Shedding light on urban transportation and, more specifically, the contemporary development of “smart” bikesharing systems (i.e. short-term bicycle rental services), the purpose of this paper is to focus on Montreal's bikesharing experiment. Known as BIXI (a contraction of the words BIcycle and taXI) since its inception in 2009, this system has been exported to other cities around the world, making it especially relevant for the analysis of this innovative and sustainable form of urban mobility.
By tracing the policy history of BIXI and the current political debate about its future while using a framework focusing on the role of ideas in public policy, the paper directly contributes to the literature on the growing role of bicycles in sustainable urban transportation. The qualitative analysis is based on a systematic review of government documents and BIXI-related articles published in the Montreal French- and English-language press. To complement this analysis and provide information about behind-the-lesson drawing processes leading to the creation of BIXI, six semi-structured interviews were conducted with officials in charge of bikesharing policy in Montreal, as well as in Boston and London, England, two cities that have adopted (and adapted) the BIXI model.
This analysis stresses the role of lesson drawing and framing processes in the development of Montreal's bikesharing system. While it is clear that the technological and policy developments of BIXI illustrate systematic and positive lesson drawing, on the framing and public relations side, the Montreal experiment suggests it is politically risky to boost public expectations about the potential costs of bikesharing systems for taxpayers. In addition to their innovative and sustainable contributions to urban transportation and pro-bike strategies, bikesharing systems are public investments that are not necessary free of costs for taxpayers. Framing these systems as public investments rather than a “free ride” for taxpayers would be a more accurate, and potentially effective, way to promote their development in the context of the current push for sustainable transportation policy in cities around the world.
What this paper offers is a sociological perspective on an emerging and important policy issue, through an original combination of lesson drawing and framing perspectives on policy development. Montreal's BIXI is one of the most discussed (and exported) bikesharing systems around the world, and this is the first detailed policy analysis devoted to its genesis and politics.
The author thanks Tanya Andrusieczko, Edward Ashbee, Shannon Boklaschuk, Daniel Fuller, Angela Kempf, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. He also acknowledges support from the Canada Research Chairs program.
Béland, D. (2014), "Developing sustainable urban transportation: Lesson drawing and the framing of Montreal's bikesharing policy", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 34 No. 7/8, pp. 545-558. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSSP-07-2013-0072Download as .RIS
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