9 Aug 2010

Key envy

Have you ever heard of key envy (aemulatio claviscorum)? If not, you probably own a car. For key envy develops in humans worrying about their slight and anemic keychains. Without one of these alluring all-access, turn-on-the-lights, rev-up-the-engine remote controls standing out from between your home, cabinet and office keys, you are an at risk patient. And if you live in North America, where key envy is much more prevalent and more contagious, you should definitely boost your immune system.

I have recently started developing the first mild symptoms of key envy, probably promoted by warm summer days, alluring national parks in driving distance, and a stream of visitors zipping in and out in rental cars.

But worry not! I am happy to report that I have found a potent cure, even before having to resort to the Canadian health care system. It is courtesy of the STM, which is usually not known for being particularly useful. In this case, however, they offered me - as one of their loyal annual pass holders - a healthy 75% discount on the wonder drug that beats key envy. Naturally, I jumped on the opportunity: As of this week, I hold a key to the city's Bixi bike-sharing system.

The key contains a chip, which in turn stores my annual subscription to the system and allows me to take out any of the 5000 Bixi bikes, from any of the 400 stations scattered across downtown Montréal, and ride it for up to 30 minutes at a time for free, before returning it to the same or any other station. Should my lack of training make my journey with the 3-speed contraption between 30 and 60 minutes long, a moderate fee of $1.50 will be charged to my account, but the cost quickly rises for any useage of more than an hour. So clearly, I am meant to pedal my way from A to B, and then return my bike to a station for the next user while I go about my business. Once I am ready to return or move on, a new 30 minute Bixi ride is only a turn of the key away. Never do I have to worry about storing, locking, or (god forbid) fixing a bike - the Bixi system takes care of all that.

Thanks to Bixi, my mobility strategy for hops within the city center has changed, and I now frequently find myself foregoing the hot and sticky metro in favor of a refreshing bike ride. Being mostly flat, and increasingly lined with bike paths, Montréal is reasonably rider-friendly, although it still has a ways to go to catch up with my former hometown.

Bixi has been a resounding success and in this second season of Montreal operations, it has expanded dramatically. By next season (Bixi hibernates in the winter months), there will hopefully also be stations around my office, allowing me to ride to work. And in the meantime, Montréal is cashing in on selling the Bixi system abroad. Melbourne and Minneapolis have been the first cities to lauch their own versions. And as if to prove that it doesn't take a city starting in M, London has joined last week with an impressive 6000 bikes.

So fear not, city dwellers near and far. Bixi is here to cure you of your key envy. But be careful: This cure is an addiction in itself!

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