It’s been a long journey, but Vancouver’s new bike share program Mobi is almost here.
Ahead of its rollout this summer, Mobi general manager and keen cyclist Mia Kohout gave us a sneak peek at the new bikes – and explained how the system will work.
“Riding a bike is so much fun,” Kohout told Daily Hive. “It puts smiles on everyone’s faces, you get to be out in your community…That feeling, it’s exhilarating.”
Standing next to the row of Mobi bikes at a temporary docking station set up on the seawall for our interview, Kohout could barely contain her excitement – and she’s not alone.
Not a moment went by that someone didn’t stop walking or running round the seawall to ask when the bike share would be opening.
“We’re just feeling the excitement and the energy, and now that we’re starting to put stations out on the ground, that excitement is just building,” Kohout said.
The bike share program will be rolled out in phases, she said. By the end of the summer, there will be around 1,500 bikes available at 150 docking stations across Vancouver.
Docking stations will be located every two to three blocks between Arbutus and Main streets, and from downtown Vancouver as far south as 16th Avenue.
As for the bikes, they are heavy, but with seven speeds, a comfy saddle and lights, a kickstand, basket, and bell built in, they seem well equipped for Vancouver bike lanes.
Although the program will eventually offer day or month passes, Mobi bikes will initially only be available to locals who sign up as founding members on an annual basis.
If you sign up before the end of July, you can get a special rate of $99 for unlimited 30-minute rides (usually $180), or $129 for unlimited 60-minute rides (usually $240.)
Founding members then get a welcome kit, an invite to the launch party, a $10 discount on a helmet purchase, a keycard, and instructions on how to activate the card and set up a PIN.
There’ll also be a mobile app and website available for you to check the location of docking stations – and see how many bikes and empty spaces are available before you head out.
Then when it comes to getting a bike, it’s about as simple as it gets – go to a docking station, press enter on the bike’s keypad, scan your card and enter your pin.
After a few seconds the bike will beep, unlock and you can go.
To return it, you just push the bike back into the rack at a docking station; after about 15 seconds the bike will beep to register as returned and you can walk away.
The bike is free for either 30 or 60 minutes depending on your plan. After that, you’ll need to return it and take another bike, or suck it up and pay extra fees of $2 or $3 per half hour.
“These are really meant for short trips, to get you from A to B,” said Kohout. “For people who ride already, it’s just an extra convenience factor.”
“For people who haven’t ridden a bike in a long time, this is the perfect way to discover how easy and fun it is to ride a bike and rediscover your city again.”
If you’re worried about theft, don’t be, says Kohout – the bikes have a cable lock that pulls out of the handlebars and plugs into the bike so you can “stop and shop.”
“You’re really only responsible for that bike for that 30 minutes or 60 minutes that you have it, while you’re riding.”
To lock the cable in place, you simply pull it out, wrap it around a bike rack, plug it into the bike, press enter on the bike’s keypad, and scan your keycard.
The handlebars will also lock at an angle, so even if a wannabe bike thief cuts through the cable lock, they still won’t be able to ride or wheel it away.
To unlock the bike, you just press enter and scan your card.
Of course, the most contentious issue around the planned bike share program has been helmets – how to make sure everyone abides by the law and wears a bike helmet?
Kohout says there will be free helmets available at each docking station, as well as helmet liners available in each basket for anyone worried about sharing.
But she encourages everyone to buy their own helmet – and to get riding, instead of using a car share.
“You get to meet the people who are riding by, you get to be outside, you get exercise, you don’t have to worry about traffic, you don’t have to worry about parking,” she said.
“Your mind clears, it’s like meditation for some people, and just a great feel good experience.”
Scott Edwards, the manager of public bike share for the City, has been working on the Vancouver bike share for years – and says he believes it will be life-changing.
“I am so excited about this… What’s really thrilling for me is now engaging people,” said Edwards.
“Just in the time we’ve been here…it’s not only exciting to see people come up and be inquisitive about it, but as you explain it to them, it’s like a smile appears on their face.”
Edwards says he alternately takes transit, drives, walks, and bikes to get around and this will give people another option – to take a one-way trip .
“It will be great for meeting friends down on the patio after work,” he says. “It fits into Vancouver’s lifestyle, I think…This is a transportation choice for you now.”
Hopefully, bike availability won’t be a problem – there will be a team of people re-distributing the bikes around the city and carrying out bike maintenance.
And Edwards reckons you could probably ride “quite comfortably” across the entire coverage area in one 30-minute trip.
“There’s huge opportunity here… It’s this idea of trip linking, experiencing the city and linking from neighbourhood to neighbourhood.”
Edwards, like Kohout, cannot wait for Mobi to get started.
“The City does have grand hopes and visions, and of course the operator wants to have this be a marvellous success and then we do hope to expand.”
“For me, I know this is going to be fantastic, I’ve seen what it’s done in other cities… and I’m really looking forward to that for Vancouver.”