Should Melbourne Bike Share be reinvented as a recreational and tourism service? (source: MBS Facebook page)

The exhibit is from the Melbourne Bikeshare (MBS) Facebook page. It was put up on Monday to capitalise on the unexpectedly warm weather Melburnians enjoyed last weekend.

Apparently business was so brisk the blue Bixis came to life; they were ridden 1,400 times over the course of Saturday and Sunday.

That might sound like its worth boasting about, but there are 600 Bixis; so it’s an average of just 1.1 (brief) rides per bike per day. That’s a pretty poor performance for a scheme that’s been operating since 2010.

I noted back in January that it was time for the Government to stop shilly-shallying and face up to the problem of what to do about MBS; either put it out of its misery or at least give it a chance at life by trying something radically different.

Instead, the Government put MBS on life support, extending its stay, without improvements, for yet another 12 month term (until 30 June 2016).

It also transferred responsibility for the scheme within government to Public Transport Victoria. This perfunctory mention on the PTV’s web site suggests MBS is now officially in palliative care.

PTV persists with the original – but clearly failed – idea that MBS functions as part of the public transport system and is focussed on short trips across the city centre. This vision is reflected in the progressive tariff, which encourages brief trips and penalises the longer rentals typically sought by recreational users and tourists.

Yet as the exhibit shows, those who’re actually managing MBS on a day-to-day basis are keen to promote it as a leisure service; those riders in the exhibit look like they’re taking a leisurely cycle along the beach, not a quick trip across town for a business meeting.

It seems clear the Government has no vision for MBS and doesn’t know what to do with it.

Here’s an alternative idea; let go of the original rationale and re-position MBS as a recreation and tourism service. Two key actions are required.

First, start by relocating the 51 existing docking stations to areas like the beach or bike trails where there is self-evidently a lot of leisure interest in cycling; some could be stationed in regional locations.

Transport planner Rachel Smith recently suggested similar action for Brisbane’s poorly patronised CityCycle scheme:

If I were Mayor, I’d rip those ‘free’ bikes out of Brisbane city centre and dot them along the coast from Sandgate to Redcliffe. I reckon they’d be overused and oversubscribed forever.

Second, revise the tariff structure so it better matches the requirements of leisure and tourism users i.e. stop penalising longer trips. Consider exempting off-road MBS riders from the helmet law too.

I expect leisure users would be much more inclined to return bikes to the station they took them from. If so, that means greater geographical coverage could be achieved for the same number of stations; the cost of continually rebalancing the system should be lower; and the stations could also be managed by local government, at least in some localities.

MBS is a classic example of greenwashing. It was set-up to make a political statement not to deal with an actual problem. As it is those 51 under-used stations aren’t causing any direct harm but the infrastructure is valuable; it could and should be doing a lot more good.

The Andrews Government should assess options for MBS; either use it or lose it. It would be a good opportunity to directly involve the public in the process from the outset.