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Hamilton cyclists furious as city’s SoBi bike share network shuts down

The city council has voted against saving the program after Uber unexpectedly pulled out of its contract

Hamilton On. is not having a good year for cycling.

At a city council public works meeting in January, Hamilton city council stalled a move to add three blocks of bike lanes around a GO train station as councillors argued it would interfere with parking. Councillor Esther Pauls stated that when she goes downtown, she sees people “begging for money” on bike lanes, not using them as transportation. The same day Pauls also estimated that there are only about 100 cyclists in Hamilton. Although she later claimed she was referring to a specific area, her comment was regarded as ignorant by a number of Hamiltonians, including many of the 26,000 SoBi bike share program members.

Hamilton bike share users let down once again

Despite 600 new users signing up for the SoBi bike share program since the pandemic began, this month Uber—who just signed a one year bike share operation contract with the city in February—unexpectedly announced it would pull out of the agreement. The city had until June 1 to decide how to proceed.

“We’ve been forced into this situation,” said councillor Nrinder Nann, “and we have a responsibility as a municipal government to serve our people.”

“If we don’t act today, we risk losing SoBi for good. This isn’t something we can afford to lose.”

The council would have to allocate $400,000 to keep the city’s SoBi bike program going until the end of the year. On May 27, after a 15-hour meeting, they voted 8-8 against spending funds (a tie means the vote failed and the funding will not go through).

What happens next

The bikes will be put into storage on June 1, leaving the 26,000 SoBi members to find other means of transit. Of these members, 500 depended on free or discounted SoBi passes arranged by Canada’s first cycling equity program, the Everyone Rides Initiative.

There is a possibility of the bikes returning to the streets, but it will be a minimum of six months before city staff are able to secure new bike share operators. The cost of keeping the bikes in storage has not been made public.

Many Hamiltonians took to Twitter to express their anger with the situation.