I'm in love with Bixi. But like all relationships, it ain't perfect.
It's been just over a year since the bike-sharing program came to Toronto, and suddenly I can't imagine my life without it.
I've been a member since August, and according to my account (members can log in at Toronto.bixi.com), I've made 567 trips and travelled 875 kilometres.
The site also tells me I've saved 61 litres of gas, but as a non-driver, that was never my primary motivation. Convenience and cost were higher on the list: no worrying about theft, flat tires or remembering where I locked the damn thing; and the annual $95 membership fee is about as much as a bike's annual tune-up.
Still, as much as I like being able to saddle up on any of the 1,000 sturdy black machines scattered across the city core, I have issues.
First, there's the geographical range. During the winter, Bixi expanded its coverage westward from Spadina to Bathurst (to Euclid up on Bloor) and eastward from Jarvis to Parliament (and to the Distillery a bit further east).
That's fine, but with the Ossington and Leslieville booms, why not add a few stations around there? And does Bloor really have to be the northernmost cutoff? Why not St. Clair, or at least Dupont?
It's rumoured there'll be an expansion announcement in the fall, so I'm crossing my fingers. Bixi, don't let me down.
I also have some problems with the bikes themselves. The bells are crap. Half don't work (they're the first thing I test when I pick out a bike), and believe me, if you're cycling on a crowded street, that bell could save your life. In winter even the working bells sometimes freeze up, as do many of the adjustable seats. And the bikes don't have a decent splash guard. Good luck cycling through puddles and keeping your back dry.
I also appreciate the little area in front for carrying items, complete with a set of straps to secure things in place, but you have to be an engineer to use the thing.
And while on the subject of feeling dumb, I pity strangers trying to make sense of instructions for occasional use - 24 or 72 hours. Docking a bike, I've had to explain the set-up to dozens of potential users scratching their heads over convoluted rules about extra fees and 30-minute time limits.
Then there's the problem of Bixi stations that are completely full or completely empty. Try getting a bike after 10 pm in the business district. They've all been cleared out by those white Bixi trucks, ready for the next morning's commuters to cycle in.
And the thing that worries me most about the system is that few users, myself included, wear helmets. There's something about the casual, grassroots nature of the system that makes a helmet seem almost... too serious. The bikes only have three gears, so it's hard to travel that quickly. Of course, that doesn't matter if you end up in the emergency room.
Maybe for my Bixi anniversary, I'll buy us a helmet and we'll become the perfect couple.