The McMaster & Hamilton communities should do more to support SoBi

By: Adeola Egbeyemi, Brittany Williams and Christy Au-Yeung, Contributors

This article is written by members of the MSU Sustainability Committee, who are in the midst of their virtual SoBi campaign.

They’re blue, built with a thick Dutch frame and basket. Though you may have been around Hamilton, you may have not even noticed their presence swarming the McMaster University campus. We’re talking about Social Bicycles.

SoBi is a bike-sharing company. The Hamilton-specific SoBi fleet has bikes located in approximately 130 hubs across the city. Users can purchase a specific level of membership online and once registered, are ready to ride anywhere. Bike-sharing systems like SoBi Hamilton allow users to take one-way trips on publicly accessible bikes and create a network of efficient, affordable and sustainable transportation.

This efficient, affordable and sustainable mode of transportation nearly ended this past summer and is not yet out of its narrow bike lane. Back in May, SoBi was operated by Uber, although still city-owned. On May 15, Uber unexpectedly notified the Hamilton City Council that they would stop operating SoBi in June due to COVID-19 considerations, even though ridership had increased in the hundreds since the pandemic began.

Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann attempted to save SoBi by using taxes collected from areas where SoBi operates, but the motion narrowly lost at City Council. The very next day, Hamilton Bike Share Inc., a not-for-profit bike-share operator, started a GoFundMe to try to continue operating the bikes at no cost to the city.

In a last-minute save, a reconsideration motion for SoBi passed unanimously at the next council meeting. Presently, SoBi is operating as normal through Hamilton Bike Share Inc., but the city is still in search of a stable long-term operator.

As the city searches, SoBi has become a notable transportation alternative for individuals who want to avoid public transportation. SoBi also provides users with the convenience of locking their bikes to a non-SoBi rack for a one-dollar fee.

In addition, the bike-share service maintains user accessibility through their subsidized Everyone Rides Initiative, which provides both a discounted pass and an opportunity for users to earn SoBi credits by relocating any out-of-hub bikes. If you’re a McMaster student, you can also access a discounted membership. So if you want to reduce your carbon footprint or you want to support this community program, this affordable option is for you.

Just as small actions can produce larger change, bike-share programs not only provide benefits to individuals as previously outlined but to the community as a whole. It is at this level that bike share programs have been proven to decrease car usage and reduce traffic congestion, which consequently reduces pollution, leading to community health benefits and allowing for economic expansion.

These environmental benefits are particularly relevant given that the transportation sector emits the second most greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. To date, SoBi bike-sharing is estimated to have reduced nearly 1 million kilograms of CO2 emissions. As a community, we have the vital responsibility to be environmental stewards; we need to make the necessary efforts required to protect the natural environs that have provided us with so much.

McMaster has demonstrated its commitment to sustainable transportation practices at an institutional level through its April 2017 Master Campus Plan Update, which outlines infrastructural changes for a vehicle-free core campus. A key aspect of this is not merely accommodating cycling on campus but actively encouraging it.

In the 2017 update, McMaster planned to expand SoBi to the GO Bus station and west campus. Evidently, the support and facilitation of bike-sharing services like SoBi align closely with McMaster’s culture and priorities of sustainability.

The McMaster Students Union has also shown its commitment to supporting sustainable transportation through the MACycle service, an on-campus do-it-yourself bike repair shop. Unfortunately, due to low engagement and alternative services in the Westdale area, the service was de-ratified last year.

This exemplifies the importance of making conscious decisions to support these sustainable programs otherwise these options may become defunct. We are only able to keep these programs running through our community efforts.

SoBi is a valuable and accessible program that provides benefits individually, institutionally and municipally; as a result, they have received support at all of these levels. Since the future of SoBi remains undetermined, we as a community can find our footing as environmental stewards by supporting the bike share program while it is still here.

Image courtesy of C/O Sybil Simpson, Production Editor


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