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Bike-Sharing with RightBike
An innovative bike-sharing program is bringing a sustainable and affordable travel option to some Ottawa neighbourhoods. The RightBike program, which will operate between Hintonburg and Westboro, will encourage people to cycle, but it's also designed to create jobs, support local businesses and build community.
RightBike is the creation of Sustainable Living Ottawa West (SLOWest) and the non-profit Causeway Work Centre, along with the Westboro and Wellington West Business Improvement Associations, local retailers including Mountain Equipment Co-op and Cyclelogik, the social enterprise Cycle Salvation and a growing list of other partners.
RightBike will offer a fleet of distinctive purple bikes along a 3.5 kilometre stretch of Wellington Street West and Richmond Road. For a $40 seasonal membership plus refundable security deposit, or a one-day fee for non-members, people will be able to borrow bikes for trips in the area. Members will present a membership card to obtain a key and a bike, similar to taking out a library book, explained Shane Norris, coordinator of community projects at Causeway.
Don Palmer, Executive Director of Causeway Work Centre, with a RightBike bicycle. Photo: Denise Deby.
Organizers think the bike-sharing service will appeal to a wide range of people, including residents working, shopping or running errands, or visitors exploring the area. Even people who already own bikes might use the service for spontaneous trips when they're out without their bikes, suggested Norris. The user-friendly bikes have three speeds and upright seating. "We wanted to choose a bike that almost anyone could ride," explained Norris.
The program received initial funding and in-kind support from several sources, including local businesses and the City of Ottawa. Program revenue will come mainly from memberships and sponsorships, with names of sponsoring businesses displayed on the bikes.
SLOWest's Bill Shields said that the RightBike program reflects many of the things SLOWest tries to do: it's at a manageable, neighbourhood scale, it's accessible, and it gives people an alternative to using cars.
SLOWest initially looked at models like the Bixi bike rental system, but decided to rely on the resources already in the community, which included the Causeway Work Centre and other potential partners. "All of a sudden the project looked very different, and far more feasible, less expensive, more local and more people-oriented," said Shields.
"When we're addressing some kind of sustainability project, we've been insisting from the beginning that we address social equity at the same time," added Shields. This meant keeping the bike share program affordable, and working with the Somerset West Community Health Centre to establish a fund to provide memberships to people unable to afford the membership fee and security deposit.
At the same time, said Shields, "a number of people have indicated to us they'd like to be members or supporters of the bike share project, even though they would likely not use it themselves that often, because they like the idea of it and want to encourage it. So we're creating a way for people to be donors even if they're not going to use it."
Another feature is that the RightBike bicycles are used bikes that have been refurbished by Cycle Salvation. "All the bikes that we're using were donated from the community, through partnerships that Cycle Salvation has developed, one of them being Habitat for Humanity, [which] collects bikes for Cycle Salvation," explained Norris. The Ottawa Police Service also donated bikes.
Because Causeway supports people facing employment barriers to find work, RightBike is also creating jobs. About six "mobile mechanics" on cargo bikes will provide minor maintenance for the RightBikes. Staff of participating businesses, rather than machines, will scan borrowers' cards and dispense the bikes.
Organizers spent over a year doing the feasibility study and business plan for RightBike. They found that area conditions were conducive to a bike-sharing program. One attribute was the high population density of the neighbourhoods. Another was the absence of hills along the main route.
The feasibility study also indicated that people are willing to use bikes for rides of up to 20 to 30 minutes, about the length of the journey from the east to the west end of the program. "There are a lot of little things that...fell into place" to make the program viable, said Shields.
RightBike will sell memberships through its community partners and online starting in April, with the program launch planned for mid-May. Information will be posted on RightBike's website at www.rightbike.org.
Norris and Shields both emphasize RightBike's contributions to health and fitness, community resilience, and the environment. "People in the conversations that we convene often end up talking about wanting to be more connected in their communities," said Shields. Being on a bicycle, he said, "is a little bit of a nudge towards a less anonymous neighbourhood."
"One of the big strengths of this project," said Norris, "is that it's going to increase the quality of life in the neighbourhood."
For more information:
Causeway Work Centre:
Sustainable Living Ottawa West:
Denise Deby works and writes on local and international social and environmental issues.
Last Updated (Friday, 13 July 2012 03:47)
The PERC thanks the Ontario Trillium Foundation for their support. The Ontario Trillium Foundation is an agency of the Government of Ontario.