

The company did not make it clear why it was terminating the contract that was originally set to expire on Feb. 19, 2021.

The City of Hamilton owns the distinctive blue-and-white SoBi bikes and rental hubs as a result of a $1.6-million grant from Metrolinx.

The co-chair of advocacy group Cycle Hamilton, Jay Krause, says whatever happens this week, the organization plans to start some sort of campaign until the city has a “long term sustainable” bike share plan in place.

“We don’t by any means, consider this a done deal and what we’re focusing all of our efforts on is encouraging letter writing and engagement from residents with their councillors,” said Krause

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