Hacking bixi to save Montreal taxpayer's money

Here are two ideas to optimize bixi that could save Montreal tens of millions of dollars.

Open a competition to optimize redistribution

Two "bike depots" and half a dozen trucks criss-cross Montreal to move bixis from full to empty stations. Yet we still see plenty of both full or empty stations, which results in fewer trips and fewer people buying and renewing subscriptions.

Let's call in the artificial intelligence talent that works in gaming companies or universities, and the operations research people that know how to find elegant solutions to this problem. Their goal would be to ensure the highest possible availability: whenever possible, there should be a bike or free dock in every station.

What needs to be opened up? Data about bike trips, without user identifiers. Basically a file with a long list of lines in the form of

"station X, 10:30AM, station Y, 10:48AM"

We also need some cost values for the redistribution, e.g. how long it takes to load and unload bikes.

Specifically, the goal should be software that handles these inputs and produces real-time redistribution recommendations.

Ask mobile users to help

For any trip, there can be several stations near the origin and the destination. A mobile application can highlight stations from which it would be best to get or dock a bike to change redistribution.

How this saves money for Montreal

In 2011, Montreal's city council approved a $108-million bailout package for Société de vélos en libre-service, which administers Bixi and sells the system to other cities. Without government backing, that corporation would be bankrupt. Not only are they not making payments right now, we still don't have audited statements from *last year*.

Our next mayor must enforce some transparency and accountability, and replace some of the leaders at SVLS. I hope the ideas I presented will be considered by city council or in job interviews for new leaders.

Fixing and optimizing Bixi has a lever effect on our ability to sell the system to more cities, as well as on our local budget. Unfortunately SVLS has been downright hostile to developers that would love nothing more than make this project succeed.

SVLS estimated Montreal's bike share could break even with 50,000 subscribers. Redistribution is not only an important cost driver, it's also a reason people don't renew their subscriptions.

4 responses
From what I know, Bixi already worked with some academics to come up with better optimization algo. Does it mean it's optimal? I like the idea of something more around AI, gaming people and eventually machine learning. The question is to know whether Bixi would be open do to that. I think they are currently in a transition period and their role relative to STM still has to be clearified... I guess we will have to wait until the municipal election to get their. Same goes for the mobile thing. I know that the Living Lab and others have tried to push such tool to improve things... even by giving some bounties for those who would chose a better place. But first, until now, Bixi has been reluctant to open their data and them they have been reluctant to show that they need help. It has not been largely publicized but the CEO has been replaced last spring. My feeling is that the new guy is more open. But once again, I think they need to know where they go with STM. On my side, the huge benefit I would see is real multimodality with transit. Let's say that Bixi starts to be seen as public transportation and that somehow, either you get access to bixi with you opus card OR you need a small additional fee to get access + improved coverage of Bixi (and trip planning capabilities), I am sure that Bixi could be a good leverage of the existing transit system.
Cross-marketing Bixi with transit would make a lot of sense, and would probably convince a lot of people to get an Opus card year-long. I just learned Capital Bike Share makes its data available, so a contest doesn't need to wait on local politics... https://www.capitalbikeshare.com/trip-history-data Daniel. (Posthaven has me logged in but marks this as "A Posthaven user")
Yes, many bixi implementations have published some trip data: London, D.C as you said and boston. And I think I saw it for other places also. I've always been surprised to see the Bixi is still that reluctant after other did the same with the exact same data and without any issue or negative impact. Last time I spoke with the now-CEO (during the spring), he was open to the idea of making trip data available like others have done. As said, I think they have to see the light at the end of the tunnel before moving on other topics... hopefully.
I agree it's ridiculous to use trucks to redistribute bikes. I'm fairly confident enough bixi riders would participate in the redistribution if they were given an opportunity. How much would this save? It's hard to know, since the financials are so opaque. How much does the system cost to run in Montreal vs revenues? (And what is the cost breakdown?) What's the business model when Bixi sells to other cities? From reading some of the press, it seems like Bixi takes on debt to finance (the purchase? operation?) of new installations. If true, this makes no sense at all.