The imminent failure of the Melbourne Bike Share Scheme – It ain’t just dumb helmet laws.

10 08 2010

It’s not just the dumb State of Victoria mandatory helmet laws that are causing the Melbourne bike share scheme to be underutilised. It isn’t even that launching it in the middle of a Melbourne winter is the worst time to be launching the scheme.

Just take a look at the map of the stations here. There are only 50 stations all within walking distance of each other.

I’ve been watching the e2 Transport TV series from the American PBS. You can see a preview here. In the episode the rather lovely Céline Lepault, the Vélib Manager for the city of Paris from 2005-2008 says that by studying other working systems Paris decided that to have a system that operated well immediately they would need to start with a system of 10,000 bikes.

She says, “If you open with a system that is inadequate, people will have problems finding bikes, and they will tire of the system and then it’s very difficult to restart a project like that again.”

Melbourne started with 600 bikes. There are no bikes near Richmond Station, nor South Yarra, nor in South Melbourne, Port Melbourne, Albert Park, St Kilda, Collingwood, Fitzroy, Williamstown, Yarraville.  There’s none at the Zoo. None at the MCG. None so you can have a nice ride up and down the Yarra.

So my take on it, with the silly helmet laws, the lack of bikes, and the very few stations is that the Melbourne Bike Share Scheme was set up to fail. It has been a flop, but that is what was wanted. Surely they couldn’t have got it so wrong just by fluke.

Contrast Melbourne’s woeful coverage with Montreal’s Bixi’s or Paris’s Velib’s.

Or for a completely different view this bloke reckons they had 48 sites too many.

If your city doesn’t have enough money for a decent scheme, find some more money, and then locate them near train and tram stops, and out the front of museums and galleries, near parks and zoos, and places that people actually want to go. So near the shops and restaurants, and near the sporting facilities.

As it is Melbourne people, when your system fails, can you gift the lot to a city that could actually get by with only 50 racks full of bikes. Palmerston North springs to mind.  For Melbourne I’d suggest 10,000 bikes, 2000 stations, a repeal of the helmet law, and some decent safe bicycle infrastructure.

At least Brisbane’s system is going to be based around the bike paths along the river, and is going to start with enough stations to make it useful. They’ll still have dumb mandatory helmet laws, but at least they don’t have a Melbourne Winter.




12 responses

10 08 2010
Dr Paul Martin

How do you explain the Dublin Bikes success with fewer bikes and fewer stations?

More than 37000 subscribers
40 stations
450 bikes

…and a whopping 828,688 journeys in the first 12 months! Also, with no mandatory helmet law, they have had no serious incidents involving the hire bikes…

I’m sure Melbourne will find a few more excuses as to why it isn’t working but after a full year they will be looking pretty thin and all that will be left will be the helmet issue…

See here:

10 08 2010

Thanks for that Paul. From looking at the station maps they really cover a comparable area of about 6 to 8 square km, and with the same order of stations, so both would be of limited value for all the possible trips in each city, yet Dublin is really successful, and Melbourne is yet to be. So maybe the helmet issue really is the biggest determinant of success, which means Melbourne is going to look really bloody silly in the eyes of the world if they don’t change the law. Maybe Vancouver can bring in their bikes, wonder why it fails for them, revoke their mandatory helmet laws and then see the system succeed. I have more hope for B.C. politicians than Victorian ones. Maybe you’ll get some traction for Brisbane’s. I hope so. Maybe if the Greens candidate gets up in Melbourne the whole of the blogging world picks on him. In fact I’m going to pester him now.

11 08 2010
Paul Martin

Yes, it is certainly interesting looking at Dublin and Melbourne for comparison.

I’m voting Green this election and I’ve written to my Green candidates about this and other cycling issues – namely quality, separated infrastructure if we want to develop a health bicycle culture.


17 08 2010
Alan Davies

There might be other factors too. Dublin lost its trams, so presumably there’d be less competition for bikes than there is in Melbourne.

Petrol prices are about 50% higher than in Australia so presumably there’re fewer cars and they’re smaller and slower, making cycling more attractive.

Is the Dublin scheme pitched at tourists? That could make a big difference to usage compared to ours, which is aimed at locals.

19 09 2010

Paul, Matthew, Alan,

I’m really late with this post but let me add something: Yes it likely is that the compulsory helmet law is the single biggest determinant in Melbourne Bike Share’s peculiar failure to take off, compared with the similarly-sized Dublin scheme, which, all accounts agree, is enjoying astonishing success. But it is important to understand that Dublin’s bike successis due to other important factors which scarcely translate to Australian experience.
The first of these is that Ireland has a cycling tradition. The Irish have always cycled. This is partly a matter of lack of money but it is as much to do with geography as on-again, off-again economic growth. Ireland’s slightly smaller than Tasmania. It is full of roads, some of them not much wider than a Morris Minor, yet the country is not densely populated. Bicycles of one kind and another have been handed down within families since the invention of the safety bicycle (how else are people to get around?).
Secondly, the Irish build in the European manner, up and down (basements), rather than out and flat (bungalows). In South Australia, growth tends to mean outer and flatter, thus artificially lengthening distances. In compact European cities and towns, wherever cycling thrives, there exists a tighter understanding of how space is to be managed in what are after all, small countries unburdened by Australia’s heat and distances. Cycling is thinkable in places like Denmark, the Danes got good at managing space and design, their genes duly produced Jan Gehl and Jan’s the man Melbourne turned to for advice on what to do with all this space and wealth which puts us in such a bind of confusion and impatience that it’s become almost impossible to take the humble bicycle with any seriousness.
A third difficulty is our insularity. There are bike-shop workers who do not know that almost no other country in the world – apart from our Tasman neighbour – requires people to wear helmets when riding bicycles. What does that do to the climate of opinion in Australia on this touchy subject? People today talk as if cycling only really got going after 1990 when cycling was ‘made safe’ by the passage of MHLs. It’s as if before this portentous date no-one knows what, if anything, was going on; thus a blank screen is created onto which people project all sorts of conjectures: before 1990 people cycled and died, people stopped cycling, the only cyclists were drunks working their passage to a return of their licences. No link at all between past experience of years of unhelmeted cycling and the sudden claim that ‘Helmets save lives.’
A fourth point is that In Australia there is a peculiar tribal cleavage between riders of sit-up, commuting bicycles and lycra-warriors in full battle dress. This split does not exist in Ireland because it doesn’t need to; thanks to Ireland’s smallness and the tradition of utility cycling, the memory of cycling is everywhere, re-inforced each year by Europeans touring Ireland every summer. When in seven months in 1987 Dublin’s Stephen Roche won the Tour of Italy, the Tour de France and the World Championships, everyone heard of it and the country rejoiced. Kids saved up for racing bikes, older folk continued cycling to work, the shops, the movies. Whatever.

Alan Davies, the Dublin scheme was emphatically NOT pitched at tourists. Tourists arrive in Ireland on French and UK ferries, with their own bikes. Scarcely a helmet in sight. American tourists arrange a package which will include a car. Besides, the tourists’ destinations are primarily in the West and South. Most users of Dublin bike share from what I hear, are working people. Yes petrol’s expensive – a smaller tax-base. My brother’s Audi is small but not slow. Likewise his wife’s. Paris is full of small cars – they drive like maniacs.


5 10 2010

Fix seems simple to implement. There is no need to change the law. The powers already exist now.

Just use the provisions of the existing Road Rules Part 15 {Rule 256, Subrules (1),(2)&(5)}.

Then print the exemption granted on the receipt from the Melb Bike Share machine and present it to police when stopped.

Thanks go to PeteB for this advice @c771106.

Only needs the political will to implement it.

5 10 2010

I just saw this and could not agree more re the stations being positioned in not very useful places. I am using this scheme partly because, by a fluke probably, there is a station near my apartment and one at my uni and this connects two places that are not at all properly connected by trams/buses, in fact my usual 35min walk is just as quick as PT. So the bike share scheme works for this, but for lots of other trips I would love to make the bikes just aren’t there. I am not going to bother jumping on one to ride two or three city blocks. Would love to see them in Richmond, Fitzroy, South Yarra so I could cut across suburbs in a way that can be tricky and time consuming on trams.
Personally for me the helmet thing isn’t a big issue as I prefer to wear one anyway, but I agree it is definitely an issue. I know they say they are working on ideas, but seriously, it should have been part of the original plan. I wonder if anyone involved is actually a cyclist? Reminds me of people making decisions about PT who clearly haven’t stepped onto a train, tram or bus in years if ever.

8 10 2010
Electric bike share « Wellington Region Cycleways

[…] kind of word.  So I think that trains and trams should carry bikes. I think that there should be bike share in cities and towns. I think that we deserve decent cycle infrastucture rather than rubbish cycle […]

13 12 2010
Transport Policy Fail « Wellington Region Cycleways

[…] bikes 12 times as much each day as Melbourne is. Dublin is going to increase their scheme ten-fold. The comments on this post of mine contemplated the reason Melbourne’s scheme is a bit of a […]

29 06 2012

I’m voting Green this election and I’ve written to my Green candidates about this and other cycling issues – namely quality, separated infrastructure if we want to develop a health bicycle culture.

26 08 2012

I arrived in Melbourne as a landed resident in mid-July and now have my own bike. The Melbourne bike share ‘thing’ did initially look appealing as a way to get around, except for one question: “Where the heck was I to get the mandatory helmet from if I wanted to make a single trip?”. The helmet rule here is so ****ing dumb. It really should be a choice for the individual as to whether or not they wish extra head protection. If I’m riding my own road bike, I’d prefer this, but for a short trip at slow speeds on what is plainly a commuter bike, it does seem overkill when applied to the Melbourne bike share machines. Also, I’ve been cycling for years in the UK, and it’s amazing how many people who cycle WITHOUT helmets don’t end up with their brains splattered across the road…

26 08 2012

Yep. It’s dumb. It’s Victoria.

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