A new bike-sharing startup has launched in Toronto, which could create competition for the city’s Bike Share program.
The startup, called Dropbike, kicked off a pilot project at the University of Toronto’s St. George campus on June 15.
Sixty-eight bright orange bikes appeared on campus, with plans to add more as demand increases.
Dropbike is an app-based initiative that allows users to find a bike on their phone, receive a code to unlock it and rent it for $1 per hour. The bike can be returned to any “haven” — bike posts and bike racks marked in the app.
For now though, people who rent the bikes have to return them to the campus grounds. The pilot is being tested solely at the University of Toronto, in collaboration with the University of Toronto Student’s Union (UTSU), though the company plans to expand to other parts of the city at an undisclosed later date.
Qiming Wen, the founder and CEO of Dropbike, said he was inspired by similar bike-sharing initiatives he saw while travelling in Asia.
“In China, I noticed these colourful bicycles that everyone was riding, you could use your smartphone to unlock them and take them almost anywhere,” he said. The idea to bring the system to Canada was born soon after that.
Jasmine Denike, Dropbike’s campus manager at the University of Toronto, said the response to the pilot has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We had a bunch of bikes located outside of St. George (subway station), and all of them are gone now because people have been using them,” Denike said. “The demand is clearly there.”
According to Denike, one of the biggest benefits of Dropbike’s presence at the University of Toronto is that it makes crossing the massive campus much quicker than walking.
Alyy Patel, a fourth-year sociology and sexual diversity studies double major at the university, took one of the bikes for a spin on Monday and said she had a great time.
“I haven’t biked since I was 7 years old and I didn’t think I could,” she said.
Patel said she found Bike Share Toronto bikes, which are owned by Toronto Parking Authority, inaccessible because of the need to find a bike rack and physically insert a credit card into the system at a dock. She said she prefers Dropbike’s app-based approach.
“The idea that I could do it on my phone, and unlock it, and then park it there without having to be confined to a specific bike rack was really good because it wasn’t intimidating,” she said.
Bill Magee, a sociology professor at the university, tried out Dropbike for the first time on Wednesday, but said he was frustrated that the pilot is only running on campus so far because it’s inconvenient.
Still, he thinks the idea has some benefits over Bike Share Toronto.
“There’s no Bike Share next to my office, you have to walk here (to the dock), and sometimes they’re all gone, so I was going to use them both,” he said.
He thinks that having the system on campus will help students and professors because it will allow them to cross the campus faster.
“If I have to pay 50 cents to get from one side of campus to another, I’d do that,” said Magee.
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), a New York-based non-profit, released a statement in April condemning “rogue” startup bike-sharing initiatives, saying they are difficult to manage, prone to failure and result in damaged and unmaintained bikes.
NACTO spokesperson Kate Fillin-Yeh said bike-share startups are a growing phenomenon, and for them to succeed and benefit the city they must co-operate with government initiatives.
Fillin-Yeh said bike-sharing startups function best when they’re “co-ordinated with other biking investments” the city is making.
Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, Toronto’s director of transportation infrastructure management, said the way people get around the city is evolving, and the city will continue to expand Bike Share Toronto.
She said they are aware that initiatives like Dropbike are becoming more common and they will review them.
“Systems such as Dropbike are becoming more prominent in many cities throughout the world. It is important for the city to review these initiatives through various lenses including commercial licensing, permits and other requirements to make sure that we ensure the safety for all road users,” Gulati said in a statement Wednesday.
Mayor John Tory announced Friday that Bike Share Toronto users, and anyone who downloads the service’s app, can use one of the black bikes for up to 30 minutes at no charge on Wednesdays in July.
Wen said his Dropbike team is open to collaborating with the city when the time for comes for expansion.
“Maybe in five-10 years we don’t have to call people cyclists, biking will just be an ordinary part of commuting,” Wen said. “In Copenhagen something like 40 per cent of trips are done by bike, and I don’t see why that can’t happen here.”