Thursday, September 30, 2010

Common sense and the CityCycle launch

I am pretty sure no one in Brisbane has ever said they do not ride for want of a bicycle. Nevertheless, Campbell Newman has spent $10million of ratepayers money on hire bikes to solve this none existent problem.  

I could be argumentative and say that if access to bikes was a problem, you could have bought 20,000 of them for Brisbane residents for that price (at $500 each – 33,000 at $300 each). 

After a dramatic week repairing bike stations that were installed backwards, today, Brisbane’s CityCyle scheme was launched, with 500 bikes at 50 stations across the inner city.  To my surprise there were actually some people waiting to use the scheme today.

There are few optimists left in discussion of bike hire schemes in Australia. Melbourne’s scheme, for example, is not quite off to a roaring start – 0.5% utilisation or 70 trips per day after three months.  I could repeat myself and highlight that the success of this scheme depends on its convenience to users.  Helmet laws and lack of road space are key impediments to convenience. Indeed, I proposed that a car hire scheme would be a better way to encourage cycling.

Brisbane is trying to overcome the helmet problem by giving away 2000 of them, but Council admits the helmet requirement shrinks the potential user base.  Tourists are apparently they are not a target market for the scheme. 

I have used these schemes in Europe and have only ever used a credit card swipe to join.  I can recall in Vienna the bike hire price was 2euro for two hours with no helmets, no upfront fee, and plenty of bicycle lanes.

These schemes are very popular with tourists who obviously want to explore the city and haven’t brought a bike with them.  If they are not a key user group, who is left? Who exactly will use the scheme? Has anyone conducted any surveys or background research into attitudes to cycling, and reasons for cycling (or not)?

I predict that bike use will be mainly from Central Railway Station to office buildings and the QUT campus in the morning, and back in the afternoon.  People riding the wrong way down one way streets will annoy drivers and make Courier Mail headlines, leading for call to register bicycles, crack down on all bike related laws (even though cyclist who run red lights are less likely to be killed).

I fear more anti-cycling scare-mongering like this in the press in the coming months –

In France, inexperienced cyclists have ended up crushed under the wheels of trucks

On a positive note, the scheme could really activate the inner city if some further supportive actions are taken.
1.      remove, or stop enforcing, the helmet law (see Sue Abott’s story)
2.      add bike lanes to CBD roads connecting to riverside bike tracks and other routes in and out of the city (take out one car lane on a few critical streets)
3.      remove the membership fee for the scheme and instead take a credit card swipe in lieu of a deposit
4.      adopt the Idaho Stop law

For some inspiration, maybe the Council can look to London’s cycle superhighways.  They are spending 24million GBP/year, or about 35million AUD/year which, if Brisbane matched that in per capita terms, would be about $11million per year.

The Queensland government is budgeting $14million for 19km of cycle network in the coming years for the whole of SEQ.  Not only is the amount low (given it is not an annual payment, but a lump sum for the planned works), they must be building gold-plated cycle boulevards at a cost of $730,000 per kilometre of bike path, or $730/metre of concrete! And some of that will just be a splash of paint on the side of existing roads.  Even making allowances for lighting, signage and paint, the per metre rate should be far less.  One suspects that for the same cost of the CityCyle scheme to Council, they could have built at least 20km of high quality bike lanes and paths.

I’ll leave you with a film explaining the new London Cycle ‘Superhighways’.


  1. Not to mention they don't have gears..... ;)

  2. The London Cycle Superhighways are costing about £24M per year over 6 years, and are being implemented in parallel with the London Cycle Hire scheme.

  3. Thanks anonymous. I can't recall where exactly I got that figure - I may have misinterpreted a statement. I'vr updated the numbers, but the point remains.

    However, I note that total spending on cycling infrastructure
    in London is far greater that these superhighways - 54million GBP in 2008.09 and 57million GBP in 2010/11

  4. The Brisbane bikes have 3 gears. I checked today.

  5. Just letting you know the "proposed" link, links to a local file.

  6. Thanks Cam, very interesting. I like the video. I'm heading back to the UK soon so am selling my bike for $60 if anyone's interested!

  7. So in effect, $20,000 per bike, or the price of a decent small car.... unbelievable.

    I think the only way to screw it up more would be to get the NSW govt to try to introduce a similar sheme. That way, they would have spent the $10 million, installed the stations, then cancelled the contract at the last minute over a dispute with the supplier over the colour to paint the bikes, and would be incurring additional legal costs over breach of contract...

    As you say, a far better use for the money would be providing the bike lanes to ride on.