Melbourne bike share

September 21, 2013 at 12:05 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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2013-09-16 14.13.06I had occasion to travel to Melbun on business recently. My schedule was fairly tight, but in the end I arrived at my destination half an hour or so earlier than my appointment. And, as luck would have it, there was a bike share station right outside the door.  Here was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up – I just had time for a quick ride! I have never had the opportunity to use a pubic bike share scheme before, so I was very excited.

The whole thing is very easy to use. Stick in your credit card, agree to the 60(!) pages of terms and conditions (does anybody actually read them, I wonder?), and then unlock your bike and off you go!

IMG_00011It costs $2.70 for a day’s hire, which seems excellent value to me. Each ride has to be less than 30 minutes – the idea being that you hop from bike station to bike station throughout the day, rather than just getting one bike and riding around on it all day.

Reviews I have seen of bike share scheme bikes tend to go on about how heavy and ponderous they are. I have to say, that didn’t really strike me. Clearly cruising around on a cargo bike for so long has inured me to big, heavy bikes. Indeed, I reckon the Melbourne bikes are lighter than the Radish, especially as I always seem to be carrying a whole load of locks, chains and straps in the panniers. Indeed, I thought they are very comfortable – the saddle height is easy to adjust, the ride position good and the handlebars are great.

They have three gears, and they are not super-low (another thing I have read about bike share bikes). Sure, first gear is a real crawler, but up in third you can get a bit of speed up and bowl along. Upon doing this, however, I did discover that the brakes are not especially good. I’m not sure if the bike I chose was somewhat defective, or whether that’s just par for the course for roller brakes, but it was hard to effect much more than ‘gentle slowing’ without hauling on the levers for dear life.

Overall, though I was very impressed. The whole thing just works really well. In my twenty-minute tootle around the block I went past two other bike stations, so there seems to be plenty of them around, at least in that part of the CBD.

Plenty of bikes, but not plenty of riders. I didn’t see a single other bike share bike in use the whole time I was in Melbourne, and I’m pretty sure I was the only person who took a bike from that docking station that whole afternoon – I checked when I came down after my meeting, and the pattern of bikes and empty slots was exactly as it had been. This gels with the data – almost no-one is using this scheme. Yet the scheme is easy to use, the bikes are great, and there seems to be plenty of stations. In other cities around the world with comparable schemes – such as Dublin, or Toronto – they are extremely successful. So what is different in Melbourne?law

The answer stares you in the face as soon as you get onto one of these bikes. ‘It is the law in the state of Victoria that you must wear a helmet while riding a bicycle‘ states the bald notice on the handlebars.

The docking station has a long list of shops you can buy a (subsidised) $5 helmet from, and indeed there are also a few free helmets on some of the bikes (there was one on the bike I hired). But the reality of this is that having to faff around with helmets, whether carrying one, buying one or using some skanky one left on the bike – is a major turn-off. Studies have shown that over two-thirds of people when questioned said that having to wear a helmet was the primary reason they did not use the bike share scheme. It’s just so sad, and so short-sighted. The safety record of these schemes is incredibly good – far better, in fact, than for regular bicycle riders. Yet the Victorian government (like most in Australia) cannot see beyond the dogma and refuse to budge on the issue, despite increasing numbers of voices (including those in local government) calling for a helmet exemption for bike share. It’s just so sad to see these fantastic bikes go unused for no good reason. Hopefully sense will prevail – because at the moment, the fine for not wearing a helmet in Victoria is the largest in Australia, at around $150.

Did I wear a helmet for my ride? Of course not. But given the size of the fine and the legendary zealousness of the Victorian police on this issue, there were few others following my stance. Still, riding around the city on an upright bike wearing my suit I hope sent out some kind of message – this is the way it is supposed to be!

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