Time magazine’s 50 best inventions of 2008 include the Large Hadron Collider, an invisibility cloak, a new way of serving in table tennis and Bixi, (from “bicycle” and “taxi”) which is Montreal’s impending public bike hire system. It actually came in at number 19, just behind the planet wandering New Mars Rover.
So why is it a Time best invention? “The modular bike-rack stations are web-enabled and solar-powered. The bicycles are designed with tons of sealed components to resist the savage beatings they will undoubtedly receive, and they’re equipped with RFID (radio frequency identification) tags so they’re easily trackable.”
From the spring of 2009 – when the snow’s gone – 2,400 bikes will be available at 300 stations in the city. Recently, Bixi Bike Squads have been out and about giving people the chance to check out the bikes and the pay stations – the system allows users (you need to have paid a membership fee) to pick up a bicycle from a self-service station on the street and return it to any one of the other stations in the city. The first half hour is free.
Being solar-powered, like Montreal’s car parking stations, the bike stations are not just environmentally sound. They can more easily be moved around to meet changes in demand.
Unlike many public bike hire systems, Bixi is not funded by an advertising company. Funding has been organised by Stationnement de Montreal, the company which looks after the city’s car parking. Membership fees help pay for the system. Currently they’re set at $78 a year (about £42.00) with the option of monthly or daily membership if you prefer. The bikes are home-grown, having been designed and manufactured in Quebec.
Sadly, the harsh winters mean that Bixi will only operate from mid-April to mid-November.