Bike share – is it working?

Bike share station outside Southern Cross Stn and Media House

A commenter challenged me to learn a bit more about bike sharing before writing about it again (previous post), but didn’t point me to a specific URL. So I did a little digging.

As it happens the Melbourne Leader had an article on it this week:

The State Government-funded scheme has attracted just 185 subscribers and 1350 trips since its launch in May, with BYO helmets and high deposit costs appearing to discourage would-be users.

Assuming those figures were from 11th July (the date before the article), that means 1350 trips since 31st May, or 42 days, which means about 32 trips per day.

The rate of trips per day does not appear to be growing. An RACV media release from 22nd June said at the time they’d clocked up 700 rides. That’s also 32 trips per day. Which is not to say it won’t grow in the future of course, as university restarts, and more bikes get rolled-out.

The Leader article mentions there are currently 100 bikes, so each bike has been used, on average, once every three days.

The other week I watched ABC2’s e2 programme on the Paris bike share system Vélib’, which seems to have been a big success. According to Wikipedia (and from memory the programme said similar things), it has 20,000 bicycles and 1,639 stations, and it’s apparently spread well beyond central Paris. It has a similar pricing scheme to Melbourne, geared at short trips, with free hire for the first half-hour.

(You can watch e2 online on their web site — click on webcasts — some later episodes are on ABC iView.)

Paris’s system has about 120,000 trips per day, so on average each bike is used 6 times per day. Clearly we’ve got a long way to go in Melbourne. I’m just not sure if it’s going to take off.

I haven’t seen people using the bikes, but I’m told those that are seem to be grabbing them and riding around without helmets, suggesting they’re tourists unaware of the helmet rules, or locals willing to risk the fine. Presumably at least some are rocking up with their own helmet to use.

Now, I don’t mind the concept of bike share. Cycling, particularly in the CBD and inner-suburbs, has matured over the last few years. In fact if there are any public main streets I’d feel safe cycling on, it would be in the CBD, where with some exceptions, there’s very little traffic.

But I still struggle to see where the market for Melbourne Bike Share is, given most Melburnians arrive in the CBD with an all-day ticket they can use on trams for short trips, and tram services along most CBD corridors are very frequent (though admittedly slow and overcrowded much of the time).

And it’s the helmet requirement that is really going to prevent a lot of people using it. Even proponents seem to accept that this casts doubt on whether it’ll work.

Update 23/7/2010: While the Leader article says there are currently 100 bikes, today’s Age article and the official web site both say there are 600 bikes. However, I attempted to count the total number of bikes using the station map, and came up with 314.

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22 Replies to “Bike share – is it working?”

  1. At the moment, the network effect isn’t established – there aren’t enough drop-off stations to make grabbing a bike and cycling four blocks viable.

    You opined in your original piece that If you arrived in the city by car you’d be unlikely to bring a helmet; and sure, the kind of person who drives into the city won’t be thinking of cycling around it. But of all the potential users you profiled, I think they’re the most likely users because carrying a bulky helmet in won’t be such a burden to them, and they don’t have a viable alternative (if PT was viable they would have used it to get into the city). But then again, the bike stations aren’t near parking garages, are they?

    Still, I don’t imagine the helmet laws are going to stop some people riding without one.

  2. Given there are parking garages all over the CBD, yes, some of them are close to bike stations.

    Even if you drive into the CBD from a location not served by PT, you might be able to make trips within the CBD by bike or PT (the latter is one of the main groups using the City Saver fare).

    I think there’s a very plausible demographic of people who might keep a helmet at their desk at work (whether they catch PT or drive into work) and use bike share.

    But they would need to be working close to a bike station; taking a trip that is inconvenient by PT; and it would need to be a quick round trip, or to another location close to a bike station (or the cost would be prohibitive); and doing it at least semi-regularly (or they wouldn’t bother keeping a helmet). All of which makes it, I suspect, a very small number of people.

  3. Apparently there aren’t even any warning signs on the bike share “plinth” that you even do need a helmet. Maybe the council is hoping to recoup the startup costs from a share of the fines doled out to unaware tourists?

  4. I had to get from Melbourne uni to Jeff’s shed on Tuesday night. I thought about riding, but of course didn’t have a helmet with me. The map doesn’t show a station there, though I thought I saw one. And being told to go find another drop-off station if the one you want is full… meh. I’ll catch trams.

  5. @Flerdle, there’s a couple of bike stations nearish to Jeff’s Shed; at the Southern Cross Station, and Southwharf (Aquarium coming soon), so I guess you could walk the rest of the way from one of those.

    (I haven’t even looked; do the bikes have lights so you can use them at night?)

  6. I agree with Josh Parris. Melbourne hasn’t deployed enough bikes and stations yet to really make a convincing case for bikesharing in the city. (Only 36 stations and 312 bikes appear on the map, according to the Bixou app, despite MBS’s website promising 50 stations and 600 bikes.) People need to have the impression that the stations are everywhere in order to trust the system and not hesitate to use it. Good coverage is key.

    Just compare with the success of Minneapolis’ Nice Ride network, which launched shortly after Melbourne, using the exact same BIXI system of bikes and kiosks. Between June 10th and 30th, their 50 stations and 450 bikes had recorded over 10000 trips. And they’re adding 15 bikes per day on average, until they reach their first phase goal of 700. Like in Montreal, the public has embraced the system warmly, and overall response has exceeded expectations.

    Of course I also agree that the helmet laws discourage the impulse user, which is a major source of success of the system in Montreal, where I live. On rainy days, it’s common for people to take the bus to work, and then bikeshare home at night if the weather’s improved. Biking home from an evening out is also incredibly popular, since it’s less expensive than taking a cab. Sadly, Melbourne’s helmet law prevents the system from benefiting from spontaneous use.

  7. Take into consideration population size and spread guys. Helmet issues aside Melbourne (and most of Australia) is a sprawling suburban wasteland.

    I imagine Paris for one has much more dense housing in the area the bike hire services. If they do have the service in less densely populated areas then I imagine the financial offset from the metro areas is more then enough to support it.

    Then there’s also the fact that Australia has a crapload more large tubby lardarses walking around then Paris too…

  8. I’m yet to see a single one of these bikes in use, so even 32 trips per day surprises me.

    Based on comments by others, it seems people driving to the CBD are the most likely users. But CBD car trips are the last thing we should be encouraging! Cars are a minority in the city since most journeys are by PT, cycling or walking. Nevertheless, there are still too many cars in the inner city and we need car users to switch to PT or cycling *all the way* (not just when they get to the CBD).

    So a scheme that seems to be geared towards encouraging people to drive to the CBD appears to back-up RACV General Manager Gordon Oakley’s claim that “the scheme would transform the way workers, students and visitors travelled around the city”…

  9. I have seen three of these bikes being ridden around – two (obvious) tourists near the corner of bourke and spring sts (sans helmets!) and one guy with a helmet riding around just outside the gates of the MCG…does seem like there are lots of empty spaces in the racks though.

  10. Well it is good to see that someone is keeping an eye on how this is going. I had a look the other day to see if anything had been written about since May 31, and found nothing at all.

    There seems to be a problem with potential users not knowing whether there is a station near their potential destination.

  11. Around here, we have the Red Bike Program. A local bike shop takes old bikes, converts them to single speed, paints them red everywhere, and puts them around the city. The deal is, if you see a bike, you can use it. You’re not allowed to keep the bikes or lock them to a bike rack ,although I see a few locked up sometimes. There’s no reservation system, no rental fee, nothing. If you see it, you can use it. Nice in a pinch, but nothing to really rely on. Unless you steal the bike.

  12. I saw a couple of tourists using these bikes in the city on the weekend. They had no helmets, which I’m sure most tourists will do. I also noticed they do have lights on the front of the bike (not sure about the back).

  13. Would be a good excuse to change the helmet laws; I used to think they were a great idea — but it’s precisely this sort of thing that makes me rethink it. This whole thing _could_ work well, but having a prerequisite to use like that just locks a whole bunch of interested people out.

  14. To use the Adelaide City Bike scheme, you must have a drivers license , or a passport. So if you are not a car-user or a jetsetter, you are a non-person.

  15. @Dmitry, it appears the Adelaide scheme is designed for quite a different demographic: tourists who want to ride around all day. That’s not who the Melbourne scheme is designed for; hence the pricing of short trips as free, but longer trips being quite expensive. They want you to return the bike to another stand (any stand, not just where you borrowed it from, as in Adelaide) so someone else can use it.

  16. Another update on The Age:

    http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/a-new-helmet-to-bring-riders-into-the-fold-20100828-13wxk.html

    Talks of helmet laws being the issue on the low uptake.

    I have to say that I’ve seen quite a few people (mostly looked like tourists) using these bikes now, and have not seen one wearing a helmet.

    This has cost us taxpayers $5.5 Million dollars? It makes me want to think up some other dumb ass scheme and sell it to the government.

  17. Simple – change the law – no helmets required. No other city requires a helmet. I would use the system every day to go from the city to lygon st if I did not have to use a helmet (and it wasn’t raining).

    Easy. Change the law. This will never happen.

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