The most notable part of using Mobi, Vancouver’s new bike-share program, is how many Vancouverites want to talk to you about it. I’ve had at least five people approach me while I was getting or returning a bike, and at least that many cyclists chat to me while in transit. They want to know how much it costs, how the bike feels and how the helmets work. One old man patted me on the arm and praised, what, exactly? My heathy choice of transport? My civic pride? It was unclear.
Regardless, as an early adopter, I find that I’ve become an accidental advocate for the service. Not because it’s flawless, but because people keep asking me about it and I want it to succeed.
How does Mobi work?
I signed up to be a founding member, paying $99 for an annual subscription (the regular price after August 15th is $180). That provides me with unlimited use of the bikes for up to 30 minutes per trip. I pay an additional $2 for 31 to 60 minutes of riding and $3 per half hour over 60 minutes. In the near future, users will also be able to buy a one-off day-pass for $7.50.
There are about 40 bike stations sprinkled around the city. Each station holds about 15 bikes–there are apparently 387 bikes in service at the moment. You can see any station’s current inventory on Mobi’s website. The company promises that “by the end of summer 2016”, there will be 1,500 bicycles and 150 stations available. Speaking as a marketer, that phrase “end of summer” has a handy vagueness.
I’ve felt somewhat limited by the stations’ locations. I was visiting some friends at Macdonald and 4th, for example, and the closest station was about 10 blocks to the south-east at Arbutus and 10th.I’ve taken about 20 trips on Mobi bikes, and only exceeded the 30-minute time limit once. This isn’t because I’m frugal, but rather because the stations aren’t far enough apart to support longer trips. I look forward to the autumn when we’ll have nearly four times as many pick-up and drop-off locations to choose from.
You obtain a bike by entering in a seven-digit code and then a four-digit PIN. Mobi has also provided a little fob you can use, but it didn’t work for me or my partner when we tried ours. The bikes themselves are chunky cruisers designed for casual city riding. They have seven speeds, which is enough for all but the steepest of hills, and a chain guard and rear fender.
Like putting your head on a bike seat?
But what about helmets? In BC, we’re required to wear helmets while cycling (though, in my experience, at least a third of all cyclists ignore this law). Mobi provides a helmet with each bike. It’s connected to the bike by a cable, which also doubles as a lock if you need to secure the bike somewhere. As one colourful commenter put it, isn’t this like putting your head on a bike seat? Maybe, but Mobi says they clean every helmet every day.
One downside of the helmet system is that the cable unlocks as soon as the bike is activated. The weight of the helmet tends to pull the cable free, and the helmet drops to the ground and rolls away. This has happened to me several times and I’ve seen it happen to others as well.
Being a germaphobe, I bring my own helmet. Unfortunately, this means that I need to carry the Mobi helmet in my basket. This makes the ride more rattly, and means I can’t put much else in the basket. More recently, I’ve been able to find at least one bike per station that doesn’t have a helmet. I don’t know if these helmet-less bikes are happenstance or intentional, but I hope it continues.
Pas de sportif
I’ve lived in Vancouver for roughly half my life. Yet last week was the first time in my life I rode a bike downtown. You might uncharitably observe that that’s probably due to how un-sportif I am. You’d be partially right about that. While over the past five years I have ridden a great deal around the French countryside and on the bike-friendly streets of Germany, I haven’t owned a bike in Canada since childhood.
Much like cars (and cats), I don’t want to own a bike. I don’t want to worry about maintenance, storage and rampant theft. Mobi has its shortcomings and my usage will probably decline with the winter weather, but it’s a good fit for my lifestyle.
UPDATE: You know, after doing a little additional research on pricing, I think Mobi’s regular price of $180/year is going to be too high. Some pricing from some other bike share programs in similar cities:
- Seattle: US $85/year for unlimited rides up to 45 minutes
- Toronto: $90/year for unlimited rides up to 30 minutes
- Montreal: $87/year for unlimited rides up to 45 minutes
Puzzlingly, Ottawa’s bike share program, with only about 22 stations, is priced at $180/year. Maybe they just sell a ton of memberships to the federal government?
Photos by GoToVan on Flickr.