Interior of a BNV Parkiteer lockable bicycle cage with capacity for 26 bicycles (image by Daryl Holland, The Citizen)

Cycling seems an obvious way for travellers to get to rail stations but few urban Australians ‘bike and ride’. In Sydney, just 0.5% of train travellers cycle to the station and in Melbourne only 0.9% of rail commuters get there on a bike.

It’s not that train travellers overwhelmingly drive to the station; only 12% get there by car in Sydney and 18% of commuters in Melbourne (although the proportion who drive to the station increases with the length of the journey). The great majority walk, with public transport carrying the rest. (1)

Making cycling to the station an attractive option for more travellers could potentially provide a number of benefits, including:

  • Giving travellers an additional choice. Some of the train users who drive to the station (100,000 in Sydney on a weekday) might be able to avoid the cost of another car. Some who walk or take public transport would get a faster trip on a bike.
  • Reducing the need for passengers to bring their bikes on to crowded peak hour trains. In 2008 bikes were banned on trains in Melbourne due to overcrowding (the decision was quickly reversed).
  • Lowering the demand for car parking spaces at stations. A Parkiteer bicycle cage providing security for 26 bikes requires the same space as 3 cars. Moreover each installed cage costs around $100,000 whereas at grade parking costs upwards of $10,000 per space (much more if it’s multi-storey).

A commenter, hx76, argued last week that lack of secure facilities in which to park bikes is the key disincentive to cycling to the station.

On the face of it, that sounds like a fair call. In Melbourne, for example, there are 207 rail stations but only 58 have a lockable Parkiteer cage to protect the bicycles of ‘bike and ride’ travellers from theft, vandalism and weathering. (2)

Parkiteers are managed by Bicycle Network Victoria (BNV) and are free to use, although a bond is required.

A single cage provides secure accommodation for 26 bicycles (six stations have two Parkiteers). The first ones were installed at a small number of Melbourne rail stations in 2008 with the focus to date on middle and outer suburban stations where average access distances are longer.

However use of existing Parkiteers varies; a handful are over-subscribed but the great majority have spare capacity. According to a report in The Citizen from May last year:

More than 6,700 cyclists (in Victoria) are currently registered for Parkiteer, compared to 5,000 a year ago, with about 10 per cent of registered users accessing the cages on a typical weekday. In February, a record 728 people parked their bikes in Parkiteers across the state in a single day.

Although this amounted to less than half of Parkiteer capacity, (a spokesperson for BNV) said usage was uneven across the rail network. Some of the cages were full every day with Bicycle Network having stopped issuing access cards for the two cages at Laverton Station due to overcapacity, but all other cages were currently accepting registrations.

At present, Parkiteers at four metropolitan stations are full: Newport, Hoppers Crossing, Laverton South and Williams Landing. However the other 54 stations with Parkiteers are accepting new subscriptions.

All of the full stations are in the west of Melbourne and five of the six stations with two cages are also in the west.

The use of Parkiteers seems very modest to me. Perhaps it could be argued there’ve been weaknesses in marketing; or those installed to date haven’t been located at the stations with the greatest potential demand.

I think there are other possible explanations that are more plausible. One is that middle and outer suburban roads are perceived as too dangerous for cycling. The demographic profile of these areas is also markedly different to that of inner city populations who’ve embraced cycling.

Another likely factor is that driving is still an attractive option for longer trips to many suburban stations; note that in Sydney 39% of trips to the station of 2-5 km in length are taken by car.

I’d hypothesise that the higher demand for ‘bike and ride’ in Melbourne’s west is largely down to the particularly high costs of driving in the region i.e. the very congested local traffic conditions in the morning peak and limited parking at stations. (3)

Melbourne’s experience suggests that Parkiteers aren’t a silver bullet. But even if other changes (e.g. to safety) were to make cycling to the station a much more attractive option for train users, lack of secure bike storage would still be a hard limit on the scope for ‘bike and ride’.

Access to a Parkiteer is a necessary pre-condition for substantially increasing ‘bike and ride’. It won’t do much by itself though; making cycling to the station a compelling option needs an integrated program of actions, including greater subjective safety and constraints on car use e.g. paid parking. And of course secure bike storage.

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  1. In Sydney, 79% walk and 8% use public transport; in Melbourne 61% walk and 19% use public transport.
  2. There’s a further 650 platform bicycle lockers at Melbourne stations. There are also 13 Parkiteers at regional stations.
  3. The proportion of commuters in the west who work in the city centre is also much higher than it is in other regions.