Saanich council Monday approved a pilot project that will introduce dockless bike sharing to Saanich. U-Bicycle already operates in Victoria.

Bike sharing program rolls into Saanich

According to staff, U-Bicycle plans to make between 75 and 100 bicycles available in Saanich.

A new bike-sharing program is pedalling into Saanich.

City council on Monday paved the path for U-Bicycle to test-ride its dockless bike sharing system. According to Saanich staff, the company plans to introduce anywhere between 75 to 100 bikes, after Saanich amended its streets and traffic regulation bylaw.

“I’m totally in support of this,” said Coun. Colin Plant. “This is very interesting. I think it’s worth seeing how it goes,” he said.

Coun. Dean Murdock agreed. Programs such as these speak to shifting social norms, he said, in expressing hope that Saanich will take to the program, as successfully as residents have in Victoria, where they can rent one of the company’s distinctive white-green aluminum-framed bicycles for $1 per 30 minutes since Sept. 2017. In fact, Murdock pointed out that the bikes have already appeared in Saanich.

Each bike includes a Global Positioning System (GPS) and a self-activating lock. Using an app, would-be riders can then find and unlock a bike near them, each of which comes with a helmet and a carbon belt drive system. Riders can then use the app to lock the bike. This combination of elements allows riders to drop off their bike anywhere, provided the parking location is safe and legal. This means U-Bicycle does not require racks or locked areas for their bikes, relying instead on public spaces.

Saanich had approached the company about two months ago to ask whether it would expand into the municipality, but discussions concluded that Saanich could not issue a business license because the company could not comply with Saanich’s streets and traffic regulation bylaw.

“As noted above, a key component of U-Bicycle’s business model is the use of public space for dockless bikes to be left and made available for use,” said Brent Reems, director of building, bylaw, licensing and legal services.

Under the measures approved Monday, Saanich revises the bylaw to permit the operation of bike sharing services, notwithstanding the provisions of the bylaw, under an agreement that will U-Bicycle to operate for one year as a pilot program.

While North American communities have increasingly introduced bike sharing programs, they remain “relatively new,” said Reems. “[Some] concerns with operations have been noted, including problems with the obstructing access to sidewalks, bike placement in inappropriate locations and a proliferation of abandoned and damaged bikes in public spaces,” he said.

Staff are still negotiating the agreement, but are not expecting that it will generate revenue for the municipality, said Reems.

The agreement will cover various operational elements, and staff have said they will ask whether Saanich might be able to use any traffic data that users generate for its transportation planning.

Staff, however, cautioned that the company might wish to protect that data for corporate reasons.

“I cannot guarantee that [data] will be shared with us,” said Harley Machielse, Saanich’s director of engineering.

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