Unless some new arrangement can be made the familiar blue SOBI rental bikes that have been a fixture in Hamilton may become a thing of the past. In an announcement that will leave cyclists who depended on the service in Hamilton scrambling, the operators of Hamilton’s SOBI bicycle rentals is pulling out of Hamilton, unilaterally terminating its contract eight months early. City staff were taken by surprise at the announcement since they had just concluded making amendments to its deal with Social Bicycles LLC in February—just before the COVID outbreak. The letter received at the end of last week wrote in part, “As a result of the challenges associated with the COVID19 pandemic we have made the very difficult decision to shut down all of the remaining bike and scooter operations…including in the city of Hamilton.”
In terms of impacts the staff report says, “there are many significant operational concerns. A shut down of the system would impact 26,000 active members, many of whom have prepaid for services for up to one-year. There are 900 bicycles and 130 stations in operation that have no storage facility or ability to move the bikes into a storage, should one be found.” The city owns the bikes and bike stands. The equipment was purchased in 2007 with a quick win grant from Metrolinx. SOBI’s contract was to operate the system.
The staff reports says it understands SOBI was losing money on the contract. It would cost Hamilton $50,000 to $60,000 a month to operate the service. Meanwhile staff are staff are in communications with Social Bicycles LLC and Uber Inc. seeking clarification on their position and reminding them of their contractual obligations to the City.
From its inception SOBI Hamilton quickly established itself as one of the most successful bike share systems in a medium sized city in North America; winning two awards. As of May 2020, the SoBi Hamilton public bike share transit system had over 26,000 active members, with 900 bicycles in operation across 130 stations. Riders have travelled 2.3 M kms across over 1.6 M trips. Compared to average car travel, they have reduced 1,000 tons of carbon equivalent, 91 M calories, and saved $1.3 M dollars collectively.
The cancelled contract comes as a huge disappointment as city staff had begun looking at the possibility of expanding the service to Hamilton Mountain. COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the bike/scooter rental business as can be seen here .