By now, you’ve probably noticed the rows of new silver bike racks popping up in Vancouver. These ‘docking stations’ are set-up by Mobi, Vancouver’s first public bike-share program. With an inaugural fleet of 250 bikes at 23 stations across Vancouver, Mobi gives commuters a convenient, comfortable, flexible, and affordable shared vehicle option to get from Point A to Point B.
Living in Yaletown, I walk, utilize public transportation or participate in a car-sharing program to get around the city. But from one end of downtown to another, it can easily take 30 minutes to walk from, say, Yaletown to English Bay. I don’t own a car or bike. Now with Mobi bikes, I have another option for my commute.
The Mobi Bikes
The 7-speed Mobi bikes are basic, heavy, but totally fine for an easy city commute. The seat height is easily adjustable, and each bike comes with a basket, a bell, and an attached cable lock cord. All bikes are standardized, so the more you ride the more familiar you become with the bike.
To sign out a Mobi, use the device between the bike handle bars. Type in your member number, enter your pin code, and after about 10 seconds, the cable lock cord will pop out, and your bike will be unlocked and ready to use. If you ride with Mobi regularly, you’ll likely be able to memorize your 7-digit member number. If you have a member card, you can tap to begin the unlocking process instead.
What About Helmets?
Helmets are attached to the bike via the cable lock cord. I’m not sure if the helmets get sanitized on a regular basis, so if you don’t like the idea of wearing a helmet that was just on someone else’s (sweaty) head, one of my coworkers gave me the awesome tip to bring a disposable shower cap to wear as a barrier between your head and the helmet. It looks silly, but it works! Or you can bring your own helmet, but that’s definitely the less convenient option.
When you are locking up your Mobi bike, make sure you hook the cable cord lock through the actual helmet, not just the helmet strap.
Mobi Bike Stations
For now, the Mobi stations are mainly concentrated in the downtown Vancouver area. I live in Yaletown; within a 5 minute walk, there are at least 5 Mobi docking stations, where I can pick-up or park a bike.
Members can use the Mobi website to track the availability of bikes around the city. The map shows you where the Mobi docking stations are and the number of bikes and empty parking spots available. Not every Mobi station has the same number of spots – there’s anywhere from 12 to 20+ spots, depending on the location you’re at. The average number of spots seems to be around 18.
Below is a screenshot of the Mobi bikes map. The numbers indicate the number of available bikes, at various stations around the city. Note that the numbers change on a real-time basis, so please reference the live Mobi bike stations map on their website when you’re trying to book a bike. Also on the Mobi website, you can switch the view to show available parking spots instead. An app is coming soon to make the ride experience even more convenient.
Study the Mobi map to figure out where there are bike stations near where you want to go. Or, as you’re walking through downtown Vancouver, make a mental note to memorize where you’ve spotted Mobi bike stations. It’ll save you time and hassle when you are actually biking and need to find a place to park your bike.
By the end of the summer, there are plans to expand the fleet to 1,500 bikes at 150 stations.
The pricing structure of Mobi is membership based. There are two “Founding Member” pricing options:
- Standard Plan – $99 for an annual membership, which includes unlimited under-30-minute rides. Overage charges are $2 for 31 to 60 minutes of riding, and $3 per half-hour after that.
- Plus Plan – $129 for an annual membership, which includes unlimited under-60-minute rides. Overage charges are $3 per half-hour over a 60-minute ride.
There currently isn’t a pay-per-ride option, you have to sign up for the annual membership to use Mobi. I think this is Mobi’s way of getting us to consider biking as a viable regular mode of transportation, rather than a one-time activity. To discourage competition with Vancouver bike rental shops, the rates are set so that Mobi rates will best suit short commutes, while longer, leisure rides will be more affordable at bike rental shops.
“Vancouver already tops North America for active transportation. Adding Mobi bike share to the mix will help further extend the reach of walking and transit trips, and change the way people get around Vancouver” – Gregor Robertson, Mayor, City of Vancouver.
I signed up for the Standard Plan because I didn’t anticipate going for many bike rides over half hour, and, even if I did, the $2 overage charge is so minimal. If you want to stay within your membership’s ‘free’ rides, you can park and end your trip at a Mobi station, which resets the timer, then sign out the same bike again.
Mobi Stat Tracker
When you are logged into the Mobi website, you can track your rides with stats. It tells you where you began and ended your journey, your ride time, and the number of kilometres logged on your rides. From a health and fitness perspective, it’s cool to get some insight into how far you’ve ridden in a given time period.
Is Mobi Worth It?
Since I’ve already paid $99 for a membership, I feel encouraged to use the service, to get the most bang for my buck. I like how Mobi stations are quite concentrated in downtown Vancouver, and usually along bike lane routes. I like that I don’t have to worry about tune-ups of maintenance or the bike, and don’t have to bring my own lock or helmet with me on rides. I also think the overage charges are quite reasonable; even if I were to go over my 30-minute ‘free’ ride, it would cost less than the price of a bus ticket to ride for a full hour.
Because Mobi is still such a new program, I’ve had no problems signing out an available bike or finding an empty parking spot at a docking station. But once their membership base grows, I’d wonder if we’ll encounter any frustrations with finding available bikes, or empty parking spots? And I also wonder about how often bikes will be maintained, brakes tuned-up and helmets cleaned.
Because Mobi is endorsed by the City of Vancouver as part of the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan and the Transportation 2040 Plan, it seems like a close eye will be kept on the Mobi program, and there will be resources allocated to expand and maintain this program. Joining nearly 1,000 cities around the world (including Montreal, NYC, Boston and Seattle) in offering a bike share program, I think Mobi is a great step to accommodate for a growing city with ‘green’ values, by offering an affordable and convenient commuting option.