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Share bike schemes need to lose the lids

Date

On Your Bike

After wearing out his knees with basketball and running, Michael O'Reilly became yet another MAMIL (Middle-Aged Man In Lycra).

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Missing link ... lots of bikes to rent, but what to put on your head?

Missing link ... lots of bikes to rent, but what to put on your head? Photo: Adam Curley

Bike share systems are flourishing around the world. There are more than a quarter of a million bicycles out there, right now, ready for someone to hop on and use for a short trip, at a low or even no cost to them.

From businesspeople late for a cross-town meeting and commuters bridging gaps in public transport to visitors finding a fun way to spread their tourist dollars around, shared bikes bring convenience to any metropolitan centre.

It's not just a European thing. It's true that countries such as France and Italy are well represented, but schemes can also be found in North and Central America, Asia, the Middle East … and Australia.

Here today ...  70 per cent of share bike helmets in Brisbane have gone missing.

Here today ... 70 per cent of share bike helmets in Brisbane have gone missing.

Which is where the term “flourishing” starts to fall a bit flat. Australia's two main share bike schemes are in Melbourne and Brisbane. Brisbane's CityCycle scheme recently announced its 200,000th ride, which sounds fantastic – until you read that the 2000 bikes in the scheme are used about 600 times a day. That means the average bike is only ridden once every four days.

Melbourne's more established scheme has some 600 bikes available. The best day of use recorded was during the Australian Open in January – 733 rides, or just over one trip per bike. At other times, average daily use often falls to a third of that number.

In Ireland, Dublinbikes started with 500 bikes that proved so popular they were soon planning a tenfold increase to 5000. In Paris, there are more than 100,000 daily trips on its 20,000 bicycles – at least five hires per bike.

Various reasons have been cited for Australia's struggling programs, but most believe it comes down to one thing – Australia's near-unique mandatory helmet laws.

Brisbane and Melbourne have tried all manner of ways to get around the issue. Helmet vending machines have been set up, massively subsidised helmets are sold for $5, free helmets are left on bikes. It's a costly and seemingly endless process that's having little benefit – (except for people seeking a cheap helmet for private use).

Community schemes need to be convenient to succeed. Swipe a card, hop on and go. Not, “first find a 7/Eleven that hasn't sold out of helmets”, or “carry a helmet with you all day in case of a spontaneous trip”.

So how about a simple exemption law for people when they are riding the share bikes?

The key concern, of course, is safety. Helmet laws have been around for a generation, making it hard for many Australians to contemplate that riding without a lid might be anything less than reckless insanity.

We can look overseas for answers. London's much-publicised “Boris Bikes” scheme has been in operation for two years, and now boasts 8000 bicycles that have been used for some 14 million journeys. Helmets aren't supplied, and most journeys are conducted bare-headed.

Nevertheless, the rate of serious injury has been vanishingly small. Of course, minor spills and scrapes will go unreported, but figures show that there is one serious injury for every 1 million journeys. In fact, it's statistically safer to ride a Boris bike than a private bike.

So what makes share bikes safer? Firstly, they tend to be slow and heavy, with an upright seating position – not built for hooning.

Secondly, motorists are more likely to give unhelmeted cyclists a wider berth, as suggested in an interesting experiment by Dr Ian Walker – they appear to subconsciously adjust for the cyclist's perceived vulnerability and lack of expertise. Especially if the cyclist is in “regular” clothing.

Granting a helmet exemption for share bike schemes would be a bold step in a country addicted to legislation, but it might be the only way that such schemes can survive. And of course, users can always choose to wear a helmet if they wish.

There are fears in the cycling community that the Melbourne scheme might slide into neglect and eventually be abandoned, wrecking the chances that any other city might implement a similar project (Sydney is still adopting a “wait and see” approach).

If so, it would be a disaster for our urban spaces. Around the world, share bike schemes have brought convenience and calm to city streets, while introducing millions of people to the joys and health benefits of utility cycling. We deserve to reap such rewards in Australia.

Have helmet laws prevented you from using a share bike? Should an exemption law be passed?

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302 comments

  • The real problem is Australian drivers hatred of people on bicycles. Australia is not a place cyclist feel comfortable cruising around, even people from the US are surprised how aggressive motorists in Australia to cyclists.

    As a result cycling is a not exactly something we do as transport, more as a hobby along the many great bike paths.

    Commenter
    Flingebunt
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    September 20, 2012, 11:02AM
    • If they got used to lots of people riding on share bikes, they might relax a bit...

      Commenter
      John G
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 11:45AM
    • From my perspective, it's not a global hate of cyclists. I do hate the idiocy of some of them though. The weaving in and out of moving traffic between lanes is highly dangerous and should be criminalised-I of course, don't know how this would be managed though. If cyclists would obey the road rules as I as a car driver has to, then it's all good.

      I will, and have driven at 25k/h behind a slow-poke cyclist for an extended period, because it was their right to be on the road, and it was unsafe for me, and them, for me to overtake them. I will respect and be mindful of safe cyclists, but I'm sorry, if you're going to weave in and out of moving traffic between lanes, don't get cranky with me if I accidentally drive into you when I've given fair warning of my lane change with my indicator and you choose not to take notice....just be sure you're wearing a helmet because I will not be held responsible for your stupid, unsafe behaviour and your head injury!

      Commenter
      Me
      Location
      Here
      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 12:12PM
    • Me...I just hope you don't have kids that ride bikes because with fools like you on the road they may be killed - by a fool like you.

      Commenter
      Alex
      Location
      Geelong
      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 12:36PM
    • The hatred of Australian drivers started when helmet laws were introduced.

      Before then, many adults and children cycled for transport - it was seen as a normal, everday activity that might be enjoyed family and friends. Drivers don't hate their family and friends!

      Helmet laws changed the image of cycling to lycra-clad louts with helmets and dark glasses. The shops no longer even sell normal commuter bikes with mudguards, panniers and lights.

      Repealing the helmet law might just turn things around - get people back on to bikes and reduce the massive drain on healthcare costs from all those avoidable heart attacks and strokes and make cycling safer, by increasing safety in numbers.

      All we need are politicians who are more concerned about public health than losing face by admitting they made a mistake.

      Commenter
      CaresAboutHealth
      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 12:42PM
    • That's right Flingebunt...
      It's those evil drivers fault isn't it. How dare they!
      What about the troubles in the Middle East?
      Drivers fault? ...yep, I thought so.

      Commenter
      Driver
      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 1:08PM
    • @Flingebunt,Brisbane, Date and timeSeptember 20, 2012, 11:02AM

      You may not be aware but the attitudes towards cyclists and general danger level in London was WAAY worse than Melbourne or even Sydney only a few years ago.

      Introduction of the congestion charge helped to reduce the number of cars in the centre of London in peak hour and the low speed limits of 20-30MPH (roughly 30-45kph) meant that traffic was moving slowly enough that cyclists had less impact on car progression. Also, the ability to ride in bus lanes (which criss-cross the entire city) pulled riders out of the way of cars (although we did need to contend with bendy busses etc instead).

      The point is, there is NO reason why cycling cannot flourish in Melbourne, IF helmet laws are relaxed, bike lanes are improved, speed limits are reduced (in the CBD) and traffic law breakers on bikes AND in cars are more carefully addressed and fined.

      Commenter
      martin
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 1:17PM
    • To "Me, Here". You know that "fair warning of my lane change with my indicator
      " doesn't entitle you to then change lanes at will, right?! Firstly, look to see it's safe. Then indicate, then if it is still safe to do so, no other road users or hazards are obstructing you, then move across. If a cyclist or any other road user has advanced into the space you wish to enter in the meantime, then you must wait. Pretty simple stuff really.

      Though I suppose congratulations are in order for at least bothering to indicate.... that seems to be "optional" in most people's minds these days.

      Commenter
      Cam_snapper
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 1:18PM
    • @ Me LocationHere Date and timeSeptember 20, 2012, 12:12PM

      Yet more hate filled drivel in this endless debate.

      for the record, cyclists are allowed to filter through stopped traffic (as are motorcycles), and we are allowed to ride up the left along the line of stopped cars.

      the diatribe about drivers having respect for cyclists when they obey road rules conveniently ignores the fact that drivers, like some cyclists, break the road rules. the difference is it's a matter of a dented panel for a car, whereas it's injury or death for a cyclist that is hit by a car.

      making inflammatory and intentionally threatening comments about knocking cyclists over also does not help matters. i ride my 3yo daughter to child care on a bicycle, is your stated intent to kill both her and me with your atttitude ?

      i am an everyday cycle commuter, and i try and make things as easy for cars as possible, always giving way, never intentionally blocking them and in fact letting them through when i have right of way. every time a car stops for me, even when it's my right of way, they get a wave. i am absolutely courteous to a fault.

      yet i have still be knocked off by drivers making illegal u-turns across double white lines, who pull out across a bike lane without looking and finally intentionally running me off the road.

      if you ever wonder why cyclists are so angry, you should try cycle commuting, it's a hardcore experience. and it's not helped by attitudes like yours.

      try and remember there is a human side on the other side of your anger focus - in this case a father and his little girl.

      Commenter
      cyclist
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 1:26PM
    • Wow, what a bunch of vitriolicand entitled creatures we have in here today!! Ok, responses one by one:
      @Alex: You've clearly twisted my comments to fuel your own ridiculous generalisations. I would have thought it clear we were talking about CBD/peak hour type traffic-don't see many kiddies lane skating in peak hour traffic in Sydney, and you being from Geelong, maybe you're idea of a busy CBD is somewhat skewed. I'll not stoop so low as to insult you and call you a fool, although your response indicates that you might be.
      @Cam_Snapper: I know that using my indicator doesn't give me carte blanche right to move into a lane when I chose, but you've heard about blind spots in a driver's view, yes? Do you also understand that if you've have some daft cyclist weaving in and out of MOVING traffic it's almost impossible to know where the hell they are? And please don't be so patronising as to think you are in a position to congratulate me for anything-you're not superior to me in anyway. And don't presume to know anything about my driving. I was merely suggesting that, oh, oh my goodness, a cyclist might need to take some responsibility for their own safety and ride in a safe manner as much as I try to drive in a safe manner.

      It's all about cyclists AND drivers behaving safely, responsibly and courteously on the road together-yes, that means everyone, it's not always about the car, stop being so arrogant as to think that you have no responsibility for the safety of yourself and others.

      Commenter
      Me
      Location
      Here
      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 2:17PM

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