Feb 12, 2012

Is the law on helmets why bikeshare is failing?

It’s not surprising Vancouver is dragging its feet on implementing the

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

Helmets at POS - One of the proposed solutions for bicycle share in Vancouver

It’s not surprising Vancouver is dragging its feet on implementing the city’s promised bikeshare scheme – it’s one of the few major cities in the world with a law mandating the wearing of helmets by adults. There seems to be good reason for Vancouver to be nervous: the available evidence indicates bikeshare has failed in the only three cities its been tried in where helmets are compulsory i.e. Auckland, Brisbane and Melbourne.

These failures prompted a vigorous campaign in Australia and New Zealand for the repeal of mandatory helmet laws. The aim of advocates extends well beyond the welfare of Australasia’s ailing bikeshare schemes – most want the wearing of helmets to be made a matter of individual choice for all adult cyclists.

New figures released this week show usage of Melbourne Bike Share’s (MBS) blue Bixis reached a record high in January. Still, the performance is poor. On average, each Bixi only gets hired once per day. No data on typical hire times was made available but the pattern in other countries suggests each Bixi is used for less than 30 minutes per day on average.

The argument that the mandatory helmet law is the main reason bikeshare has failed in Australasia seems compelling. However while it is undoubtedly an important factor, it might not be the only one and it might not even be the most important one. It doesn’t automatically follow that, were MBS (say) given an exemption from the helmet law, the scheme would be a resounding success.

There are reasons to avoid rushing to judgement and I want to look at them using MBS as a case study. One reason I’m cautious is access to helmets has much improved since MBS began.

The Government now subsidises the cost of helmets and makes them available at hotels and a range of outlets near MBS stations for $5 (in Brisbane, the City Council made 400 free helmets available on an honesty basis). Unfortunately helmets are mostly not available at the point of hire. Some observers point out that’s unfriendly to tourists, but MBS isn’t pitched at tourists – it’s explicitly aimed directly at inner city workers and residents.

After 18 months operation, I reckon any Melburnian who’s likely to be a serious and consistent user of Bixis has had ample time to put a $5 helmet in their desk drawer or hang a couple near the door of their apartment.

Some argue that having to seek out a helmet from a nearby convenience store works against spontaneous trips. Availability at point of sale would of course be better, but I doubt many trips are so spontaneous they’re made in the street on the spur of the moment. Meetings, interviews, dates, lunches, shows, etc are almost always made with at least some notice. People imagine they’d make impulsive trips on Bixis but in practice make few unplanned trips. Frankly, I wonder if truly “spontaneous” trips are valuable enough to warrant the subsidy the government provides for MBS.

I think many observers implicitly compare MBS with the most successful schemes elsewhere, especially Paris’s Vélib, and imagine that’s what Melbourne would be like if it weren’t for the helmet law. But like almost everything, there is immense variability between cities and countries. We should expect some cities do much better than the average and some do much worse. The absence of mandatory helmet laws doesn’t guarantee bikeshare would be a huge, or even modest, success in all cities.

I haven’t seen a reliable comparative analysis of the performance of the various bikeshare schemes across the globe, but I know that overall cycling rates vary enormously by country and city. For example, cycling accounts for 27% of all trips in the Netherlands but only 1% in the UK. Neither country has mandatory helmet laws so there must be other variables at play.

Or consider differences between individual cities in Europe – cycling accounts for 20% of all trips in Bruges but 5% in Brussels; 19% in Salzburg but 3% in Wien; 37% in Groningen but 10% in Heerlen. Helmets have nothing to do with these large within-country variations.

There is a range of other factors, both “exogenous” and “endogenous”, that are likely to affect the demand for bikeshare. The sheer unfriendliness of our roads for cycling is in the former class. Streets in Australian cities do not feel safe for cycling and many drivers are aggressive and intolerant of cyclists. Notwithstanding the intensity of pedestrian activity, the speed limit in Melbourne’s CBD is still 50 kmh.

Melbourne has a wonderful system of recreational cycling paths along water courses, but very few kilometres of segregated bicycle lane suitable for the sorts of purpose-driven trips (i.e. for transport rather than recreation) MBS is aimed at. The city also lacks the pro-bicycle history and culture underpinning the success of cycling in Europe. Melburnians aren’t confident cycling on roads and aren’t used to doing it.

A related factor is that many of those who are confident enough to cycle on roads may already have their own bikes in their apartments or in the basement of their office buildings. And perhaps the need for Bixis is not as compelling as many assume. The CBD and its outer edges are already very well served by public transport. It might be that trams and trains provide a more attractive offer than Bixis for many journeys.

There are also some endogenous factors that might limit demand for MBS. As I noted above, the scheme spurns tourists, who are a huge market in some other places. The design of the tariff favours short duration trips and positively deters tourists who want to spend half a day or more touring the city (see second exhibit, below).

MBS also has a relatively sparse network with only 50 bike stations. If there are no stations near a destination to dock the Bixi, then a prospective hirer won’t bother – she’ll walk or take a tram instead. The way the scheme is managed can also be an issue – even if there’s a station at the trip end, the would-be hirer has to be confident there’ll be a spare place to dock the bike. A lot of the stations I’ve seen have few spare spots (this might be a vicious cycle).

Thus helmets aren’t the only factor negatively affecting the demand for MBS. Nor does the failure of MBS necessarily mean the current law on helmets is a bad thing. It would be absurd to repeal the law simply to get bikeshare working – whether you agree with it or not, the issues surrounding the law are much bigger than whether bikeshare lives or dies.

The key failure of MBS vis-a-vis helmets is that it didn’t address from the get-go how the law would be managed. As the first exhibit shows, one of the options under consideration for Vancouver addresses this issue directly.

There’s every indication political imperatives drove MBS and it was set up without proper analysis. But it would send a bad message for cycling generally if the scheme were to fail. It’s therefore very important that some real effort is put into understanding the key drivers of success rather than assuming there’s a single obvious cause of its poor performance to date. That sort of blind thinking is why the issues were never properly considered from the outset.


Tariff for Melbourne Bike Share, showing cumulative cost of trips of up to two hours duration. Each hour after the first two hours costs an additional $20


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77 thoughts on “Is the law on helmets why bikeshare is failing?

  1. gerard

    Austin M:
    If rainfall deters the bicycle from being a fast, clean and efficient means of transporting lost of people, I’ll line up the millions of Dutch daily bike riders and tell them to not risk getting wet.
    Of course, the helmet is the biggest drawback. Australia suffers from heat more than a little rain. Still, the law will most likely not be withdrawn, hence the bike exchanges will never flourish like they do elsewhere.
    As has been pointed out, the benefits of bike riding in keeping people fit and prevent obesity, heart disease etc far outweigh the negatives by a refusal of the majority of people to ride bikes because of those helmet laws.

  2. Austin M

    Luke Turner, Stating all that patronage change is down to MHL and writing off the decrease in head injuries as just following a trend (and nothing to do with the increasing use of helmets), is a very long leap for me. I do acknowledge there is some evidence out there supporting the removal of MHL (which I don’t find that compelling) however my position is the over whelming majority of evidence (much like the climate change debate) is that there has been decreases in head injuries to cyclists as a result of MHL.

    First way to start pulling apart the results of the quoted article would be to look at average rainfall for May in the corresponding years (looking at Melbourne and Melbourne Airport results and the 1990 average May rainfall for Melbourne from BOM was lower than the corresponding years and well below average). As we know from things like ride to work day turnout, rainfall/weather has a significant impact on ridership. There has also been no attempt in this study to try and account for rainfalls affect on ridership.

    Also to note was that Public Transport use at the time was in decline or at least in flux during the early 90s. Was it MHL that was affecting PT usage (unlikely) or was there other factors that where affecting the usage of both PT and cycling at the time?

    Once again MHL is a rather a pointless argument (wasting considerable time and effort that could be better directed towards more positive areas of cycling development). I think you will find it hard to find one politician let alone a majority of government willing to repeal MHL.

  3. drsmithy

    If a helmet is the reason for not using the bike hire scheme, you weren’t really interested in the bike hire scheme.

    The problem is that carrying a helmet around all the time is a PITA.

    I cover ~200km a week on my bikes – 15km each way to work, plus a weekend ride or two. So I’m not a hardcore rider, but I probably do a lot more than most. I’ve only come off about 3 times in the last 5 years, but each time my head has hit the ground hard enough to completely crack the styrofoam and plastic shell of my helmets. So I can absolutely appreciate the value of having it on.

    However, I’ve also lived in Europe, and spent quite some time visiting places like Paris that have similar bike hire schemes, and covered many hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres on them (all without a helmet).

    I would never carry around a bike helmet while I was just wandering about, or heading out for dinner, a show, or drinks. It’s simply not practical. I have, however, on numerous occasions grabbed one of the hire bikes in all those scenarios simply because I was sick of walking but didn’t want to catch the metro.

    Of course, Europeans have a very different lifestyle to us. They are into walking around the streets of cafe and cultural districts, socialising as a large group. We (generally) follow the American model of living in our own little castles, driving between places far away from each other, to socialise with small and controlled groups.

    IMHO, helmet laws completely cripple kill bike hire schemes. They essentially rule out any sort of unplanned usage, or even planned usage where carrying a helmet is not practical (taking a helmet out clubbing ? really ?).

    I support compulsory helmet laws for minors. Once you’re an adult, you should be able to go without if you want. Statistics say helmets vs no helmets makes no difference measured across the entire society.

    Walking, climbing stairs done at 6 km/hr or less with your hands free versus riding a bike at a minimum of 20 km/hr or more with your hands tied up trying to steer the bike.

    I’d pretty much guarantee you most of the people riding these sorts of bikes, aren’t cruising along at 20km/h+ very often. Visit somewhere like Paris or Lyon and you’ll quickly understand how these bikes are used.

  4. Alan Davies

    Dr Paul Martin:

    Excellent diagnosis. I’m one of the 99% who don’t cycle every day. These days I’m just a weekend ‘lycra lout’ but I did commute by bicycle for a couple of years, so that puts me in somewhat select company. And like Churches and Garrard I always wear a helmet.

    I would have no problem with a trial exemption for bicycle share. Not going to happen in our political culture of course.

    I don’t think I’d want to rely on a business plan for bikeshare constructed on the basis of your experience of it. You’re already a dedicated cyclist – you’re atypical.

  5. Dr Paul Martin

    Here’s a crazy idea to put this discussion to rest:
    – trial a helmet law exemption for bikeshare bikes

    Nobody would be forcing anyone to *not* wear a helmet during such a trial. I would bet London to a Brick that usage would soar… but of course the naysayers claim that it would make no difference so there is no point in trying it – how convenient.

    If it makes no difference to usage then you can say “I told you so”, Alan, and we can all go back to sleep.

    Every time I’m in Melbourne I use the bikes… without a helmet. It’s never been a problem. Drivers are courteous (mostly) and I’ve never felt in danger. The only thing I have to worry about is being harassed by the police for the ‘crime’ of cycling without a bicycle helmet. It’s an absurd situation.

    You are right about one thing, Alan, and that is the ‘fearful’ nature of Australians. It’s totally out of character, or at least the fictional character we think we portray to the rest of the world. It’s precisely laws like the bicycle helmet law that breeds this misplaced ‘fear’ and what leads parents to drive their child to school, two kilometres away, in an SUV. We will continue to be an example to the rest of the world of what *not* to do when it comes to bicycle safety. The helmet law will *always* be an impediment to boosting cycling.

    Just curious, Alan: do you ride a bicycle every day? For what purpose (sport, fitness, transport)? …and if the law were repealed would you continue to wear a helmet every time you rode?

    These questions are important as some of the most prominent writers on cycling & helmet laws in Australia (Churches, Garrard, etc) always wear (and always will wear) a bicycle helmet when riding a bicycle… at all times. They simply cannot think of any situation where it might be perfectly reasonable to ride without one… That’s a concern.

    I ride every single day. For slow transport journeys I don’t wear a helmet. When I’m training on my road bike, I wear a helmet. Not all cycling is the same just like not all driving is the same (ie. Racing). I’d appreciate it if we weren’t all lumped into the same ‘risk’ category thanks very much.

    Dr Paul Martin
    Specialist Anaesthetist

  6. Luke Turner

    Austin M, here is a study that was published in the British Medical Journal:

    From that study, here is the evidence you’re looking for:

  7. Austin M

    oh and also we have many situations where we legislate or enforce the use of safety gear. from car design to the work place there is lots of rules and regs around safety equipment.

  8. Austin M

    I am yet to see one compelling study presented that clearly shows MHL have significantly reduced the demand for cycling anywhere. All that is presented is some empirical evidence from overseas where MHL don’t exist and jumping up and down saying hey they have 30% cycling (usually in cities that look more like a university campus than a metropolis and certainly not the mega sprawl cities of Australia).
    The only compelling argument I have seen to not adopt MHL is darwins theory of evolution. Where people riding bikes without helmets end up with more brain injuries and less probability of being able to pass on there super intelligent genes to the rest of the population.
    If we are going to talk about brain injuries by walking, or falling, the last time I checked just about everyone walked and the rates of head injuries per user compared with cycling would still be very very low if you where to do it by passenger/km.

    Anyway its all in circles because if you think your going to find one polly who will repeal MHL against the medical lobbies advice and then front up to the media every time a kid gets splattered your kidding yourself.

  9. Luke Turner

    beetwo77 you have missed the entire point.

    No-one is suggesting that helmets provide NO protection if you hit your head – I certainly don’t think that. They are very useful at preventing cuts and abrasions. Unfortunately though if your head is struck by a fast moving vehicle – a helmet will not save you. They might reduce the severity of impacts, but will certainly not prevent all injuries.

    The point that people are making is that the compulsory helmet LAW is not effective. The reason is that there a whole lot of unwanted side-effects of the law – mainly a reduction in cycling – which actually counteract the benefits of more helmet wearing.

    Helmet laws are ineffective and unjust. The argument that because helmets can provide some protection, then it should be a criminal offense not to wear one is absurd. We don’t apply this reasoning to anything else.

    More people are killed from head injuries in car accidents (despite seat belts and airbags) or head injuries from tripping over than in cycling crashes, but we don’t say that it should be illegal not to wear a helmet for these activities – even though we could prevent some injuries.

  10. St Etienne

    Bicycle Network Victoria suggested the positioning of the bikes on the footpath rather than on-street corrals is one of the negative factors. I have to admit that placing them on the road would make it easier to remove and dock them, and it would least send a bit of a message that the bikes have just as much right to be on the road as other vehicles. Still, not exactly the smoking gun.

  11. beetwo77

    Burke John, I’ve read plenty of literature on the subject and its pretty clear that the advocates of no helmets can’t prove that helmets don’t reduce head injuries. The statistics are society wide numbers such as rates per hour or cycling etc. All of the serious studies looking at physical impacts seem to show that helmet use reduces head injuries.

    There are other factors at play in terms of risk taking, attitudes of drivers towards cyclists etc, etc but to say that helmets don’t reduce head injuries is completely false.

    Heres a good example of anti climate change type reasoning on why helmets use shouldn’t be mandated…because a huge range of other complex factors can produce data that support the narrow minded view…awesome

  12. Burke John

    I always have European students as guests. Their reaction to MHL is the same as mine. Moronic. Anyone who thinks MHL are a good idea clearly hasn’t read any of the wealth of literature on the subject. Or of course the possibility of the following conundrum. All the advocates of MHL already have brain damage. The pro helmet lobby always talks from personal experience without the insight of studies. They wear a helmet and so far so good. Likewise I am never attacked by elephants by always eating an apple a day…and so far so good.

    Thats only a joke, a kind of brain teaser if you like, the big question is this who exactly (a name!) first bespoke of MHL in the Australian Parliament? I’m sure the debate would become more interesting if a name came to light.

  13. SBH

    Bit of a lull here at work, bored so….

    Gerard – Just for the record – this all seemed to start with my perfectly civil and as yet unanswered question about why you thought ‘skinny’ tyres were dangerous. Despite the opportunity, you’ve been unable to come up with any rational argument to back up your assertion and just started to rant about ‘racing’ style bicyclingists. So, by definition, you are being irrationally prejudiced.

    Which leads me to ask once more, other than being an adle-pated old m*ron caught in some harrumphing loop of ‘and another thing…..’ as you lecture young people about the evils of rock and roll or high underpants or the aeroplane, is there some reason why you [email protected] one kind of cyclist? Does lycra challenge you in some deep way? I mean does it turn you on or something and thereby cause an internal conflict with your calvinist up-bringing? Does the sight of other peoples’ prowess make you feel less of a man? Or perhaps more of a man? Is there any rational excuse for these burst of hatred from you?

    If not, if, as I suspect, it’s merely irrational prejudice, you know just hatred for it’s own sake or because bottoms in lycra just touch you somewhere special that you’re unable to admit even to yourself, be a love and do something more productive with your time, you’re just cluttering the place up over here and I’d much prefer to discuss the issues on a rational and evidenced informed basis. Last word to you old chum. Feel free to tap in Floorer.

  14. gerard

    The risk indeed is low, especially considering that NOT riding a bike probably contributes to obesity and resulting deaths far more than riding a bike, avoiding obesity, even without a helmet.

  15. beetwo77

    Another piece of useless commentary thanks Luke Turner. What argument have you put forward to suggest that wearing helmets isn’t useful. Have you heard of airbags? Pretty sure almost all cars now have airbags in response to head injury issues in cars.

    Walking, climbing stairs done at 6 km/hr or less with your hands free versus riding a bike at a minimum of 20 km/hr or more with your hands tied up trying to steer the bike. Yep those are exactly the same and the risk of head injury is clearly the same. Your comments are a joke.

    The fact that other countries don’t have helmet laws doesn’t mean that the risk is low. Again thanks for your piercing insights. Really helpful informative stuff.

  16. gerard

    Yes, lets have work bee, turn up wearing Yakka carrying shovels and put in a couple of bike paths. After that we organize a couple of cake stalls and point out to drivers to be aware of groups of the Lycra clad brigade hurtling themselves down the escarpment at Bulli. Let’s also promote the wearing of helmets in bed or on the beach, in the office and church, one can just never be too careful.
    Let’s furthermore go to Holland and line up the millions that jump on the bike daily and tell them they have it all wrong and should from now on follow Melbourne in its failures and wear helmets with yellow or black tights.

  17. SBH

    again Luke, don’t you think the objection to helmets is a bit of a sterile argument? Wouldn’t it be better to advocate for more positive causes like better driver awareness or better paths? It just doesn’t seem like the main game to me.

  18. Luke Turner

    [There is no compelling argument for not wearing helmets that I can see.]

    Indeed. And I’m confident that you take this highly practical position in all instances where you might hit your head? Like driving a car, walking, climbing stairs and so on?

    Far more people suffer head injuries in car crashes than bicycle crashes, and as there are obviously no compelling arguments for not wearing helmets (that you can see) I’m sure you wear on whenever you drive.

    [Anyone who argues against helmets clearly doesn’t ride a bicycle in the real world.]

    Yes that’s right. The 99% of the world that doesn’t have bike helmet laws is a mere figment of our imagination.

    Thanks for taking the time to share these piercing insights.

  19. St Etienne

    Thanks for your reponse Alan.

  20. floorer

    Hang on there has to be a straw here somewhere…

  21. SBH

    but, hey, I don’t hold it against you if you’re only capable of a couple of sentences that don’t contribute, your right as a subscriber.

  22. SBH

    well you know, sauce for the goose…………..

  23. floorer

    Thanks SBH,I’ll bear that in mind but considering I’ve written a couple of sentences while you’re banging out small essays………..

  24. SBH

    Anyway all jokes aside, I wonder what demand modelling was done prior to the scheme being launched. It’s seems a bit like opening a restaraunt chain on the basis that all people eat and there’s lots of people in the city. Maybe the product isn’t what the market wants for several interconnected reasons like inconvenience of helmets, proximity of other easy to use public transport, lack of cycle paths and so on. It may be that there are other factors that will come into play if the scheme continues to be supported by subsidies, things like the cost of petrol and public transport, a congestion tax or other external factors that would improve it’s popularity and use.

    Either way, now that its here, I think that we should do what we can to champion the scheme and increase it’s success. The modest growth of late give some hope that it might be the start of a cultural change. More stations in better places but the same number of bikes seems like a good idea.

  25. SBH

    Now floorer, you shouldn’t get so wound up by the comments in crikey…..

  26. SBH

    Oh look, if you remove the spaces you’ll see Gerard carrying on about skinny tyres

    http: / /

  27. beetwo77

    I’m sorry but many of these comments are a F#$king joke. You can walk into most decent bike stores and get all the bike you realistically need for less than $400. Commuter based components like pannier bags and bike racks have never been cheaper. The internet has given us access to components such as tires, chain rings etc for prices never before seen in Australia and even many chain super markets sell bikes that are passable for commuting. The prices of helmets, a drop in the ocean. There is no compelling argument for not wearing helmets that I can see. I really can’t. Anyone who argues against helmets clearly doesn’t ride a bicycle in the real world.

    I agree that some business try very hard to extract too much money from the industry but really we have access to cheap bikes and improving facilities.

    I don’t have facts on bicycle helmets saving lives but I’ve been involved in my fair share of incidents and the thought of not wearing a helmet is just ludicrous to me. Its easy to fall and hit your head. Whether your fall by carelessness or a car accident or something else, I’d rather have a helmet.

    All of this debate reminds me of climate change denial. Its just argument for the sake for argument.

    If a helmet is the reason for not using the bike hire scheme, you weren’t really interested in the bike hire scheme. Try pricing model that is unsuitable for many users and lack of access. Half day bike hire that is more expensive than going to a bike shop? What a joke.

  28. Alan Davies

    Interesting comments from one of the companies bidding for Vancouver’s bikeshare scheme:

    Helmet law, or no helmet law, as an operator of a public bikeshare system, we owe it to our riders to provide helmets if they want them. This is why almost every single major city to implement a bikeshare program is now looking at ways to integrate helmet use and helmet distribution into their system.

    More here

  29. gerard

    pjrob 1957
    Spot on. Good idea to ask people from other countries. It’s just not only helmets. We have been hoodwinked by the money merchants who managed to make cycling made into a sport rather than a mode for transporting people.Go to any bike store and the money is in $ thousands made from racing bicycles and all the associated gear.
    The average Aussie now associates cycling with danger, hence the obsession with helmet wearing. It’s not accidental that European tourists will jump om the bike before the locals do.

  30. pjrob1957

    Helmets has everything to do with it.
    I have ridden the BikeShare bikes quite a bit and EVERY time I talk to the tourists and tell them about it the reaction is always the same. The want to use the bikes but do not because it simply is too much bother to get a helmet even if helmets are nearby. They all come from countries where there is no requirement.

  31. gdt

    I really don’t think helmets have much to do with it. It is easily enough proved by handing out free helmets. That’s been done and usage didn’t bound upwards, so helmets can’t be the bottleneck factor.

    What does cause CBD cycling to bound through the roof is the cost of car fuel.

    So the basic problem is that cycling is competing with driving, and driving is more compelling at the current comparative costs. That’s quite possibly due to market distortion, as driving is massively subsidised, particularly roads, parking and paying the full cost of collisions.

    It’s not really possible for a cycling-related project to correct the market distortions favouring driving — these are macroeconomic matters requiring large changes in state and federal government policy which may take decades to implement. Sure, cycling promotion organisations should lobby for these changes — not the least because the planet needs a reduction in car use — but there can be no immediate return for that effort.

    All a cycling project can do is to introduce countering distortions. Repeated surveys give the same results about what influences the amount of cycling, in priority order: safety of the cyclist from or within motor traffic; a convenient secure place to park the bicycle (and the Velib projects are in a way providing this); convenient showers and storage for cycling and work clothes.

    In that way it is promising to see the experiment in Adelaide where the council are providing nice showers, supervised bike parking for cyclists, and some lockers.

  32. kirsten.trengove

    A major factor in success of Paris Velib system is the extensive research and analysis conducted when planning the system. Paris understood that for it to be a success with Parisiens, the system needed to work wonderfully from the moment it launched. And it did.

  33. Wiz Aus

    “A lot of the stations I’ve seen have few spare spots”

    That’s actually an interesting point – and I wonder if the system wouldn’t work better if they added a couple more stations but no more bikes, and occasionally moved the bikes around a bit so that each station had at least 4 spare spots.

    BTW last weekend I was walking past the station at the Docklands and noticed that almost *all* the bikes were taken, which was the first time I’d ever noticed such a thing.
    I wouldn’t have thought there were a lot of tourists in that area, so presumably they were mostly taken by Docklands residents.

  34. Alan Davies

    St Etienne:

    “Is this simply conjecture or do you have some statistics to back this statement up?”

    Have a little faith! I relied in this instance on Table 3 of this new paper by Rissel and Wen, The possible effect on frequency of cycling if mandatory bicycle helmet legislation was repealed in Sydney, Australia: a cross sectional survey. They report frequent riders are twice as likely to say they would “always or sometimes” ride without a helmet if helmets weren’t mandatory, as infrequent riders.

    I’ve noted before that this study is deeply flawed, but on the aspect we’re discussing I’d accept that they’ve got the general direction right.

    BTW good point about the conflict of interest of the RACV.

  35. floorer

    Anybody left in doubt as to why the unpopularity of the lycra set is increasing in the general population need only read a couple of posts by SBH. The last two are particularly edifying.

  36. IkaInk

    Whoops forgot to mention one thing, and I’ve said it before in response to similar posts Alan.

    It would be very interesting to see the cycling data on London before and after the introduction of bike share to compare with the Melbourne data. I understand that the UK and Australia have pretty similar national averages and that at least at one point Melbourne and London had similar cycling rates. However the London bike share scheme has been quite successful if I’m not mistaken. What has London done differently apart from MHL?

  37. IkaInk

    Good to see you’re continuing raising questions regarding this issue Alan. Generating some good discussion too.

    I agree with your hypothesis. MHL certainly isn’t the only reason why MBS scheme isn’t working, however I still believe it is one of the major factors. The other big factor is simply that the scheme is too small. Any public bike hire scheme has to factor in where people are beginning their journeys and where they are ending them. I imagine that not many of the journey’s being taken in Melbourne begin and end within the CBD area, an even lower number would be better serviced by bike as opposed to foot, tram, bus or a combination of each: especially when the walk to and from the drop off and pick up points are considered, throw in a trip to a 7-11 to grab a helmet and numbers drop further. If the scheme were to expand to at least the inner suburbs then I imagine a lot of cross suburb journey’s would become easier by avoiding the radial nature of the PT network.

    Anyway, I’m not adding much to the debate here. A good write up Alan.

  38. St Etienne

    Alan, I personally believe you understate the importance of helmet requirement as a factor in the failings of bike share, although I certainly agree with you on some of the other factors you mentioned. In particular, the MBS scheme seems to have been set up without much understanding of cycling issues whatsoever and is paying for this oversight. It also strikes me as odd that the operator of the scheme, the RACV, is on record as being against reduced speed limits and removal of traffic lanes for segregated bike lanes. Surely this is a conflicted position?

    Still, I have to contest your suggestion (in the comments section) that infrequent riders are the group most likely to insist on a helmet even without compulsion. Is this simply conjecture or do you have some statistics to back this statement up?

  39. SBH

    and Gerard, my poor tender-hearted correspondent, you may wish to do something about the abusive beam in your own eye before worrying about my moat.

  40. SBH

    so nothing about ‘thin’ tyres then, old chap?

  41. gerard

    Your abusive reference to ‘prion disease’ shows the true man you are not, no matter how much training.
    The evidence I showed is in the article by Alan Davies. The three cities that have not been successful in taking up bike sharing all have compulsory helmet wearing laws.

  42. SBH

    No Gerard, you could not but you could be fooled. Once again your prejudice and factionalism is incomprehensible (although a prion disease would go a long way to explaining it) and your ‘evidence’ for whatever point your trying to make is yet to be presented.

  43. gerard

    Quote:There seems to be good reason for Vancouver to be nervous: the available evidence indicates bikeshare has failed in the only three cities its been tried in where helmets are compulsory i.e. Auckland, Brisbane and Melbourne. Unquote
    The available ‘evidence’. So is it then just so much fried air in linking helmets and failure of the scheme to have taken off?
    We seem to be talking circular. I am talking about the bike being a vehicle for green, cheap and efficient mode of transport in inner city areas. This bike has to allow for some baggage such as shopping, briefcase, handbags. This bike has to be safe, sturdy and keep the rider generally upright in order to clearly observe traffic, other riders and car drivers.
    You seem to be talking about a totally different way of cycling enjoyment. More the sport cyclist who does 200km before breakfast, all hell bent over the handle bars, Lycra clad with all the right gear and possibly with a group. You then stop at the coffee bar where I am seated, reading the paper and standing ( without underpants) inches away from my croissant. 🙂 Could I be right?

  44. SBH

    I agree. I had a prolonged spell off proper training last year because I was so sick of the rain. Could be as simple as that. I’d really like to see some proper research.

    As for subsidies, be careful what you wish for. The current mood of government is not to take from underperforming programs and reallocate to better programs based on evidence but to just take the money. At least it’s funded now and that’s a plus.

  45. Alan Davies


    MBS is indeed improving, but the rate of improvement isn’t fast enough. Look at NiceRide in Minneapolis, which started the same week as MBS (June 2010). It had 42,000 hires in August 2011, MBS had 16,000 in January 2012. It’s hard to justify and sustain continuing Government subsidy when each bike is only hired on average for 30 minutes per day (after all, that money could be spent on other cycling initiatives). It makes a lot of sense to try and understand what’s holding MBS back and see if it can be improved. My contention is it’s more than just helmets.

  46. SBH

    Well Gerard it’s simple really, this article is about bike share, you went way off point to take a swing at bikes with skinny tyres. I asked you why you thought they were dangerous. You replied that you had no real reason, you just didn’t like them and then went off on a more generalised rant about racing bikes. Seems you’re the one who should move back on topic.

    All bikes are dangerous Gerard. That’s just part of the deal – if you ride a bike long enough you’ll crash. there is nothing that suggests ‘thin’ tyred bikes are more dangerous because of their ‘thin’ tyres. You just don’t like them. That’s fine, just stop presenting it as fact. You’re being narrow minded and prejudiced against one type of cyclist. I don’t know why and don’t care but you made a statement of fact that you can’t back up with anything approaching logic evidence or analysis. it’s just blather.

    Now back to the premise – Alan, the bike share scheme seems to be improving. Why do you keep saying it’s failing? Is there any evidence that helmets are the problem and if that’s so what are the public policy options. if – for instance – we ‘fixed’ whatever the problem with bike share was, and that fix led to, say, an increase in head injuries and the ultimate banning or closure of the scheme would that be a win?

    All too often in public discourse we see calls for popular simple solutions. Unfortunatley popular solutions tend to fix the politics rather than the problem, creating a raft of new problems and simple solutions rarely fix complex problems.

  47. gerard

    SBH: You are obviously a racing bike type rider enthousiast and as this article is about the transportation of people by bike from point A to B in inner city areas, your responses seem a bit away from the subject. Mudguards or wheel guards and chain guards are designed to keep the ‘normal’ ( non-racing rider) bicycle rider from getting dirty or their skirts or pants caught in the chain. Why should a bike rider not be able to wear a suit or skirt? Your point about most bikes not having those protections proves that the helmet issue has taken over above all other considerations including the danger of riding racing bikes.
    You could have fooled me but I have seen many such bikes in racing coming to grips with tumbles.
    You are right, cars are dangerous that’s why in Holland, bikes and cars are kept separate as much as possible. On those designated cycle path there are strict speed limits of 35 km per hour. This allows young and old to enjoy the bike ride at a leisurely and safe pace wearing whatever they want,.
    Once again, the thin tyred racing bike is dangerous on public roads and that’s why bike riders mainly come to grief ,that’s why helmets were introduced.

  48. SBH

    Gerard – yes a silly typo but at least, a word, unlike ‘ralleys’ whatever they are.

    its simply not enough to say ‘less’ or ‘more’ is good or bad. You need to say why. You believe (without evidence) that ‘skinny tyres don’t perform as well as fatter(?) tyres and yet the tyres used when adhesion to the road is most critical, that is by actual racers, are ‘skinny’ and the perform very well. The idea that they adhere well to the road, providing sufficient grip to allow a racer to descend winding mountain passes at over 100kmh and yet are somehow not up to the task for riding to work or the shops is simply silly.

    In fact the main thread of your comments seems based on prejudice, not evidence. ‘I don’t like therefore its bad’ sort of stuff.

    Chain guards and mudguards ( I love your quaint terminology ‘Wheel guard’) are on a minority of bikes and are more to do with keeping clean rather than safety so your point is a bit flat there and the people who tend to ride without lights are your occasional cyclist just popping down the road rather than an experienced cyclists. As for adequate I just don’t think you’ve kept up here. The lights I use are as bright as a car’s lights and they are now considered second best. and Lycra? armour? Gee that’s a new one on me. I can’t think of a single sane person who thinks lycra is protective in that sense but if you do well, ok.

    Over all you’ve trotted out a series of prejudicial gripes about the type of cyclist you don’t like. You’d do better to focus on a cyclists real problem which is cars and their drivers.

    An even allowing 1816 – its still not ‘hundreds’ unless you use Eric Abetz’s HSU counting methods.

  49. Alan Davies

    Great discussion. It suggests to me there’s another important reason why MBS is failing which I didn’t address directly in the original article. It is this:

    Australians are not as inclined to ride any bicycle without a helmet – be it their own or a Bixi – as Europeans. The proportion of riders who wear a helmet is in the single figures in some European cities, but we’re much more fearful. The great bulk of the potential market for bikeshare in Australia is infrequent riders however they’re the group most likely to insist on a helmet even if there is no compulsion. This group isn’t going to use a scheme like MBS unless the problem of access to a helmet is resolved.

  50. gerard

    Notice the new spelling for ‘their’ replacing ‘there’.
    A apropos the discomfort of riding a bike in the heat of Brisbane and their hills, this is where the electric bike comes into its own. It generally has a distance between re-charge of 50kms. So, no worries for getting into a sweat. Women can wear their skirts and men their suits. A win win, but only if the sillyness of obligatory helmets gets the flick.

  51. gerard

    The first time a bicycle was recorded used was 1816 in France. So almost a couple of hundred years.
    The less surface area the tyre has adhering to the road the less friction or resistance the bicycle has in its forward propulsion. This is in essence the racing bike’s quality so keenly sought after. With less road traction their comes a greater risk in the bike and its rider taking a tumble. That is why the riders protect themselves with body armor of Lycra and helmets.
    The racing type bike so popular in Australia is one of the reasons more accidents will happen than if ‘normal’ bikes were in use with wider tyres.
    Those bikes also do not have chain protectors or in many cases wheel guards. nor adequate lights. Except in ralleys or velodromes those bikes should not be used on public roads.

  52. Moennick Derrick

    This is a great article with great posts!

    The main reason Melbourne’s bike share success has been a little flat was that the mandatory helmet law wasn’t taken into account before the launch of the program.

    Should there be a mandatory helmet law? This is a great topic for debate.

    Should bike share participants have a helmet at POS? Why not have the choice as long as the helmets are sanitized and ready for use. A bike share operator should have the choice to provide this convenience and gain an extra added revenue stream. Not to say local businesses like 7-11, or bike shops shouldn’t share in this revenue stream.

    Will Vancouver make the same mistake as Melbourne? There has been quite a lot of controversy around the bike lanes in Vancouver, Bixi’s funding from the City of Montreal, and sponsorship of Velo-city in Vancouver, considering they have to sell their export business – please see:

    Bike share in my opinion should be a cost effective and convenient way of getting around high density urban areas.

  53. Sherman Brad

    I reckon we should conduct the experiment. Exempt the Bixi bikes from compulsory helmets for a year or two. All other cyclists must wear them. Then compare the accident rate of the two groups.

    As an avid cyclist whose life may have been saved by my helmet which broke in 4 places when my frame came apart at ~ 40+ km/h, I wouldn’t contemplate taking my road bike out without a helmet. I like to ride fast down hills on skinny tyres wearing lycra. On the other hand, I love cruising around Paris and Montreal in my street clothes without a helmet. And I loved riding around Rottnest in my bathers and Greg Chappell cricket hat back in the 80’s – impossible with a helmet. Helmets kill the wind-in-the-hair exhilaration of casual cycling.

    I don’t think there’s persuasive evidence to support either side of the compulsory helmet debate. The numbers presented above are very small and without any information on the context it is impossible to draw a conclusion regarding the benefit of the helmet. Do such small numbers represent that great an impost on Medicare? Seems to me the low speed riding around town of a Bixi does not present a high risk of head injury. When a cyclist is hit by a car, a lot more is damaged than the head.

    And I wonder how well a really cheap helmet from 7-11 will function. I’m sure it complies with the relevant Australian Standard but there’s serious psychological resistance to overcome. Remember the old Bell Helmet ad to the effect of “Got a $5 head, buy a $5 helmet”?

  54. SBH

    I can’t help but think that the use of helmets in this article is clickbait. I also question the premise of the prevailing commentary here about the ‘failing bike share scheme’. Usage is increasing at what seems to be a pretty good rate. Given that bike share use is increasing maybe it would be better to look at why and build on your strengths?

    Gerard – one for you – why do you say 23cm road tyres are unsafe? By the way the simple bicycle hasn’t been around for hundreds of years but let’s not let facts interfere, I assume you were being hyperbolic.

    I am always intrigued by the esoteric factionalism in these sort of threads. People bang on about there pet concern but the number one killer by orders of magnitude is the car. Bit of focus wouldn’t go astray,

  55. gerard

    The simple bicycle has been around for hundreds of years. It is surely one of the world’s most amazing inventions. Name just one invention, whereby with less effort and input, more output is produced. The bicycle seems to defy the Einstein theory whereby for every action there is an equally weighted opposite action. The Dutch seemed to have taken the ‘more for less’ with gusto. Every morning and afternoon millions jump on the bike, going to and fro work, going shopping or taking kids to school. There are more bicycles than people. Especially with romance, the bike in Holland has always been an essential extension for meeting mates. First dates are usually conducted on bikes. If the bike ride blossoms into romance, both bikes might be seen lying between the reeds along a dyke or canal with the couple hidden from sight, perhaps getting acquainted away from the harsh metal embrace with a more softer more tactile manner. Not that riding bicycles in the Netherlands precludes having physical contact while cycling. Far from it, often the young and therefore more agile will be seen holding hands AND riding their bikes. I have often felt that the rhythmic moving up and down of thighs might well incur a hastening of passion, whereby the couple’s surging hormones might finally over rule and make for casting all cautions to the wind, hence those bikes hurriedly thrown amongst the reeds.

    I was told by my mother that I was possibly conceived by this typical Dutch bicycle passion as well, not amongst the reeds but in the lee of a terrible storm. They had sought shelter from a really ferocious westerly behind a dyke and once out of the wind, one thing led to another, and nine months later… there, but for the grace of two Raleigh bikes, came I.

  56. Ben

    I think you may be missing a couple of, let’s say, ‘natural’ points here:

    1. The schemes do well in the Netherlands – it’s much cooler there! Can you imagine being in a shirt and tie, cycling from one side of Brisbane CBD to the other?! It’s bad enough walking to an air conditioned shop.

    2. Brisbane has a bunch of hills in it! The bikes are heat, clunky and (to my knowledge) single speed. Get an average person on one of those and they’re going to struggle!

    Chuck in the helmet issue and you have (unfortunately) a recipe for failure!

    I have heard that Brisbane City Council also have an army of workers who cycle on their lunch breaks to give the illusion that it’s working. Don’t know how much truth is in that, but I have heard from several different people in my office.

  57. Joe Boswell

    This is not an attempt to extrapolate a general rule about helmet laws from my own experience. It’s just a data point.
    I can reasonably say I’m a keen cyclist. I use my bikes for local travel and for touring holidays; I am no way a sport cyclist. I ride a bike to get about. I have done so for decades. I do not own a car. In the past six years, since moving to Australia from the UK, I’ve cycled far less often than I used to. If I want to cycle, I go back to Europe. The thing that made all the difference is the cycling helmet law. The balance of convenience has tipped. I have enough to do with the bike, maybe a trailer, the bike lock and anything else I’m carrying without also having to deal with a helmet.
    The last time I was in Melbourne for a few days I thought of using the hire bikes, but again the helmet requirement stopped it being convenient.
    There is a particular impediment to getting anything done about Australia’s helmet laws. The states only passed the legislation because they were blackmailed by the Federal government, which threatened to remove road funding until helmet laws were passed. Now, if you ask state politicians about it, they don’t want to know because losing their road funding is just unthinkable. If you ask Federal politicians about it, they will not talk to you either; they say it’s a State matter. The chaotic constitutional mess created by the Federal government trampling into State jurisdiction means there is no democratic accountability over such issues.

  58. Luke Turner

    Alan, no doubt there are countless things which put people off using bike share at one time or another.

    The question is: what is unique to Australia’s bike share schemes that is causing them to fail while bike share prospers in almost every other place it has been attempted.

    Answer: helmet laws.

    All of your other suggestions do not provide satisfactory answers because they are not problems unique to Australia. Yes maybe some people don’t like riding at night, but the sun goes down in Paris and London also. Believe it or not, Australians are not the only people who enjoy a drink from time to time.

    As I previously mentioned the tariff’s are similar across all schemes. Plenty of successful bike share schemes are run in places that are not noted for their cycling infrastructure or culture – London, Dublin, Barcelona to name a few.

    The size of the Australian schemes are not the problem. Brisbane CityCycle is bigger than Melbourne BikeShare, but actually has lower usage per bike. The most successful scheme in the world (Dublin) is about the same size as Melbourne BikeShare.

    All these things might have some marginal effect on usage, but are not uniquely Australian problems and thus cannot explain why Australian bike share has the lowest usage per bike anywhere in the world.

    Our bike share schemes will never succeed until we stop placing unworkable and unreasonable restrictions on it’s use. The rest of the world can operate bike share without helmet laws, and there is no epidemic of head injuries. We must repeal mandatory bike helmet laws.

  59. Tim nash

    This just isn’t about bike share, its simply a problem with over enforcement of a law.

    Just the other day I saw a man being issued a fine for riding without a helmet, and I was reminded

    instantly of a man I was talking to riding in the centre of Paris.

    Hey do you have to wear helmets here in Paris?

    Man: Oh.. haha yea we are supposed to but nobody does.

    So theres regulation but nobody polices it?

    Man: Yes…but nobody wears ‘points to head’

    Its not over regulation, it’s over policing, the police just fine too many people and care too much about people wearing helmets.

    So you can have a regulation, but just don’t enforce it very well, there are many things like this in Australia, the police can’t enforce ‘everything’ and have to admit to let some things fly.

    Europeans don’t seem to have a problem, yet for us its a major issue… sad

  60. Omar Khayyam

    One certain way to get more people riding bikes is to have less cars. Fuel is far too cheap and doesn’t represent anywhere near its true cost.
    As to helmets, I’m sure they really are the lifesavers they’re claimed to be, that’s why in the very near future anyone who ventures out on the carriageway will have to compulsorily wear this protection – car drivers and passengers, bus and train drivers and passengers, pedestrians, etc.
    After all, if it only saves one life its worth it….right?

  61. FelineCyclist

    For me, the biggest deterrent is the lack of cycle stations. Even though the system is designed for trips of less than half an hour, the stations are concentrated within a 10-15 minute radius. I live within 20-25 minutes cycle from the CBD, yet the closest bike station is 10 minutes away in Parkville. I would love to use the Bixis to ride home after work drinks, dinner, late meetings, etc, rather than wait 20 minutes for a tram that then takes another 20 minutes to get home. No such luck however, because the Bixis are concentrated in the CBD and CBD fringes.

    Successful schemes overseas have had lots and lots of bikes and lots and lots of stations, so it’s easy to find a bike, drop off a bike close to your destination and so more journeys are covered. The MBS lacks commitment to Melbourne and its cyclists. It can really service only a small percentage of commuters because of the woefully inadequate coverage. Increase supply and MBS will increase demand.

  62. gerard

    I don’t see the point of weather . If anything, the generally warmer weather would be an ‘against’ for wearing sweaty helmet (or lycra gear), especally as riding a bicycle is a physical excercise. Sitting behind a car steering wheel hardly a reason for not wearing a seat belt.
    The question of the article concerns itself why those bicycle stations haven’t taken off. I offer the main reason, the obligatory wearing of helmets whereby the benefits of thousands are denied by this law, to the few that have just taken on bicycle riding as a sport rather than for tran(sport). This riding bicycles for sport has resulted in bike riding being dangerous on thin racing tyres that would not even be allowed on European public roads except on velodromes.

  63. Austin M

    Sorry Harry my point was simply why should everyone pay extra TAC because someone decides that “hey they don’t need to wear a seat belt”.

    Why should the general population have to pay for the very poor decision making of a very limited few.

    I would have also thought Gerard that the general punter would be more worried about things like weather, time, etc. to use a bike. Helmet laws being of a fairly low overall consideration for their use (much like car seatbelts would be a of a fairly low impact on the mode consideration for someone travelling to a business meeting in a fresh suit).

    Id also find it interesting how lots of people seem to be very keen to apportion blame to some profound singular reason as to why we don’t have the ridership of a select few cities in Europe. Perhaps we need to look more at what we have, and what could be done to improve it. For example we need to recognise how we are different in terms of land use, weather, travel purposes, available options, culture, cities layout etc. (tram network and its affect on travel choice being one prime example as to how we are very different to any other city in the world).

  64. Scott Grant

    It is good to see a discussion about compulsory helmet wearing. I reckon this is an example of excessive regulation.

    Like Gerard, I am all for motorcycle helmets (although the only time I was in a serious prang, my helmet came off before I hit the ground!), and I am very much in favor of seat belts. But I have my doubts about the need for bicycle helmets, and I know at least one person who refuses to wear one (claiming claustrophobia).

  65. gerard

    No one would do away with motor cycle helmets or seat belts. The wearing of bicycle helmets and all that bike gear is just the enemy of cycling ever becoming a mode of transport. A great pity since we have the dubious distinction of also being the most obese.
    Good sturdy bikes combined with electric bikes with the use of footpaths if cycle paths are not available, would be one answer.
    White bicycle stations all over our main cities would be another but… with the obligatory wearing of helmets, especially for women, it will never take off.
    The bicycle could be, as in many many countries, be a means of good, green and clean efficient transport. Here it has been turned into a expensive ‘Tour De France’ lycra wearing manic sport on dangerously thin tyres. A good money spinner though.

  66. Harry Rogers

    Yes let’s legislate “life”. No going out the door in the morning unless you have passed your checklist (given for free by insurance companies).

    Have you cleaned your teeth .. if not no medicare rebate

    Brushed your hair …considered a danger to driving with long hair

    Put your knee pads on… just in case you trip.

    Checked the road conditions …otherwise you will held at fault for driving on a wet surface

    Put the chip in your brain…. stops you from daydreaming.

    I’m certain all the regulators and insurers will have a much more detailed list. Isn’t it great to be looked after by so many caring people…or are they really caring ??

  67. Austin M

    Hey and while we are at it lets get rid of compulsory motor bike helmets, and seat belt laws as well. I mean seriously everyone is effectively a pedestrian on the road some are just in something that changes their speed, deceleration, and maneuverability so lets give them all no mandatory protection just like a pedestrian.
    I say good luck to anyone who forgoes the typical safety gear and I have the opinion that the wearing of a helmet is very low on the list of potential deterrents to cyclists or prospective cyclists in Australia. Maybe people should just not be covered by TAC if you don’t wear the regulated gear and endup as a veggie etc. (name me one other insurance that would pay out if you where breaking the law at the time of an accident like crashing while drink driving etc.)

  68. gerard

    Off course bike sharing and bike usage in general will not happen. The industry has been hijacked by those helmet laws and popularity of dangerous racing bikes which results in the shunning of riding bicycles as a means of transport.
    The thin-wheeled “tour de France” type bicycle is hugely profitable, not to speak of all the paraphernalia associated with this hijacking of the bicycle industry. Those silly tight Lycra pants and large lettered expensive bicycle wear.
    The helmets were introduced because of those racing type bikes which have a very dangerously small surface traction area to the road. The slightest pebble or loose grit and you take a tumble.
    The non-wearing of helmets is the only way to move forward. Follow France and above all The Netherlands. Don’t you think they would have figured it all out? What next, pedestrians wearing helmets?

  69. Alan Davies

    Luke Turner: It could also be that MBS is missing out on social trips because people are reluctant to cycle on roads at night, or if they’ve had a drink or two.

  70. Harry Rogers

    In regard to Austin M:

    Considering almost every rider I see does wear a helet (lets say 90%) then 50% of cyclist deaths having no helmet speaks volumes IMO.

    I make that you have 50 % chance of dying with or without a helmet.

    So I suppose if 5 million Australians cross the road every day unless they have some protection there’s a good chance that anumber will be killed. So I guess we should bring in full body suit arour.

  71. Jonathan Nolan

    You make a very good point both Austin and BustedPancreas, however I would have thought that given the wealth of peer reviewed studies in the area, such anecdotes could easily be backed up by cold hard fact.

  72. Austin M

    The official 2011 Victorian road toll statistics.
    There were 287 deaths on Victorian roads in 2011, a record low and one less than 2010.

    • Melbourne Metro: 129 deaths, up from 125 in 2010.
    • Country Victoria: 158 deaths, down from 163 in 2010.

    106 (37%) deaths involved vulnerable road users; pedestrians (49 – up 26%), cyclists (8) and motorcycle riders/passengers (49).

    5 of the motorcyclists and 4 of the cyclists were not wearing helmets. 26% (36) of the vehicle drivers and passengers were not wearing seatbelts.

    Considering almost every rider I see does wear a helet (lets say 90%) then 50% of cyclist deaths having no helmet speaks volumes IMO.

  73. BustedPancreas


    From my understanding (and experience!), helmets prevent grazing/scratching/minor bumps whereas if you had a serious collision resulting in head injury – a helmet does nothing anyway.

  74. Jonathan Nolan


    I’m not overly familiar with the evidence surrounding helmet safety. I have heard comments to the effect that it is exactly these trips: slow ones, that helmets are most effective. If a trip is fast then the effectiveness of the helmet is surely reduced? And I can’t imagine it requires much speed at all to cause intracranial bleeding. I’d be happy if there was evidence proving me wrong here!

  75. Luke Turner

    Alan, it’s good that you continue to write about bikeshare and examine the reasons it’s failing in Australia. As you say, it would be a great blow to cycling here, if one or both of the schemes were to fail.

    However I have to be somewhat critical. I have read your previous writing on this topic, which (like this piece) suggest that compulsory helmets are not the big problem that many suggest. A lot of people have raised some valid responses to your arguments, and you seem to ignore them completely. Nonetheless, here are some things I hope you will address:

    [“I reckon any Melburnian who’s likely to be a serious and consistent user of Bixis has had ample time to put a $5 helmet in their desk drawer or hang a couple near the door of their apartment.”]
    [“I doubt many trips are so spontaneous they’re made in the street on the spur of the moment.”]

    The problem is not that people don’t have helmets, it is that they don’t have them on their person at the time they want to hire a bike. The whole appeal of bike share is that they can be spontaneous, just like hailing down a cab on the street. This is not to say that all riders will be totally capricious, such as someone who has never ridden a bike suddenly deciding they want to ride somewhere for no reason at all.

    But not all journeys are planned beforehand. For social trips, plans are often made or changed on the fly. But the requirement for helmets introduces a requirement for careful planning – we will never see people start carrying around helmets just in case they want to go somewhere on the bike. Bike share should be able to work without meticulous forethough. If I am organised enough to have a helmet, I will usually ride my own bike. What is your basis for doubting that trips are spontaneous? I use the bikeshare in Brisbane a few times a week and many of my trips are mostly spontaneous – but I ride without a helmet.

    Spontaneous use is not the only sort of use that compulsory helmets prevent. One-way travel is another. I often use the hire bikes to ride to a restaurant / pub, knowing that I will get a taxi home. What am I supposed to do with the helmet? Clip it to my belt while I’m standing at the bar? I don’t want to carry it around.

    [“There is a range of other factors, both “exogenous” and “endogenous”, that are likely to affect the demand for bikeshare.”]

    This is very true, things like infrastructure, weather, topography will all have an effect. But there are plenty of cities with poor infrastructure, weather and topography that have far higher usage than Melbourne and Brisbane – these things cannot explain the degree of underperformance. For example, Toronto is a fairly hostile city, similar to Australian cities and has significantly higher usage than us. Likewise London is at least as hostile as Melbourne or Brisbane. Dublin’s scheme which is about the same size as Melbourne’s has the best usage in the world and that Dublin is by no means a cycling paradise.

    [“The design of the tariff favours short duration trips and positively deters tourists who want to spend half a day or more touring the city (see second exhibit, below).”]

    This comment and the attached graph are a strange criticism and suggest a lack of understanding of how bike share works and what it’s intended for. Every bike share scheme in the world shares this sort of tariff design. It is deliberately designed so as to keep the bikes in circulation. People are encouraged to ride to their destination and dock the bike. When they want to go again, they just get another bike. My experience (having ridden extensively in Brisbane and a few times in Melbourne) is that you can get almost anywhere in the network in under 30 minutes. Tourists or anyone else can easily use the bikes all day for free in this way, it’s very easy.

    The other thing that you fail to acknowledge is that many people simply don’t like wearing helmets, especially for this sort of urban transport riding. If you go to Paris or London you will see that few people there choose to wear helmets on the public hire bikes. The other day my friend didn’t want to use the CityCycle because of the helmets. We were dressed nicely and going out to meet friends. Putting a helmet on would have ruined the hair style and made her hot and uncomfortable. She didn’t want to risk the fine, so did not ride. It would have been a perfectly safe, short and slow trip and there is no reason it couldn’t be done without a helmet.

  76. hk

    The main reason for the low MBS usage is the excellent PT network serving the same catchment. Short trip pattern data from VATS and VISTA indicates that walking, often in combination with PT already serves the same area with their origin and destination trip nodes covered by the MBS docking stations.
    More short trip pattern analysis, based on an updated VISTA is required to enable some relocation of docking stations to match actual patterns in inner Melbourne, which could include nearby suburbs. As an example, the relocation of the Carlton Dorrit Street site to near the Nova would assist in profiling MBS and facilitate usage

  77. Jonathan Nolan

    I don’t think you can discount the psychological effect the helmet policy has. People don’t know about the helemts in 7-11 and they use that as the excuse to say “it’s all too hard”. Arguing that in fact, logically, it’s not all that hard doesn’t really change people’s first impressions. Add to that the fact that the bike share is in locations satured with trams anyway and it’s not surprising nobody uses the system.

    The best places are the ones like beach street which are currently difficult to get to by tram. Most users have train tickets to get into the city anyway, and the tram is therefore “free” for these customers. Why would they pay for a bike?

    A smarter idea would have been to introduce the scheme to locations like Abbottsford, which already have a cycle culture but not much in the way of tram lines, or in places like church street Richmond or along the river to encourage people to use that track. The station is in the botanical gardens but only on the melbourne city council edge. It would make much more sense to have a station right out the front entrance. Richmond station has one but again on the wrong side of punt road, away from where most people interact with the station.

    Also, places like South yarra where there is a high density of residential apartments would have resulted in higher usage.

    Myki integration would also improve take up by making it ‘easier’.

    I don’t necessarily think “more” stations are the problem here. They could have easily got rid of a few stations in the city and replaced them with these locations. Or perhaps adding just a few more net. It’s a real shame they only organised bike share with melbourne city council because if they had talked to yarra and port phillip I think the result would have been a lot more effective.

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