The city of Montreal launched North America's largest public bicycle transportation system on Tuesday, rolling out some 3,000 bicycles for self-serve use from May to November for a US$78 annual fee.
Based on similar systems set up in France and tested in the US capital,Washington DC, 300 so-called Bixi (bicycle + taxi = bixi) stations were set up in three city neighbourhoods, and bureaucrats are studying a possible expansion.
Given current environmental challenges, "we needed concrete examples of change," mayor Gerald Tremblay announced at its launch, noting that four other North American cities are already considering setting up similar systems.
He said Bixi is the fifth such network in the world, after Paris, Lyon, Barcelona and Shanghai.
Subscriptions to the service are paid over the Internet -- $78 dollars annually, or $5 per day. The first half hour is free.
Some lamented the high cost of rentals compared to others, but officials cited a need to make the sites self-sufficient with wireless Internet and powered by solar panels.
Suzanne Lareau, president of Velo Quebec (Cycle Quebec), said the amount is fine, noting she pays about "100 dollars each year to upkeep and repair" her own bicycle.
Made in Quebec of aluminium, the Bixi bicycle weighs 20 kilograms/44 pounds and the fleet will be maintained by some 20 local students as part of an apprenticeship program.
They are to travel around town on electric bikes equipped with tool boxes in search of busted and broken-down Bixi bikes to fix.
In TIME Magazine's '50 best inventions of 2008', the transportation system was praised for its environmental and social stewardship, as well as the design of the bicycles themselves. It placed 19th on the TIME list.
Lareau hopes the 3,000 new bikes on Montreal roads will help the mostly French-speaking metropolis reclaim the title of North American cycling capital, after losing it some 20 years ago.
Some 700,000 area cyclists, according to Velo Quebec, already ride the island city's 450 kilometers of bike trails, including 30 that are cleared of snow in winter for use.
And 100 kilometers of new trails are being added this summer, said officials.
© 2009 AFP & BikeRadar