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Hamilton Bike Share System Update

The Hamilton Public Bike Share System, “SoBi Hamilton”, launched on March 20th 2015 and has been operating for two months. A winter test phase occurred between January 16th and March 19th, 2015. This test prepared the system for full launch and allowed the City to obtain confirmation that the bikes are robust and electronics can handle cold temperatures.

Today, over 4,000 memberships have been sold. Of these memberships, 830 are annual members, 774 are monthly members, and 2,400 are “pay-as-you-go” members that only pay when they use the system. The membership costs are as follows:

Annual Membership

– Power User 90 minutes (per day) $125 per year*

– Annual User 60 minutes (per day) $85 per year*

Monthly Membership 60 minutes $15 per month*

Pay-as-you-go $4 per hour **

*Each additional hour costs $4 (pro-rated to the minute)

**A one-time $3 set-up fee applies

The total Bike share trips taken since launch (March 20th, 2015) are 36,396 for a total of 84,353 km and a total ride time of 11,000 hours. This represents a 9.6 tonne reduction in greenhouse gasses produced; a savings of $5,400 in fuel costs; 5,687,000 calories burned in terms of physical activity and circumnavigating the Earth over two times.

The City’s business plan, based on Bixi system rates and usage patterns, calls for 1,500 annual members, 100 monthly members and 4,500 one-time uses by the end of year one. The 4,500 number is not by user, but by use. In a Bixi system a “day user” pays for a day pass and only uses it for that day. In a SoBi system, a “day user” is called a Pay-as-you-go user and they can use the system on multiple days, as their account does not expire. They are the biggest revenue generators because they are paying per use. The system’s current membership and use statistics have almost completely met these business plan targets in the first 2 months of operations.

Bikes in Service and Bike Availability

During regular operations, it is expected that 600 bikes out of 750 bikes will be available for use at any given time during spring, summer and fall; and about 200 bikes in winter.

In any Bike share system, there are always bikes that are not in service. Some are in use, some are in need of repair, some are kept ready to swap out as bikes become in need of repair and some are used for special events.

The status of the bikes in the system is as follows:

Average bikes in service and available for use: 530

Average bikes in “repair mode”: 50

Average bikes ready to be deployed when a bike goes into repair: 30

Bikes ready for deployment: 140

On March 27th, the final 140 electronic modules, that allow the bikes to communicate with servers and users to rent out the bikes, were delivered to Hamilton after significant manufacturing, customs and delivery delays. Social Bicycles (SoBi) is working to get these bikes into service as quickly as possible so that the average bikes in service and available for use are 600. This is the minimum number of bikes that are required for the system to run optimally. As in any start-up situation, unexpected events can occur that do not allow for immediate optimal operations. The City and Social Bicycles have worked extensively on ensuring the operations become optimal as quickly as possible.

The number of bikes in service has made it more difficult to ensure that bikes are always available for users. When stations become empty due to high use, the operator must bring more bikes to that station – this is called “station balancing”. During start-up, it can be difficult to achieve optimal balancing because new users continue to be added daily. Once more bikes are in service and the balancing activities can reach a steady state, the number of empty stations will be reduced. The current bike availability is 65%, but it will rise to 75% with additional bikes in service by summer, which is considered the appropriate steady state.

SoBi and the City are also adding more bike parking capacity to the most popular stations and ensuring that station locations are matching usage patterns. SoBi is also working on buying appropriate equipment such as a truck and an additional trailer in order to better respond to changes in station capacity due to high usage. The Hamilton Bike share service area is 45 square kilometres, which is almost triple the service area of Toronto’s system, which is roughly 15 square kilometres. This is very ambitious and the 750 bike system that Hamilton has will likely be in full use at all times. It should be noted that the spring usage of the system was performing at the predicted summer usage. It is expected that summer usage rates will be very high and the system will run at maximum capacity during these months.

Residents (especially Ottawa Street and Barton Street) are requesting more bikes and stations. However, at this time, system operations and capacity do not support any potential for expansion.


Over the last week, 8 out of 10 solar powered kiosk terminals have been installed. These kiosks will have touch screens, credit card readers and member card dispensers. They are located in areas where visitors frequent such as the Waterfront areas, GO transit stations and major parks. The remaining kiosks will be deployed upon the completion of the West Harbour GO Station and final site preparations.

Out of hub locking fees

For the first 2 months of operations there were no fees for locking bikes out of a hub, which was part of an intentional strategy to help analyze where the demand for stations is. With the data now collected, the $1 out of hub locking fee has been instituted. This means that if users park outside of a branded Social Bicycles bike rack, they will pay a convenience fee of $1. If they take a bike from outside of a hub and they bring that bike back to a hub, they will receive 10 free minutes of riding credit. Since instituting this fee, the number of bikes parked out of a hub went from an average of 50, to an average of 5 per day. The flexibility of being able to park out of a hub is considered a benefit for users and makes the SoBi system one of the most flexible Bike share systems in the world.

The data collected is helping the City and SoBi to fine tune station configurations and locations; however, 95% of stations are deployed.

Major Sobi Systems Operating in North America

SoBi and their system delivery partners are currently operating 5 large systems and some additional smaller systems, the largest is Hamilton – their flagship system, the others are as follows:

Phoenix (Grid Bikes): 500 bikes, 50 hubs: http://,

Tampa Bay (Coast Bikeshare): 300 bikes, 30 hubs:

Orlando (Juice Bikeshare): 200 bikes, 20 hubs

Buffalo Bikeshare: 75 bikes, 20 hubs

University of Virginia: 100 bikes, 20 hubs

System Sponsorship

The City and SoBi are working on sponsorship opportunities with a variety of potential system sponsors. Currently there is no title sponsor, but a major sponsorship deal is being sought out by the City and SoBi. Sponsorship revenue is used to offset operational costs, as there is no public subsidy for this form of transit in Hamilton. SoBi Hamilton, the local operator, has partnered with about a dozen small businesses for direct station sponsorship, plus has partnered with McMaster University to add on campus service and discounts for the McMaster community. Union Gas recently contributed $25,000 to the “Everyone Rides Initiative”, which provides free memberships to residents with low incomes.

System Acceptance Test

The City and SoBi are conducting a “System Acceptance Test” to ensure the system is fully delivered and operating within expected parameters, this needs to be completed before the remainder of the capital funds are released to SoBi. This test will ensure that the bikes are fully operational, all back end systems are functional, all data analysis tools are in place, all software issues are resolved, all components are operating within expected limits, and that overall, the City is getting the system that was outlined in the RFP submission. Essentially the System Acceptance Test seeks to ensure that any issues are resolved before the City releases the majority of the remaining capital expenses.

With 55% of trips in Hamilton being under 1 Km, and yet over 70% of those trips being made by automobile, the Bikeshare system is a form of transit that fills a gap for trips that are too short to drive and too far to walk. These are also the types of trips that facilitate more connections to public transit. The early launch experience demonstrates the popularity of this new form of transit and staff will report back in the fall with a richer data set and analysis of behaviours and trends.

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