Sep 23, 2012

Should bikeshare schemes be exempt from the helmet law?

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

Fairfax cycling columnist Michael O’Reilly revived the debate about bikeshare schemes and mandatory helmets last week with a new article, Share bike schemes need to lose the lids.

He reckons bikeshare is flourishing everywhere in the world except Australia, where Melbourne Bikeshare and Brisbane’s CityCycle are performing very poorly. Were they to close, it “would be a disaster for our urban spaces” he warns.

What distinguishes these two schemes from virtually every other one in the world is they mandate riders must wear a helmet. That, Mr O’Reilly suggests, is why they’re failing.

The key solution he advocates is to exempt bikeshare from the helmet law.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that patronage of these two schemes is affected by the existing law. If the “cost” of any activity is raised – in this case principally by the difficulty of getting access to a helmet – demand will fall.

Equally, there’s no doubt that exempting bikeshare from the law would be a controversial step. While those who would defend the law are relatively quiet now, I expect their resistance would be strident if they thought there was a clear and present prospect of the law being diluted.

They would perceive a permanent exemption for bikeshare as tantamount to doing away with the law for all cyclists. They’d see it as the thin end of the wedge and I think they’d be right. Granting an exemption would amount to saying the law should be repealed for everyone (every adult anyway).

There’s a respectable argument for doing away with the law in its entirety and there should be a full and wide ranging debate about that in each state. But seriously weakening the law on the narrow grounds that it would increase use of bikeshare is a much more doubtful proposition.

I think there are a number of important issues that would need to be thought about in the context of any serious proposal for excepting bikeshare in Victoria and Queensland from their respective helmet laws.

Even if the law were absent, it doesn’t automatically follow that Australian bikeshare schemes would flourish. There’s a range of other factors that might also suppress use.

For example, in Melbourne there aren’t enough bike stations, the tariff structure is unfriendly to tourists and there are alternative travel options like trams. Safety is another key explanation for the low take-up of bikeshare.

Infrastructure is inadequate and a lot of drivers are unsympathetic toward cyclists. Too many potential bikeshare riders don’t feel safe on the roads, especially those who aren’t regular riders.

Mr O’Reilly’s contention that bikeshare schemes elsewhere are universally a “success” is undemonstrated. There are currently 165 cities worldwide with bikeshare.

Advocates tend to focus on a limited number of high-profile implementations, like Paris, London and Dublin. What’s missing is an objective standard of what constitutes “success”.

Even if there were such a criterion, there’s little independent, rigorous evidence on how this multitude of other schemes is faring. Are they all a “success”?

Since bikeshare schemes in Australia are publicly funded, it’s critical to ask what the overall social benefits are. It’s also important to ask who receives those benefits.

If bikeshare mostly replaces public transport trips and induces trips that wouldn’t otherwise be made, then the environmental case for public subsidy isn’t compelling. If the primary beneficiaries are relatively well-off inner city residents and CBD workers, the equity implications aren’t persuasive either.

Were Melbourne Bikeshare and Brisbane CityCycle to close it would be regrettable, but it wouldn’t be “a disaster for our urban spaces” as Mr O’Reilly predicts. Paris was a delightful place before bikeshare and still would be without it, as would Melbourne.

Bikeshare can enhance an already vibrant city, but it’s not a necessary condition. Nor is it likely bikeshare can turn a run-of-the-mill city into a vibrant one. Terms like “disaster” are excessive.

Many bikeshare advocates are against compulsory helmets for adult riders, but most of the population assume the law has a net community health benefit. If the latter are right, exempting bikeshare would impose a social cost and could undermine the standing of the wider law.

So when I weigh it up, it doesn’t seem that the survival of bikeshare is so important that it justifies effectively abandoning the current law on helmets. Whether or not the helmet law is “right”, it is a major issue of policy and any proposed change requires serious debate and public involvement.

That debate should be around key issues like whether the claimed savings in head injuries outweigh the claimed deterrent to cycling. For some people there’s an issue of personal choice in there too. It would be unfortunate if the two Australian schemes were to fail, but a sense of proportion is needed here.

Some have the advantage that they are absolutely certain the law is wrong and have no doubts about the need for reform. I don’t think that’s true of the vast majority of the population though. It’s not even close.

In any event, as a matter of tactics, it’s worth noting that an exemption for bikeshare could endanger any movement toward reform of the law for all cyclists. If a user suffered a severe head injury while riding without a helmet it’s likely the media would put an hysterical spin on it.


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48 thoughts on “Should bikeshare schemes be exempt from the helmet law?

  1. Jay Harrison

    The money spent on this dud of a scheme should be instead spent on increasing bike paths. Get people off the roads and on bikes. You can already rent out a bike for $25 a day in town.

  2. Sherman Brad

    Exempting the Melbourne and Brissie schemes would provide a valuable controlled experiment regarding the incremental safety provided by helmets. I vote for the experiment. I’ve enjoyed the Paris, Barcelona, Verona and Montreal schemes. I ride 13 km to and from work every day in Canberra , have done so for twenty years. I don’t use the Melbourne system when I go to visit my daughter because the helmet business is hugely inconvenient and wasteful. I don’t want to wear someone else’s helmet, I don’t want to buy one for a 5 minute ride, and I couldn’t be bothered lugging one around when I don’t need a backpack and want both hands free.

    I would happily waive my right to medical care at public expense (I’ll foot the bill) in exchange for freedom of choice in this regard.

  3. IkaInk

    @Michael – Bike theft in Australia isn’t generally nearly as bad, but it does still exist obviously.

    I’ve got a story one up on your bike getting stolen from inside your building. My brother came home to his apartment in Barcelona to find two broken bike locks, and two of the iron baluster shafts cut out of his stair case where the thieves couldn’t cut his hefty D lock. He then walked about two blocks to a well known dodgy store that dealt in second hand bikes where he asked about buying a bike, after looking at a few he found his bike, D lock still attached to the frame. The proprietor kindly explained that the “older gentleman” that had sold the bike to him had “lost” that key.

    For some reason when my brother pulled out his key, unlocked the lock and walked out with the bike without paying the owner didn’t feel the need to stop him, or report the theft.

  4. Dylan Nicholson

    I dunno, I’m so used to taking my bike with me almost everywhere I go, and the only time I’ve had one stolen was because I hadn’t locked it properly.
    But if there are plenty of well-located stations, then a system that makes it easy and cheap to grab and return bikes several times a day sounds like it should work for most potential customers. While a good system of bike paths is obviously necessary to make a system truly successful, it does seem you really do have to strain to find reason other than MHL why Melbourne’s and Brisbane’s schemes have been such flops.

  5. michael r james

    IkaInk has it exactly. When you read the history of all the failed attempts at a “free” cycle system over the past century, this 30 min charge period and escalating cost must be part of the reason for the Velib system’s success. Availability of cycles at the stations is critical. In Paris they found some people were returning the bike to the station (so as not to incur charges) but locking it with their own chains and lock–in effect reserving it for themselves and blocking others. Paris started enforcing a rule against it by breaking the locks. At the same time trying to address the shortage issue (& vandalism problem)–the clever hill reward trick, and improving redistribution of bikes (they converted an old penich-barge into a Velib bike carrier/distributor and workshop–it cruises up and down the Seine).

    I think AD or any visitor would find the 30 minute time limit to get from A to B is plenty. And of course (Dylan), think about the convenience compared to the hassle of using your own bike. In big cities bike security is probably the biggest headache so you end up lugging around huge bit of metal chain and locks and then searching for solid things to lock your bike to, half the time it not being approved so running another risk. And any light fittings are at risk too while these bikes have built-in lights and a carry basket (which some of us would be too much of style-victims to attach to our own bikes). In Paris I just got fed up with this hassle –not just the risk of being stolen but in most cities there is a strange rampant vandalism thing going on–so I stopped riding; even then my bike was stolen despite being locked securely to iron balustrades inside my own building!

    Once you have returned the city bike to its electronic lock station you walk away totally free of worry.

  6. IkaInk

    @Alan and @Dylan – I don’t think $50 for 6 hours will get too many tourists excited. There is already a market (and has been well before MBS) that exists for part of a day, or 24 hour hire. The going rate for 24 hours seems to be about $40. This already covers the tourist market that wants to leave the MBS zone. Comparatively MBS charges $2.60 for a day pass, but you have to comply with the 30 minute rule.

    I used the Barcelona system extensively as a tourist. The 30 minute timeframe was never a problem, as the system was extensive and finding a rack was never difficult. I got lost often, I went off in vague directions without any real idea of where I was heading. However I always found something that made me want to stop and a rack nearby within 30 minutes.

  7. Alan Davies

    IkaInk #40:

    Sure, a tourist who wants to go from a to b can just pay the sub. But one of the delights of being a tourist is you often have time to explore a city more or less randomly and without being overly contrained by time. Mostly we talk about the walkability of a city, but bicycles can extend that experience geographically for tourists.

    BTW MBS was explicitly set up to address the mobility of residents.Whether it should address the needs of tourists more directly is a separate question.

  8. Dylan Nicholson

    MRJ’s link should be

    Re the fee structure, while I agree it does make sense it should be biased towards shorter trips, given how underused the system is in Melbourne, I don’t see any benefit in attempting to charge $99 for 6 hours’ use: I’d be willing to bet if that was halved the system would be a good deal more popular with tourists – though, again, helmets either need to be optional or much more easily acquired at the actual stations themselves (and included in the price of hire). I’m actually a little puzzled why these schemes are at all popular with locals – surely most people own a bike anyway?

  9. IkaInk

    @Alan – My point wasn’t whether City X punishes riders that use the bikes for hours more or less, but rather that they’re all designed to cater for short trips. 30 minutes of “free” travel (after you’ve paid your subscription or daily pass) before you need to put the bike in a rack and grab another one is pretty standard. After that they pretty much all start charging considerably more for each half an hour block, how much more is next to irrelevant.

    However that doesn’t necessarily hurt tourists. Which ever city you are in, you ride to your destination, put the bike in a rack do whatever you came to do at the destination, then grab another bike (or even the same bike) and head to the next destination. You don’t pay $99.60 to do so, even if you are using the bikes from 7am to midnight (providing you dock the bikes are half hour intervals). Of course in Melbourne, this means you can’t ride your bike up to Sydney Road or Brunswick Street and spend a few hours there, but thats a problem with the networks size, not the fare structure.

  10. michael r james

    Hey people, we have to pick up our game. This Slate article has been up less than ≈9 hours and has 2,000 comments!

    Why You Hate Cyclists
    By Jim Saksa | Posted Monday, Sept. 24, 2012
    Data from nine major North American cities showed that, despite the total number of bike trips tripling between 1977 and 2009, fatalities per 10 million bike trips fell by 65 percent]

  11. michael r james

    OK, Alan, let me state the obvious: when it comes to transport, patronage is THE measure of success. If patronage starts dropping (as in bus usage in Brisbane) then you can tell that something is unsatisfactory.

    The main cause of dissatisfaction among Velib users is when they cannot find an available cycle or when they cannot return one (because at certain locations the stations fill up and they get annoyed if their 30m free period is about to expire). Stations on hills tend to get depleted of cycles because of obvious reasons, so the city rewards people who return cycles at those stations with 15 minutes extra free time (it gets recorded on the Velib smartcard which is appreciated because it gives users a bit of extra safety before they would be charged for the second 30 minutes of use).

    For me when I visited Paris just the month after the Velib scheme began, one could tell it was going to be successful (despite the shocking vandalism) because all kinds of people were using them, from business types to dames d’un certain age.

    So when you see that such large numbers of people are using the Velib system (more than 25m uses p.a.) and is still growing 5+ years after beginning (and is expanding to the suburbs of Paris), it clearly is successful. The lower usage of many other cities may partly reflect that most have not been up and running very long (eg. Toronto for 16 months) but also because most systems are simply not as extensive or as big (number of cycles available). Or in Briz & Melbourne cycle infrastructure is primitive to non-existent and drivers remain hostile.

    I think it will be interesting to watch NYC and Portland as they roll out their schemes: NY because while a lot of the city remains hostile to bikes, the scheme is serious (10,000 bikes) and like Paris, their mayor is determined for it to succeed; Portland because the city is the most bike-friendly city in the US and the most prepared (cycle infrastructure is good, drivers are polite; and this is their second try after vandalism killed their first attempt).

  12. Alan Davies

    Richard Bean #36:

    It’s mystifying how the this simple issue causes so much confusion. ‘Hires per bike per day’ is a measure of use, but it doesn’t tell you how much use is satisfactory (or not).

    So when you say “Every (US) scheme with more than 50 stations achieves a hire rate of at least 1 trip per bike per day”, you seem to be implicitly saying that’s your standard for satisfactory performance.

    Anyway, the numbers you provided are interesting. Minneapolis’s average usage is 0.82 (summer and winter?) which equates to about 15 minutes per bike per day of hire time.

    BTW it appears Portland doesn’t have a bikeshare scheme. It’s planned for 2013.

  13. Richard Bean

    Nik Dow has said most things best already. Alan needs to provide quantitative research as the original article did – feelings and suppositions can’t form the basis of policy.

    Nik also raises the important point that share bikes are sit-up style bikes which are not easily ridden at high speeds. TfL found in a preliminary statistical analysis last month that “three times less likely to be injured per trip than other cyclists in London”.

    Boscombe comments that Brisbane is “maybe too hot and humid”. Rio de Janeiro is in fact more hot and humid and yet its scheme (for which you require a Brazilian cell phone number) achieves 4.6 trips per bike per day versus 0.35 trips per bike per in Brisbane.

    Dylan Nicholson comments that even if the environmental case is not made through displacing PT trips, the public health case is clear, and Michael James has cited the excellent Copenhagen study on net benefits to the economy.

    So, here’s some figures on trips per bike per day.

    Large schemes (70-130 stations – CityCycle is 151 stations, some cities have two sources)

    Washington DC 2.8, 2.6, 1.6 in winter
    Minneapolis 0.82
    Miami 3.6, 2.5
    Portland 1.30-1.85

    Medium schemes (22-50 stations)

    Boston 1, 2
    Denver 1, 1.63
    San Antonio 0.63

    Small schemes (4-15 stations)

    Boulder 0.62
    Spartanburg 0.55
    Irvine 0.31

    Every scheme with more than 50 stations achieves a hire rate of at least 1 trip per bike per day. Schemes outside the US tend to achieve higher rates still, contrary to Alan’s claim that “advocates tend to focus on … Paris, London and Dublin.”

    As for Alan trying to say “trips per bike per day” is a measure of use, not success, I am with Dylan and Nik.
    There are all sorts of sources on the web using it as a success indicator. Alan is just tying himself in knots here. AECOM’s original study for Sydney predicted 5 trips per bicycle per day with 8 trips per bicycle per day if the council “provided separated cycleways”. That was based on the usage rate in cities worldwide. Brisbane and Melbourne are an order of magnitude below this.

    “Optimising Bike Sharing in European Cities: A Handbook” says that “The number of rentals per bike is one of the most important direct success indicators of BSSs”. a presentation from this year’s
    Velo-City conference lists “Success Indicators” of which the most widely available is “trips per day per bike”.

    Paris 10
    London 3
    Montreal 2
    Toronto 4
    Ottawa 1.3

    In my opinion, the weather and topography issues are irrelevant for explaining Brisbane and Melbourne’s low hire rates and it just comes down to the helmet law and a lack of separated bike lanes. But the law affects that lack of bike lanes as it puts the onus for safety on the bicycle rider, rather than on the car drivers who cause deaths and injuries.

  14. Dylan Nicholson

    99.60 to rent a bicycle for a day?? That’s nuts, you can rent one from a shop for a good deal less than that. Even the London rate of 36£ seems steep. The last time I rented a bike for the day was in Kyoto, and from memory it was about $30 (3000 yen).
    If that’s what they’re charging, then I agree MHL isn’t the main problem. Hell, you can buy a half decent bike on eBay for $99.

  15. michael r james

    AD #33

    I don’t think there is any need to trawl through anything much. The biggest set of such schemes revolve around the original Paris Velib-JCDecaux scheme (originally prototyped by JCDecaux in their home city of Lyons in 2005 prior to Paris in 2007). Even though Paris is the biggest tourist city in the world the scheme was never focussed on tourists–which I believe is the correct approach. In fact it was not easily accessible for tourists because of the registration and annual subscription, but today tourists can use it easily using a credit card.

    The key feature is that, once registered, users get the first 30 minutes free. Thereafter the charge per 30 minute period escalates. The objective of course is to promote use of the bikes for the short trips typical of cities, and improve availability of the bikes: riders use the bike for their short trip (you can get from one side of Paris to the other in 30 m) and immediately return the bike to a station (users cannot take out the same bike if someone else is waiting for one at that station). There is a financial penalty for keeping the bike, eg. locking it up on the street while doing your supermarket shopping or other chore before returning to start point etc.

    Any scheme that lengthens this “free” period risks reducing availability of the bikes and abuse of the system. It is designed for those huge number of short trips (<5 km) that any city transport planner will tell you dominates city journeys. It is not, and should not attempt to, provide for touring etc. But as it turns out, this scheme works fine for some Parisian tourists: there are now Velib tours such as a chocoholic tour that guides the user from one Velib station to another, to visit the top chocolate shops (for which one obviously needs time to inspect/purchase etc).

    I suppose what AD dislikes about this scheme is that it makes it difficult for the overall scheme to cover its costs. (Though I assume that tourists pay a charge regardless of never exceeding the free period.) Yet this is clearly a very big–perhaps determinative–factor in its success. The benefit to the city is in this success which saves on congested PT, congested streets and adds amenity etc.

  16. Alan Davies

    IkaInk #32:

    Sorry, I don’t have the time or inclination to trawl through the tariffs of 165 cities! But you might well be right. In fact I think somewhere in this thread someone remarked that one of the schemes (Toronto?) is mainly used by locals, not tourists.

    Update: Just compared London and Melbourne. Three hours cycling in London with casual sub fee is 16 quid. Three hours cycling with casual sub fee in Melbourne is $39.60. I’d say most tourists would reckon there’s more to see in London too! London seems a much better proposition for a tourist.

    If you want to cycle all day (6 hours), Melbourne gets slightly worse: it’s 36 quid in London and $99.60 in Melbourne.

  17. IkaInk

    Alan, regarding advertising for the Brisbane scheme, simply Google Image search “City Cycle Brisbane” and you’ll see one side of the bikes say “City Cycle” and the other side says “Lipton Ice Tea”.

    As for your complaints about the pricing structure, it is my understanding that virtually all the systems around the world operate on a very similar pricing structure. Barcelona certainly did while I was there. Toronto has pretty much the same. I understand that Paris also uses a similar structure. New York is looking at a similar structure. Can you point to a successful scheme that uses a particularly different scheme?

  18. boscombe

    As someone who supports the helmet laws I don’t have a problem with exempting those cycle hire schemes because the two activities seem different. The cycle hire schemes I’ve seen are inner city where people are going slowly over shorter distances in normal clothes. Can’t be compared to people zooming along for exercise or whatever. It isn’t really possible to have a helmet with you, like it is if you are leaving from home.

    I saw quite a few people in Washington using the bike scheme they have there, maybe Brisbane is too hot and humid? I haven’t ridden anywhere in Charleston because the mugginess is just too unpleasant.

    Everywhere I’ve been riding in the United States motorists are MUCH nicer to cyclists than in Australia, which surprised me. Even in New York!

  19. michael r james

    AD #26: Well I’d never accept giving bikeshare a permanent exemption on the helmet law – it’s just not important enough to justify the law being changed solely for it’s benefit.

    I haven’t suggested such a thing. Many other commenters have but I believe it is a distraction: if we do the only sensible thing and build a proper safe segregated cycle network, then the helmut issue will be irrelevant. (I do not agree with mandatory helmut law.)
    “That’s a success! Shows that not all forms of transport require a subsidy. But is that how it turned out in ‘real life’ as distinct from ‘promised life’?”

    No, I have said many times that the Paris scheme (and all schemes) run into extra expenses. But look at those figures and don’t try to tell me the city didn’t get a very good deal. And then try very hard to think of any other transport project that wouldn’t cost ten times these costs (to the govt). This is not like various white-elephant road tunnel schemes that have swallowed billions; the Clem7 alone took $500m of government subsidy plus $1bn of public superannuation investment. And that was certified rolled gold blah blah by the people you take as gospel (PriceWaterhouse I think, now being sued.).
    The cost of these cycle schemes (esp. JCDecaux ones) are little more than rounding errors on city budgets especially relative to their benefits (and perhaps there you have your reason why those 165 cities have gone ahead…).

  20. michael r james

    Alan #26

    No, I didn’t mean to imply that any schemes are returning cash to the city. But I certainly believe such schemes when used (“successful”) bring immense value in the form of externalities. But it seems you are determined to impose criteria to make it fail (under your terms, no one elses that I can tell unless you consult the road lobby) no matter what. I mean “in the top echelon of potential transport investments”! If you measured it on per dollar expended it would surely be.

    And just why do you think 165 cities around the world (29 in France alone) have attempted such schemes? Do you believe it is entirely a fad? Is the evidence from just France, especially Paris, that they have a record of designing and implementing transit or city schemes that don’t work? Don’t serve the people or the city? (IMO almost no competition in the world as city with best transport system). Incidentally Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe is at it again: trying to reclaim part of the right-bank riverside for walkers and cyclists.

  21. Alan Davies

    Dylan Nicholson #25

    I’d certainly be impressed if it got a five-fold increase in patronage over six months! It’d still need to show the benefits exceed the costs of course if it still required public subsidy.

    The decision to structure the tariff in a way that discourages tourism was stupid. However the motive for establishing Melbourne Bikeshare was essentially greenwashing. I’d love to see the business plan if there is one!

    michael r james #27

    That’s a success! Shows that not all forms of transport require a subsidy. But is that how it turned out in ‘real life’ as distinct from ‘promised life’?

  22. michael r james

    The Paris deal will bring the world’s biggest bicycle fleet to the City of Light in a complex, 10-year public-private partnership.
    JCDecaux will provide all of the bikes (at a cost of about $1,300 apiece) and build the pickup/drop-off stations. Each will have 15 to 40 high-tech racks connected to a centralized computer that can monitor each bike’s condition and location. Customers can buy a prepaid card or use a credit card at a computerized console to release a bike.
    The company will pay start-up costs of about $115 million and employ the equivalent of about 285 people full time to operate the system and repair the bikes for 10 years. All revenue from the program will go to the city, and the company will also pay Paris a fee of about $4.3 million a year.
    In exchange, Paris is giving the company exclusive control over 1,628 city-owned billboards, including the revenue from them, for the same period. About half the billboard space will be given back to the city at no cost for public-interest advertising.]

    I cannot find an online photo of the Brisbane stations with advertising thingo (there is one outside my building) but here is the exact kind of “billboard” I am talking about (some are of the scrolling multiple ads type).

  23. Alan Davies

    michel r james #24

    Well I’d never accept giving bikeshare a permanent exemption on the helmet law – it’s just not important enough to justify the law being changed solely for it’s benefit.

    But I’d consider Melbourne Bikeshare a success if: (a) the economic, social and environmental benefits exceeded the cost to government and it was in the top echelon of potential transport investments, or (b) if it paid all its capital and operating costs (which you say many elsewhere do).

  24. Dylan Nicholson

    Well frankly the only reason I can think of for not wanting to aim a bike share scheme at tourists is because of MHL! Otherwise, especially with our imminent lack of any sort of single-use PT ticket, that strikes me as one of the most obvious markets to attract.
    “Huge” is perhaps an overstatement, but it’s pretty obviously been the case since the invention of the wheel that if you can travel faster, you can generate more economic activity. I don’t see why bicycles should be any sort of exception.

    I do understand what you’re saying re success rates, but surely you’d accept that if, say, a 6-month helmet exception trial caused the take-up rate of our bike-share scheme to multiply 5 fold, then at least there’s *chance* it could grow to become something most people would consider successful. As it is now, if nothing is done, then I’d agree the public money spend on it would be better spent on other things.

  25. michael r james

    Alan, most schemes have not been operating for very long but there are enough successes and I suppose failures to learn from. Paris is the oldest at 2007 (though Lyon claims a prototype JCDecaux scheme from 2005). The fact that Paris and many others have been successful should be used as a lesson for anyone else designing such a scheme. The first is that it needs to be a serious scheme (as bike density/availability is a key determinant). The Paris scheme was hugely successful from the start–over 2 million uses in the first two months–and caught them on the hop a bit, combined with a lot of outages due to the unforseen vandalism, but they persisted against all the naysayers and quickly ramped it up to 20,000 bikes and solved the bike-redistribution problem etc. But I consider the most important issue was that Paris had spent 11 years building infrastructure (bike lanes, creating shared lanes for buses, taxis and bikes, and aculturating their aggressive drivers.

    On the helmet issue, the numbers speak: of those 165 or whatever schemes only two have MHL, Brisbane & Melbourne. It is not the only factor, perhaps in our seriously un-prepared cities, not the major factor, but what number would satisfy you? One thousand with Australia the only exception?

    Portland US, or Valencia, Spain might be good models (of successful schemes) for Australia with similar populations and perhaps similar cultural problems with car drivers.

  26. Alan Davies

    Dylan Nicholson #22:

    I’m not saying there isn’t a huge disparity in usage! I’m talking about all 165 schemes and saying that there’s no definition of what constitutes a successful scheme.

    For example, we know Toronto has an annual usage of 1.5 hires per day per bike (that’s probably less than an hour’s total hire time) averaged over a year. OK make it two hours to reflect the harsh Toronto winter (arguable though). Yes it’s much better than Melbourne, but is it enough to qualify as a ‘success’? Is it good enough?

    I’m not worried about the spectacular schemes like Paris or London but the more run-of-the-mill ones like ours.

    Melbourne bikeshare is not aimed at tourists so that’s not all that relevant (though it’s very likely one other reason why it’s not succeeding). And so far as the supposed huge economic benefits from replacing walking trips are concerned, show me the numbers! If that were true I’d be happy, but I very much doubt it.

    A trial really would be the way to put so much of this to rest. But no one would be happy with three months, it would need to be for a long period, say two years. But it would seriously undermine the standing of the existing law and bikeshare doesn’t appear to be important enough or beneficial enough to warrant a change of that magnitude.

    If the law’s going to be relaxed it should be all or nothing. And it should be decided on a much wider consideration of the issues than bikeshare.

  27. Dylan Nicholson

    Alan, re your comment ‘“Trips per, bike per day” is a measure of use, not success’…I fail to see how you can say just because in virtually every other similarly-sized city in which bike share schemes are in place, they are attract over 1000 users a day, whereas Melbourne and Brisbane can’t even manage less than a 10th of that, that this doesn’t show a huge disparity in success rate. Further, even if it were true that most of these trips are taken by people who would otherwise walk, the fact that people are able to travel faster and further more easily now makes a huge economic difference – even for tourists: who seriously can’t recall, in all their years of travelling, at least one day they felt was wasted or over-exhausting because they misjudged how much walking would be needed. And for those who would otherwise use PT – absolutely this reduces congestion (not to mention health and other benefits).

    MHL may not be “as big a suppressant of patronage as many advocates think”, but a trial exemption period is the easiest and cheapest way to determine if our bike share schemes have any chance of emulating the usage rates enjoyed by other cities.

  28. michael r james

    Here is an article about the controversy over the failure of the Briz scheme: (most of the article is about the tedious issue of helmets which is copping the blame for the failure; the article cites “Between london & dublin, there have been 10 million bike share hires and not a single serious head injury without helmet laws.” I don’t know if that is true.).

    Cycling advocate laments Brisbane’s ‘won’t do’ attitude
    Tony Moore
    November 25, 2011
    However Labor Lord Mayoral candidate Ray Smith today described the scheme as “plagued by waste, abysmal usage figures and helmet problems”. “This scheme was supposed to pay for itself but it’s now costing ratepayers over $2.4 million per year just to have bikes sitting on the side of the road gathering rust and dust,” the Labor candidate said.
    “If I am elected as Lord Mayor, I’ll sit down with [the operator] JC Decaux to stop the waste and renegotiate this contract, because it’s clearly not working under the current arrangements.”]

  29. Alan Davies

    Any mention of the mandatory helmet law always seems to raise the temperature!

    I think it’s worth a reminder that the article above doesn’t seek to “castigate” bikeshare or the various attitudes to the helmet law.

    Rather, it argues that the benefits of bikeshare are unlikely to justify what would effectively amount to repealing the law on mandatory helmets for all cyclists, not just bikeshare users.

    The main points are that (a) helmets might not be as big a suppressant of bikeshare patronage as many advocates think (or wish), and (b) the social benefits of bikeshare might be smaller than many think.

    That’s not a judgement on the helmet law – it’s an argument that any change to it requires a much bigger and wide-ranging debate than just bikeshare.

  30. michael r james

    But AD for your econometric deelite:

    Brad Pettitt, Senior Lecturer, Institute for Social Sustainability at Murdoch University
    In Copenhagen the bicycle, with a modal share of 36%, is already the most used form of transport for trips to work or educational institutions. A study commissioned by Copenhagen’s mayor showed that driving cars offers up a $0.20 net loss for each mile driven, due to congestion, health, accidents and environmental impacts. This is in contrast to the bicycle which offers a $0.35 net benefit to the economy per mile ridden.
    In a similar manner in Portland, Oregon, increased cycling as result of sustained bike lane investment is generating more than $100 million of economic activity each year and creating 1000 jobs.
    And of course there are the positive long-term economic benefits of bike infrastructure such as the savings to the health system, and the impact a greater percentage of people cycling has on lowering the cost of road infrastructure.]

  31. michael r james

    AD, I have just spent 15 minutes searching but drattit cannot find the JCDecaux figures for the Brisbane scheme. I suspect I may have posted the information on this site. I vaguely recall something like $45m but cannot confirm. And I recall that the scheme costs the BCC several million per year (because of poor uptake). As to advertising, it is those rolling-page display thingies–new ones have been installed at all bike parking stations and I think the deal gives them some other prime sites. As I wrote just last week here (?) I consider this an entirely reasonable deal for everyone concerned including rate payers. I totally reject the braindead econometric argument of “fully funded” when it comes to infrastructure; there is no such thing and it is crazy to suggest that is the basis for decision making.

    Why Melbourne would not negotiate such a deal like most of the 140 cities around the world with such schemes is a mystery you Melburnites need to answer! I am guessing some toxic backroom dealing/politics to do with other advertisers or buddies of advertising agents etc. (As I commented here last week it cannot be due to aesthetics because Paris is filled with the things.)

    As to your argument on equity, I think it is absurd. As usual you want to compare a scheme which costs peanuts (and if done properly with advertisers even less over time) and despite what you say, does serve the whole city, versus multi-billion dollar alternatives for the exurbs: huge new roads and freeways etc. Please, a bit of perspective.

    Finally, I didn’t even address the helmet issue because I consider it a total distraction from the real issue: safe cycling infrastructure. And this article and the ones in The Age every second week just proves the point. BUILD A CYCLE PATH NETWORK

  32. Wombat

    Somewhat bewildered by the whole debate. On the half a dozen occasions that I’ve used one of the bikes in Melbourne, I haven’t bothered to get a helmet. Australians are so scared of authority; just spend one minute calculating the odds of getting fined by the police: stuff all!
    Live a little! Ride without a helmet! Shout back at the angry motorists and their road-raging ways! Laugh hysterically at the Council when their bike-lane vanishes at an intersection! Nurse a beer in your water-bottle holder and have a good fake name to give to the cops if you are polite enough to stop for them when they ask.

  33. Alan Davies

    michael r james # 12, 13 :

    Melbourne Bikeshare isn’t funded by advertising. It’s entirely publicly funded. You say Brisbane CityCycle is “largely” funded by JD Decaux. How much? There’s no advertising on the bikes pictured on the web site.

    I’ve said before I have no problem with bikeshare schemes if they’re fully funded commercially. Unfortunately the one in Melbourne isn’t and your claims for CityCycle are unconfirmed.

    The various figures you cite for the large number of bikes in schemes like Paris and London are surely a clue that it’s not all about helmets. Paris has 20,000 bikes and London has 7,000. Melbourne has 600! Doesn’t that tell you something?

    Nik Dow #9:

    “Trips per bike per day” is a measure of use, not success.

    Bike share won’t reduce congestion, or provide significant health benefits, if travellers would otherwise walk or use public transport.

    You say the purpose of bikeshare is “to encourage and demonstrate bikes as transport”. Rather than spend those millions on an advertisement of uncertain effectiveness, I think it’s be better spent on safe on-road bike paths.

    And let me say to you both, equity in public policy, whether it be funding of bikeshare or a special exemption under the law, is never, ever “not relevant” or just a “tiresome” issue as you two claim. Equity always matters.

  34. db

    IMHO it comes down to a choice between convenience to a Council that doesn’t really want to get it’s act together on the issue and other people’s deaths.

    It’s like looking workplace safety through the eyes of a 19th Century employer – yes it hits the bottom line to provide safety equipment but that’s the price of operating things that can pose a danger to people.

  35. Jim Hart

    I see that others have already responded to the main points, which shows yet again that as a topic bike riding gets responses.

    Regardless of how much helmet laws inhibit use of bikesharing, I can’t see any govt making exceptions. It immediately says the safety of bikeshare riders is less important than other cyclists. Just imagine response to the first tourist with a head injury. Comparison with seat belts in buses is hardly valid.

    Don’t blame Melbourne traffic and roads for slow take-up. Paris is way scarier and its bike lanes are far less developed, yet the Velibs are heavily used by locals and tourists. I was apprehensive at first but in a few days I was comfortably riding almost everywhere.

  36. michael r james

    About Toronto’s Bixi scheme.
    I haven’t been to Toronto for yonks but the scheme has only 1,000 bikes, so half a million trips in the past year is pretty good. In fact that is a pretty miserly number of bikes so they may have been lucky it is a success–because it has been shown that the density of bikes available is a key determinant of success. Surely this will mean the scheme will expand? Paris’ Velib system has 20,000 bikes but of course is the oldest system in the world (since 2007). London has 7,000 and NYC will open with 10,000 (for Manhattan I believe). Though I am not sure if the comparison is fair: Paris has about twice the population but the Velib system is only in the inner core (popn. ≈2.3 m) and I don’t know how extensive Toronto’s system is with respect to suburbia. My guess is that Toronto will expand the system and implement better cycle infrastructure, namely cycle paths. Note that the city has repeatedly postponed extensions to its Metro system because of budgetary constraints so meantime Biki and bike paths are a sensible measure that costs a tiny, tiny fraction of mass transit (or of course roads).

    The other special feature of Toronto that simply cannot be ignored (IkaInk?) is the 4 to 6 months of winter. Serious winter. The only time I have been in the city was in January and, forget cycling, it was impossible to be a pedestrian above ground! It is the wind chill off the lake (Montreal has higher snow piled up on the sidewalks but seemingly not the same chill factor.)

  37. michael r james

    Alan, I wish to second Nik Dow.

    And a few extra points.

    1. Once again you mislead about the level of pubic funding. I don’t know about Melbourne but most of the schemes I know about, including Paris and Brisbane (and soon to be NYC), the schemes are largely funded by JCDecaux the outdoors advertisers (or their equivalents). Not completely because there are always extra unforseen costs. In principle if the scheme works well and ridership grows (beyond contractual thresholds) then the city actually might garner an income. So really this issue is a total null point so please don’t mention it again.

    2. The thing about schemes being welfare for inner-city yuppies is a bit tiresome as others have noted. But another most obvious point is that plenty of people who work, shop or seek entertainment in the inner core of all cities do not live there. Your complaint is like saying that the publicly funded art gallery is just luxury for the inner-city types. (Any argument about dropping proportion of jobs in inner city is one that should worry anyone who cherishes their city: does anyone really want the kind of deracinated, dull cities in the US Sun Belt who have most of their employment in those appalling segregated office parks and giant malls sprawled around the exurban wastelands?

    3. In almost all cities the congestion on both PT and roads is increasing. Even if only a small fraction of bike scheme rides represent displaced use of PT (less likely road, except perhaps not: taxis) then it is still relieving congestion on PT which in turn is likely to relieve the roads. Crowded PT puts people off and sends some back to their cars. It may cause some simply not to travel and it is arguable whether that is a benefit to a city’s amenity (or reputation): places that get that bad are in trouble.

    4. Finally, I disagree about the collapse of these schemes not being disastrous, but for different reasons. As I commented when the BCC first introduced the Brisbane scheme, I predicted it would/could not be a success, and its failure might set back cycling for years maybe another decade. Of course it is not just the loss of cycling that matters but the whole design and ambience of the city that would regress to the bad old days. The road lobby would be ascendant. Again, as many commenters correctly say, each city needs to be more serious about supporting their cycle schemes–and thus all cycling–by making the streets safe instead of the duplicitous Mickey Mouse schemes they apparently deem sufficient. Indeed the politicians should be held accountable for accidents because it is this, not helmet wearing, that is the overwhelming cause of injury. If the schemes collapse then there will be no more political pressure to fix it and everyone will suffer: PT users, all cyclists, road users, city ambience (feeding into tourist dollars) and of course all of that will end up costing the only thing you seem to value: direct cost of road building and transit.

    (note, the Preview function for comments has crapped out; later correction: it now works but produces a long narrow column about one third the width of the comments box.).

  38. SBH

    Interestingly Ikaink, I work in Melbourne with a native of Toronto who rides to work. Her view is that Melbourne has a far superior network of cycleways than her home town. This was a more important consideration than the need to buy a helmet, which she did without comment.

  39. IkaInk

    @Dylan – If you’re not cutting services then you’re not going to get any of the environmental benefits you’ve claimed. You might get some health benefits and you might as you said ease pains on the system itself, but unless you’re getting people out of cars or reducing the number of PT services needed (a really stupid goal, but I won’t digress here) you’re not getting environmental benefits.

    As for Toronto, well it seems you’re right. As I said all my observations were just from wandering around. It looks like the ridership is much higher. Although there are also about 60% more bikes and docking stations in Toronto which helps explain some of the difference. Especially as a larger network provides exponentially more available trips. However as you’ve pointed out it does seem like the figures are far higher in Toronto, so maybe helmets do have a lot to do with it.

    Interestingly Vancouver is about to launch a system, without scrapping MHL. If that fails as well it would be pretty damning for the argument that MHL and bike share can work together.

  40. Nik Dow

    Alan, you really should do more research if you are going to post on a topic like this.

    First, you statement that “What’s missing is an objective standard of what constitutes “success”.” is not accurate. The most common comparison is trips per bike per day. This comparison is so stark in the case of the two Australian schemes vs other cities that it’s hard to argue with. So do some research and tell us how many trips per day come out of Dublin, London, Paris, Barcelona, Montreal, Toronto, Washington. I can tell you Melbourne and Brisbane are an order of magnitude less that those places. It’s not a subtle difference.

    Then you wheel out the furphy that Melbourne and Brisbane schemes are too small and our roads are too hostile. Dublin is more hostile to bikes than either Australian City and the number of bikes in their scheme is less than in either Melbourne or Brisbane. But they get around 10 trips per day per bike compared to our level of around 1/2 a trip per day. It rains a lot in Dublin too.

    Then you castigate the bike schemes as middle class welfare for inner city dudes. Not relevant. The purpose of the bike share is not to make us inner city types have an even better life. It’s to encourage and demonstrate bikes as transport, it’s to reduce congestion, it’s to encourage physical activity in people with sedentary occupations, it’s to encourage people not to travel on trains with their bikes, it’s lots of things. In Dublin it was found that 60% of users had never ridden a bike in the city centre previously. Creating a new cohort of riders helps to make bikes visible, helps to create demand for better conditions for bikes and generally hastens the increase of bikes for transport.

    As for the benefits of the bike share, just encouraging physical activity tops the list, with the savings to the health system of a moderate amount of exercise being easily the biggest factor, not to mention the benefit to the individual doing it. If you factor in the benefits to the health budget then the cost of running the system is well worth it – but much bigger benefits obtain if more people use the bikes, obviously.

    Another factor which you have ignored completely is the risk profile of different types of cycling activity. The recent study (joint MUARC-Alfred study ) drew a strong link between speed and likelihood of head injury with riders exceeding 30km/h having 5 times the relative risk compared to riders doing under 20km/h. The share bikes are slow – getting one up to 20km/h is not easy. They are sit-up style bikes, inherently safer than drop-bar racing bikes. So their lower risk profile makes it a perfect place to trial a helmet exemption. We already exempt paying passengers in rickshaws while requiring their driver to wear a helmet. We already exempt busses from seat belt law while requiring it in cars. It can be done for share bikes.

    Finally, share bikes would contribute valuable data to the debate on helmet laws generally. Because exposure is well measured (trip times and approximate distances) and injuries are also recorded, this would be the best data set obtainable. The study mentioned by RidesToWork in Barcelona is a good example of this, and showed an overall health benefit from that bikeshare system, despite helmets being rarely worn there. We already know from overseas data that the bikeshare schemes show a lower accident rate than general cycling (9 serious injuries from the first 4.5 million trips in London – not a cycle friendly city) and this alone makes the bike share the right place to start the process of unwinding the anti-cycling helmet laws.

    For this reason Melbourne Bicycle User Group and Freestyle Cyclists both recommend an exemption from helmet law for the bikeshare schemes.

  41. Dylan Nicholson

    IkaInk, if we could really get enough current PT users on to bicycles that we could reduce demand enough to be able to scale back certain services, that would be truly astonishing and

    excellent result, but I have no such expectation at all. I fully anticipate demand for PT in Melbourne will grow considerably over the next few decades as density increases; at most an

    increase in bicycling might help in reducing the growing pains, and would really only have a measurable impact in the very inner parts of Melbourne.

    Re Toronto, I found one article that said it recently celebrated its first year with over 550000 trips taken. I gather Melbourne’s statistics are less than a 10th of that, and it’s been going somewhat longer.

    But it is hard to believe there aren’t at least some other cities where bike share schemes have failed to take off for one reason or another.

  42. RidesToWork

    Cycling advocates in Brisbane pioneered the ‘Yellow Bike symbol’ as an alternative to putting bicycle lanes in the door-opening zone.

    Helmet laws and lanes that unnecessarily force cyclists into the door zone seem to be symptoms of the same problem – a failure to look at the injury statistics and instead seek political solutions that don’t actually make cycling safer, but make the politicians appear as if they are trying to solve the problem.

    The cost-benefits of helmet laws are clear. In NZ, the reduction in hospital costs for every helmet bought because of the law was possibly zero, possibly negative (if you include the health costs of reduced cycling) and at most 13 cents per helmet per year. A similar cost-benefit analysis in WA concluded that “In monetary terms, it is unlikely that the helmet wearing legislation would have achieved net savings of any sizeable magnitude.”

    So the only two economic studies of this issue found that the cost of bike helmet law was greater than the highest estimate of the reduction in hospital costs, excluding any effects of risk compensation, reduced safety in numbers or lost health and environmental benefits of reduced cycling.

    Politically, this seems to be unacceptable, so we have studies that ignore aspects such as risk compensation, which overseas studies have now demonstrated is an important factor affecting the risk of injury.

    The same political expediency leads to the construction of cycle lanes in the door zone. The UK and Europe have independent cycle activists such as the CTC, the European Cyclists’ Federation, and activists such as John Franklin, author of ‘Cyclecraft’. As well as opposing helmet laws, they do their best to make sure that the facilities constructed for cyclists are evaluated and really do make cycling safer.

  43. IkaInk

    @Dylan – Should we cut PT services in order to cater for the lower number of people using them? WIthout doing that all the other costs associated with PT still exist. However if you do cut the services all you’re going to do is drive those that won’t ride or catch PT back into cars.

  44. IkaInk

    I’ve been in Toronto for about a month now and it’s striking how much Toronto and Melbourne have in common. Our downtowns or CBDs are very similar in particular. From a completely unscientific observation I’d guess that the number of bikes to cars I see around is also quite similar, and even more surprisingly there is a bike share system here that uses the same Bixi bikes that Melbourne uses.

    Again, judging on purely unscientific observations from wandering around I would not consider Toronto’s Bixi’s a ranging success. There seems to be no more people riding them than in Melbourne. Yet there is no helmet law here. The other impediments, the lack of enough stations, the lack of dedicated bike paths, the alternative modes of transport, etc all exist.

    When I have more time on my hands I intend to do some more scientific observations. I’ll see if I can hunt down ridership and compare the two systems side by side, but for now I’ll just keep looking and observing.

  45. Dylan Nicholson

    RidesToWork – did they repeal the laws before introducing the scheme? And was it for all cyclists? Be interested to know if it did actually have any effect on cycling levels.

    Alan, even if bicycles ONLY replaced public transport users, that’s still an environment benefit. Trams/trains/buses are big and noisy and generate a lot more pollution than bikes. Indeed, I’ll be all for a program that targeted current PT users to try cycling instead. As it is, it’s hard not to think sometimes that car drivers that already put up with inner-city congestion are mostly a lost cause…

    The logical thing to do by far is to do a 3-month-long trial where helmets are not required for bike-share users. If there’s no discernible up-take in usage, then there’s not much point pursuing the argument at this point. On the extremely unlikely chance that somehow has a nasty head injury that might have been avoided while using a helmet, whatever hysteria it generates will die down very quickly and we’ll be back where we started, but at least we’ll have some idea about what the likely benefits/costs from repealing helmet laws are to be.

  46. zebbidie

    I am an experienced rider living in Brisbane, and I would shudder to ride one of those CityCycle bikes on the city roads. You get literally inches of clearances from drivers in cars and buses, the roads are potholed and treacherous at the pavement edge and the bicycle lanes appear, disappear, then pop-up somewhere completely unrelated to where you were. Not to mention they occupy the notorious door-opening zone – when cars are not parked in them anyway.

    If you want to encourage riding, how about removing the (real) fear of imminent death?

  47. RidesToWork

    Israel and Mexico City repealed their helmet laws because they wanted their bikeshare schemes to be a success.

    The important question in relation to helmet laws is: is it better to cycle without a helmet than not cycle at all? All the evidence suggests it is – Meyer Hillman estimated that life years gained are about 20 times those lost because of crashes.

    A recent analysis of the Barcelona bikeshare scheme estimated that, compared with car users, the estimated annual change for 181,982 users was 0.03 deaths from road traffic incidents, 0.13 deaths from air pollution, but 12.46 deaths avoided from increased physical activity (BMJ Aug 2011).

    Hillman’s research was carried out in the UK. At the time, cycling (and driving) in London were notoriously dangerous – probably worse than Australia is now.

    So if cycling without a helmet is likely to extend people’s lives, why make it illegal? Cyclists who are concerned about safety will continue to wear helmets anyway. The main people likely to be affected are those who currently don’t cycle because of the law, and they will benefit from better health if they cycle without helmets, and their presence on the roads will increase safety in numbers.

    Repealing the law should be no-brainer except to people who are so uninformed about the statistics that they think cycling without a helmet is more dangerous than not cycling at all.

  48. Ben Harris-Roxas

    I tend to agree. The argument that removing helmet laws will markedly increase the rate of cycling has always seemed like magical thinking. It ignores what seem to me to be the more important factors of road use norms and culture. Surely that applies to bikeshare schemes as much as other forms of cycling.

    The question of overall value/effectiveness of bikeshare schemes and their unevenly distributed benefits is a really interesting one. I haven’t seen much on this. More posts please!

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