Bike hire

Pre-state budget, there were strategic leaks of various initiatives. One that got a lot of press is the bike hire scheme. It’s a $5 million dollar scheme to have a bunch of inner-city bike stations where people can hire a bike.

Obviously there’s some detail to come out here. Where will they put them? How much will it cost to hire? What will they do about helmets?

In truth though, I’ve got my doubts.

Melbourne MP and Education Minister Bronwyn Pike said the plan would be sustainable and affordable and help alleviate inner city congestion.

Will it really alleviate congestion? Cycling, walking and particularly public transport already dominate inner-city trips, especially those into the CBD.

If you’re the type of person who is still driving into the CBD, it’s either because you’re finding the PT so poor for your particular trip (over-crowded, or not serving your suburb) or because you’re the type of die-hard Neil Mitchell-loving revhead who won’t give up their car for anything — and certainly won’t be getting onto some lycra-loving hippy bicycle.

So actually I think it’s unlikely to do anything for inner city congestion.

If you’re coming into the inner-city by public transport, do you really want to hop on a bike? Only, perhaps, if the last bit of your trip takes you beyond walking distance from where you jump off the tram/train/bus, and the connections aren’t very good. It would depend on where the bikes are located, but if you’re travelling for work, I’d guess you’re unlikely to rent a bike if you have to pay for 8-9 hours while you’re at work. But even if not, I’m not sure most people would bother.

For people who are inclined to cycle, what’s stopping them from doing so now? Bikes are dirt cheap, that’s not really a concern. I suggest the number one thing stopping more people cycling now is exactly why I don’t cycle very much: I’m chicken. With the lack of a fully-functioning bike lane/path network, most people have to mix it with general traffic to get where they’re going, and their sense of self-preservation means they aren’t willing to do it.

As Harry Barber, CEO of Bicycle Victoria said at the senate inquiry hearing last month:

We remain sceptical. We do not think the barrier is the bike; you can get a bike from the hard rubbish. The reason people are not riding is not because they do not have a bike. It is because they do not have somewhere to ride. As soon as you provide places to ride, people will get bikes. As the bicycle ecosystem develops, when it is comfortable for kids and cautious women to ride, as Senator Hutchins was talking about before, you may need hire bikes available that you can pick up for a small fee to get yourself, in Melbourne terms, down to St Kilda Road or something like that. We think that we are not quite there yet: that is a bit of an after-university thing and we are still at high school in the business of bikes. So we think it is very early to make this investment. They are quite expensive; all up, if you were to divide the number of bikes by the investment, they are going to be $8,000 bikes sitting on the side of the road.

I think I pretty much agree with him. I’m unlikely to use it, and my own bike will continue to sit at home most of the time until I see bike paths and lanes that’ll take me where I want to go.

(I could see myself hiring a bike for a joy-ride along the river. But that’s possible now, and would only ever be an occasional thing.)

What do you think? Would you use it?

PS. 4:45pm. Forgot to mention, apparently the bike hire trial conducted by RMIT has had a lot of registrations, but few people actually hiring the bikes.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

18 replies on “Bike hire”

Sounds to me like a good thing for them to point to to say “hey look we’re doing something “Green”. Doesn’t matter if you crunch the numbers and find it doesn’t “DO” any good. I’d rather think that more train cars would be a better investment. :P But they ain’t gonna ask me LOL

Agree with you Daniel. I work in the outer suburbs and drive into the central city for client meetings. Not being an experienced cyclist now (but was in my youth), and knowing that the CBD has few on-road facilities, I wouldn’t hire a bike to make short trips – I’d feel unsafe given my inexperience in inner-city traffic.

I suspect that the bicycle hire service will replace walking trips, and perhaps some more complex tram trips that involve changing trams, with bicycle trips. Some taxi journey’s might be replaced. There won’t be a noticeable difference in inner city congestion.

However, I do believe it is worth doing so that cycling is more visible as a genuine mode choice – it is a valid part of the “modal mix” – and more cyclists on the road will contribute to a longer term change in attitudes towards cycling, by drivers and Local and State Government decision makers.

Definitely seems a waste to encourge bike riding with no safe place to actually ride them. I’d feel very hesitant to go into city traffic on a bike.

Another government ‘initiative’ that they (mistakenly) think will make them look good. I am a cyclist but I think this is just plain silly. They should ask the cycling experts before launching into something like this. Will police fine the helmetless?

I’ve been wanting to get an adult three wheeler bike (safer with my poor vision) to ride with The Spouse and offspring but there’s nowhere safe to ride at all.
The bike hire will be a fizzer and the govt will waffle on about how no one wanted to embrace their eco ideas, blah, blah ,blah.

the helmet is still the issue for me with bike hire.

do you have to bring your own, which means that random hire is out, do they have them included, eeeewwwwww, or are there exemptions on helmet usage for rentals, and being a safety issue, if you can ride without a helmet on a rental, why not when you get home on your own bike???

Same here, bicycles and cars mixing is too dangerous. The helmet problem seems insurmountable. I would not want to put a helmet on my head that had already been on one hundred strangers’ heads.

Hmmm, interesting. I saw bikes-for-hire all over Paris when I visited, and they seemed to be pretty frequently used, and mixed in with the city traffic. I would have tried one except that as a tourist I wasn’t familiar with typical Parisian car-driving behavior.

In Toronto now, some folks at the university have proposed a bike-for-hire service for the university community only. It seems like they’d be pretty convenient for trips within the downtown core. The subway has a limited number of stops, and the streetcars and buses are slow and often crowded. I’d much rather zip down low-traffic side streets with the wind blowing in my face rather than get smushed between commuters and grocery sacks on the streetcar.

Copenhagen. Apparently there’s a great scheme there. Or rather, a non-scheme that relies on peoples’ honesty and trust, so I’ve heard. I’ll check it out and let you know. Sometimes these systems succeed against all expectations.

Another problem is what to do with the bike when you get to where you are going, especially in the congested CBD. Where are you going to park it and chain it up for instance, while shopping in the arcades, having a beer at Hell’s Upstairs, or eating dinner in Chinatown? Who will supply the chain or lock? What happens if your “hire bike” (sounds funny to my American English tuned ears) is stolen, or damaged, or has a flat tire? In Amsterdam I saw bikes in wide use and there were places to rent them and plenty of places to chain them up. There are also plenty of bike lanes and paths along with special bike traffic signals too. In other words the city is geared for bikes. Melbourne is semi bike friendly but this scheme, while noble, will be hard to carry out.

… or the Amsterdam model, where you leave your nice pushie at home and buy an old clunker heap of crap off a junkie for $10 euro. Ride it around for as many days as it takes to get stolen, then buy another clunker off a junkie for $10 euro.

It is easy to be cynical, and there is much to be cynical about: politicians live for the short term. As indeed would we if we got elected and wanted to stay that way. Ask Peter Garrett. Or give it a few months and ask Barack Obama.

However, if we are aiming to coax our politicians into doing something less timid, or into doing anything at all, starting small and finding out what doesn’t work (which is what we are likely to discover here) is no bad way to go.

Sometimes the rhetoric the politicians hear sounds a little too much like this: “You’re not doing enough. Hell, you’re not doing ANYTHING… [Pause] OK, ow you’re doing something – and it’s RUBBISH.”

Hard as it is, if we’re to get anywhere we must see the world as the politicians see it. Scarey prospect, I know… but what’s the alternative?

The one scenario I see that a “motorist” would use this system would be if they drove to a parking station, and then used the bike(s) to get around the inner city.

It works quite well in Paris, but a couple of comments:
– 1st 30min is free, so if you go bike station to bike station, it is perpetually free
– the bikes have a built in lock, so you can park it wherever you go
– no helmet laws
– the bikes usually end up at the bottom of hills. ie, they get ridden down but not back up, so staff have to redistribute the bikes.

I think we would need to get rid of mandatory helmet use for anything like this to get off the ground in Australia.

Steve: Point taken, but what if they spend all that money and it doesn’t work, and the government response is then “Well, we wasted X million on cycling, and it didn’t work. We don’t spend any more money on cycling.”

Grant: I do wonder if anybody would do as you’re suggesting? Perhaps I shouldn’t think in terms of the stereotypical die-hard car driver, but if you’re willing to drive into the inner-city, fighting all that traffic along the way, are you really going to get out of the car and get on a bike at the end of it?

The helmet thing is obviously going to be an issue… will be interesting to hear how they resolve that.

The scheme in Paris is run by a private company which got the concession after a tender.
The locals think it works very well.
The one big problem they have at the moment is that about 50% of the bikes have disappeared to former eastern bloc countries and the concessionaires are asking the Paris authorities to fork out millions for replacements.
In Melbourne you may not have that particular problem as there is no land bridge to Romania, Hungary etc but the people smugglers may find a new avenue to exploit.
BTW the Paris bikes are very distinctive being a different shape than “normal” bikes and all painted in a shade of grey.

I understand the scheme in Brisbane is extremely expensive for casual use. I think I recall someone saying it would be over $200 for a family on a Sunday afternoon.

What a waste of money. It would be much better spent on more bike lanes/paths (and widening existing over-used bike paths)

A system like this could be set up with NO govt money but just free access provided for locations for the bike stations, with the extra costs covered by advertising on the bikes and stations.

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