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City need more time with decision on Hamilton’s bike-share funding

Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

Hamilton councillors need a little more time and information before deciding whether they’ll earmark close to $600,000 for the city’s bike-share program.

A decision on the spend was deferred Thursday to allow city staff to obtain more clarity on partner Hamilton Bike Share Inc.’s proposal and a copy of its financial statements.

During the general issues budget meeting, city program manager Peter Topalovic quoted a cost of $55 per month per bike in maintenance costs for the fleet of 900.

Read more: Lifeline for SoBi bike-sharing program approved by Hamilton city council

In all, the city would be on the hook for $302,400 in operating costs, $54,000 for accessible bikes, $130,000 for connectivity to a mobile network and another $108,000 to build a bike-share capital reserve.

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Hamilton Bike Share, a not-for-profit bike-share operator, would kick in the remainder of the operating cost matching the city’s portion of about $300,000.

With the current model that we have, a not-for-profit organization can also access grants that for-profit and the city itself cannot,” Topalovic explained to councillors.

“And then, of course, the collection of user fees, grants and spotter sponsorships will be with the responsibility of the operator.”

The decision to defer was made in a closed “in camera” session not available for public viewing.

Prior to that, the mayor and a few councillors commented on the prospect of funding the program, including Ancaster Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, who appeared to have issues with it.

Ferguson wasn’t sure the city should be kicking in more than 50 per cent of the cost for an initiative that mainly services the lower city exclusively.

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My taxpayers and Ancaster are expected to pay part of this, and yet they don’t have access to it,” Ferguson said.

“They have to own bikes and I don’t know why the people in the lower city can’t own their own bikes also rather than get it subsidized by the city.”

Topalovic said staff research revealed a typical city bike share in North America is subsidized by municipalities and is operated as part of public transit.

“The way we treat public transit should be the exact same way we treat all forms of micromobility, including bike share. That’s what’s been happening across North America,” Topalovic said.

Read more: Lifeline for SoBi bike-sharing program approved by Hamilton city council

Downtown Coun. Jason Farr also suggested a positive to aiding the program would be converting would-be drivers into cyclists.

“One could argue one citywide benefit is the more people we get … off the roads, the more room there is for people using the roads,” Farr said.

Topalovic also outlined how the bike share program fits into a “higher-level” transportation master plan that includes one-way car-sharing and e-scooter programs connecting all three through a network.

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A city staff report suggests with more investment, the current estimated 400,000 rides per year could expand to about 600,000 rides per year.

So far the program has generated about two million trips since 2015 and boasts some 26,000 active members.

The city suggests those numbers mean the equivalent of 1,000 tons of carbon have been reduced along with 91 million calories burned, and $1.3 million saved.

The city was formerly in a partnership with Uber, which ran the SOBI program until it abandoned the contract in 2020.

Read more: Hamilton set to receive over 600 donated bicycles from Portland, Ore.

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

A majority of councillors voted against that and the bikes were set to be put into storage until a new partnership could be found.

Hamilton Bike Share was able to step in and used grant money and user fees to keep the operation afloat.

Councillors are expected to review the matter again during a budget meeting set for late February.

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