it would be fair to say that the melbourne bike share program has not been a big success. usage is fewer than 70 rides a day and everyone is of a single voice about the problem that afflicts it: compulsory helmet laws. i’ve used the melbourne bike share and i think its problems runs considerably deeper. and given that mayor ron clarke wants to introduce a similar idea to the gold coast i think it would constructive to consider them.
how the scheme works
you can take out a full day subscription for $2.50. that allows you to use a bike for 30mins at a time before parking it at a convenient bike station. that sounds just about perfect. not many commuter rides take longer than 30min and then you get to park the bike at a station near your destination, return later and pick up another bike for the ride home (or your next destination). at this price it’s a no-brainer for a visiting cyclist like me. so why doesn’t it work then?
first up, some geography. i’m staying in richmond while in melbourne, about five kilometres from melbourne cbd. richmond is a destination itself, with about a billion shoppers per day wondering aimlessly up and down bridge rd, about 5 good bike shops, a squillion cafes and bars…but not a single bike station. our nearest bike station is, according to the melbourne bike share
website, at jolimont railway station. that’s about halfway to the city, so it’s about 2 kilometres from the cbd, maybe less. fact is though, the bike station doesnt exist. i spoke on the phone to the nice lady at the bike scheme and she re-assured me that it was there somewhere but a quick chat with someone who knew better, the station master, told another story.
so i walked into the city and hired a bike at federation square. there is already a bike hire business in fed square and it seems like an act of bastardry to put up competition against him at $2.50 per day. i hope no well-meaning dickhead government ever ruins my business by entering the market with rates i cant compete against. his principle advantage is that he’ll loan you a helmet to go with the bike. if you ask me, the government should have subsidized his business instead of so carelessly ruining it.
the bikes re-define utilitarian. they’re built like tanks. my dual-suspension mountain bike feels svelte in comparison. the effect of riding the two bikes is very similar, it takes a lot of energy to get them rolling up to speed and then you hit some invisible speed barrier at about 20km/hr that makes extra effort futile.
the ride quality of the bikes is very poor, with tank-like frame and small wheels making every bump in the melbourne roads feels like you’ve dived into a pothole. if you’ve been riding around town on your steel fixie and you jump on one of these you might knock your teeth loose on the first bump.
of course it has to be built that way to some degree because it’s going to cop a fair bit of abuse. or it would it anyone used it. the bikes take the joy out of cycling, making it more a functional means of transport than the great fun cycling really is. these bikes wont convert many people to the joys of cycling.
i took my bike up to northcote, 7 kilometres to the north. it would be an ideal distance for a bike scheme like this. it would have been ideal for me — park the bike in northcote, have a coffee, a quick wander, a beer at the local, pick up another bikes and ride back… northcote has a very happening scene and is quickly becoming melbourne’s new epicenter of cool. bikes litter the streets and many people routinely ride into and out of the city from here. problem is, there’s no bloody bike station.
the nearest bike station is in carlton, a mere 3km ride from the cdb, not even halfway to my destination. and that is the problem with the bike scheme in a nutshell. i could quite comfortably visit every single one of the bike stations in my allotted 30mins. they’re completely and utterly bloody useless when it comes to actually riding from somewhere to somewhere.
i left my bike unattended in the street while i was inside drinking and eating. it was a safe bet that no-one could hock my bike at a pawn shop if stolen, so no real desire to steel it. my round trip took about three hours so i get charged penalties, bringing my total hiring cost out to considerable $30-40. it would have been cheaper and better for me to get a half day bike hire elsewhere.
so why is it a failure?
here’s the real problem with the melbourne bike hire scheme as i see it. there is no bike station more than 30 minutes walk from from its furthest station. there is no bike station that is more than 5 minutes cycle from it’s furthest station. from docklands to north carlton is only 5 minutes on a bike, ten maybe for a sunday cyclist. you’d have to be very unfit to need anywhere near the 30 mins and if you’re that unfit you shouldnt be riding these bikes because you’d be lucky to get them up to speed.
so yeah, helmets are a problem for the bike hire scheme, but with or without helmets the scheme is a resounding failure because you can’t actually go from somewhere to somewhere on their bikes.