New bike-sharing service launches in Westmount

Montreal's Bixi system isn't the only bike-sharing service on the island of Montreal.

On Aug. 31, another service launched in Westmount — the Toronto-based Dropbike service.

Unlike Bixi, it doesn't have those lengthy bike docks — users can find their bikes at what the company calls "havens" by using their smartphones, enter a code to disable the locks on their back wheels, and then just ride.

"To lock, or unlock anything, you use an app on your smartphone," says Dropbike spokesperson Farnia Fekri. "How the bikes work is that we've eliminated the really expensive docks that most bike-sharing systems use, and instead, our bikes have a lock on the back wheel itself which locks and unlocks with the app."

The Dropbikes cost $1 an hour to rent — compared with the $2.95 Bixi users shell out for a 30-minute rental, or $5 per day.

Fekri says while the Dropbike model differs somewhat from the Bixi model, she insists she doesn't see Bixi as a competitor.

"At the end of the day, both of us are achieving the same goal of getting people to ride bikes more often," she says, "and our hope is with more bikes on the ground and more options available, we can get people out of their cars and on to bikes instead, which would be better for everyone."

Bixi watching closely

Pierre Parent, the marketing director at Bixi Montreal, says it is watching developments with Dropbike closely, but adds he has his suspicions about the service, and the business model it uses.

"We weren't advised by the city that there was to be a new system running parallel to Bixi. That was a surprise to start with," he says. "The [dockless] system is interesting, but it needs to be perfected."

Parent suggests because there are no docks, there's a strong possibility of having Dropbikes left just about anywhere, which has led to similar services being banned in other places, including Amsterdam. He also wonders out loud how Dropbike can remain viable if its rentals are no more than $1 a pop.

"It's probably an introduction strategy," he says, "but we don't think it's feasible to keep it at that price."

Dropbikes first appeared in Toronto, around the University of Toronto campus, and in Kingston, Ont., earlier this year. The service plans to expand to other Canadian cities.