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Hamilton’s bike share to go into storage as council votes against interim operation plan

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Hamilton’s bike share to go into storage as council votes against interim operation plan

Tens of thousands of Hamiltonians woke up to the news Thursday (May 28) that a valuable bike-share service they rely on for transportation in the city has mere days left before it stops operating.

The Social Bicycle (SoBi) service will cease to operate on Monday (June 1) after a motion to provide up to $400,000 to keep it running until the end of 2020 was shot down at a marathon virtual council meeting that started Wednesday morning and continued into very early Thursday morning.

Earlier this month, Social Bicycle LLC, the Uber-owned company responsible for operating SoBi Hamilton, made the surprise announcement that they would not be honouring a contract signed in February 2020 to operate the service until February 2021.

Since then, the pressure has been on to find another way to continue offering the service that some 26,000 Hamilton residents rely on.

Ward 3 councillor Nrinder Nann introduced the notice of motion for the interim operation of the service because the city owns the bikes and the service’s infrastructure but contracts out the actual operation of SoBi.

“SoBi Bike Share program is a vital part of our transportation network and complements HSR service, especially while capacity of buses is limited for physical distancing reasons,” the notice of motion reads.

“[It] plays an essential role in our local economic recovery by enabling workers an affordable option to safely travel to and from work, as well as for residents to run errands or simply enjoy our beautiful city.”

The document also offers a specific funding structure that would reduce the financial burden on wards that don’t rely on the service as much as others. The bulk of the funds under this proposal would come from the reserves of Wards 1, 2 and 3.

The debate grew somewhat heated at times, with some councillors, baulking at using city funds to support the continued operation.

Ward 4 Councillor, Sam Merulla, who ultimately voted against the proposal, said that the program in the first place was not supposed to “cost us a cent,” and that to start paying for it now would be ‘deceiving’ residents.

Nann pointed out that this situation couldn’t have been foreseen and that the council’s hand has been forced by the decision made by the Uber-owned operator.

“We were forced into this situation,” she said, adding that it’s council’s responsibility to continue to support residents who rely on this service.

When it came to the vote, council was divided along a line that has become all too familiar:

For the motion: Eisenberger, Nann, Farr, Danko, Wilson, Clark, Pearson, VanderBeek

Opposed: Merulla, Collins, Ferguson, Jackson, Partridge, Pauls, Whitehead, Johnson

When the service ceases operations next week, the 900 bikes will go into storage and staff has been directed to seek out other potential operators, a process that could take many months.

Following the vote, a visibly disappointed Nann rebuked councillors for taking away “a safe mobility option during a pandemic” for the system’s 26,000 subscribers.

In a tweet sent at 1 a.m. Thursday, Ward 8 Councillor John-Paul Danko said he was “embarrassed” to be a member of Hamilton council.

“Make no mistake – the majority of Council killed @SoBiHamilton out of pure spite,” he tweeted, saying the service was “important to the wrong people.”

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