Melbourne Bike Share – how can the Government save face?

There is a near universal consensus that Melbourne Bicycle Share is misconceived and almost certain to fail. Most attention has focussed on the compulsory helmet requirement but as I noted last week, this is a program that addresses a need that doesn’t exist and is designed in a way that will almost guarantee failure.

But no one wants a fiasco. The Government wants to save face, the RACV wants to keep its management contract and no one wants to see Melbourne’s reputation damaged by the failure of the blue Bixis.

So, I propose some radical surgery for Melbourne Bicycle Share.

First, forget about targeting the scheme at CBD workers running short errands. Reposition it instead as a service to promote tourism. The tariff should be turned around completely to support longer hire periods. For example, something more tourist-friendly, like $20 for the first two hours and $5/hr thereafter – hence $30 for 4 hours – would be close to the mark, although the tariff should be set with the goal of operating on a commercial basis.

Second, the Government should change the law to give anyone who can produce a valid out-of-State ID the right to ride a blue bike without a helmet. The exemption would not apply to any other bicycles and would be justified on the basis of supporting tourism. Tourism has been used to support Sunday trading in the dark and distant past when shopping on the Sabbath was a sin, so it’s an old and much used workhorse.

Third, since tourists are happy to return a bike to the place where they rented it, all bicycle parking can be located at one, or at most two, secure central locations. The resultant economies (e.g. no more bike stations, lower vandalism) should help make it economic to provide a fully staffed lock and helmet rental/purchase service. The City Square on the corner of Collins and Swanston Streets could be a suitable location. The existing ten stations should be relocated to major attractions to give tourists secure, short-term free parking while out touring.

Fourth, helmet rental or purchase by tourists should be subsidised. After all, tourists should be encouraged to adopt safe practices. If the political system can’t deliver the helmet exemption proposed above – and if legislation is needed that would almost certainly be the case – then subsidised helmets should be provided for all users. A cost of around $10 for purchase (and $5 for rental if it’s feasible) would be reasonable.

This solution saves the Government from the potential political embarrassment of having the blue bikes removed from the streets. And it addresses a real need – tourists want to have fun and in the process they provide an economic benefit for the city. Subsidising tourists isn’t ideal, but we’re looking for an exit strategy here.

If all of this were implemented after a “decent” interval, Melbourne would have a workable bicycle share scheme. It could be a popular way for visitors to get to the tennis or the grand prix, down to St Kilda or along the lower reaches of the Yarra. My suspicion is that tourism is the key financial driver of most overseas schemes anyway.

10 Comments on “Melbourne Bike Share – how can the Government save face?”

  1. hammer says:

    Again, Alan, got to disagree with you. Barcelona’s Bicing scheme is considered one of the more successful. And it is not available for tourists but is considered an integral part of the public transport system. This in a city that already has a metro system with 2-4 minute intervals.

    Longer hire systems were not favoured elsewhere as they remove bikes out of the system, discourage overall use and leave them more vulnerable to theft. Stats elsewhere show that most hires are less than 30 mins (ie within the free zone which seems to be standard in all systems). The day tariff limit of two hires should be rethought on this basis.

    Bike sharing does not work for major events. There are not enough bikes let alone docking points. Have you given the system a try?

    The total cost of the scheme wouldn’t buy a train. Moving millions around a city for less than a cost of a train… not a bad economic driver I think.

  2. Alan Davies says:

    I don’t think anyone wants the scheme to fail in Melbourne but most seem to think it’s doomed in its present incarnation. My tourism proposal starts from an imperfect beginning but is a possible way to make a bad situation better. It is a different creature entirely to what is envisaged by the Government for Melbourne Bicycle Share.

    It has only been going for a week and it’s too early to write it off just yet, but the early signs aren’t promising given all the publicity. Only 253 hires in the first week i.e. 2.5 hires per bike,or a bit over one hour per bike per week. Launching the scheme in Melbourne’s wet and cold winter is just another of many bad decisions.

  3. hammer says:

    Sadly, No one wants the scheme to fail? Gosh, doesn’t seem like it but sorry if I implied you were in that camp. Let’s wait to see more people using the scheme. Once you use a public hire bike I think you get more of an idea as to how these things can work for you and can be culture-changing.

    A June launch is a bit daft, I agree. Perhaps they wanted to pip Brisbane as the country’s first?

  4. beroccaboy says:

    no station at st kilda beach on the map!? my partner and her daughter are visiting from queensland and really love the bikes but would like to get around a bit more.

  5. […] Melbourne Bike Share is starting to head towards white elephant status I fear – the time for a rethink could be getting closer. Montreal: 400 stations and 5,000 bikes (3,000 at launch) – and no […]

  6. I’ve got to disagree with this analysis.

    The system should be targeted at both tourists and residents but the problem is that there are not nearly enough stops and they’re all too centrally located. Cutting the number of stops down and making them even more central would be a disaster.

    The problem is that the Government is setting it up slowly and without enough stops to warrant people using it and as sure as day it will use the lack of uptake as a reason to not expand the system. But this isn’t a system that can be set up in response to demand, it must be set up to create demand as this is the only way it would work.

    Look at the highly successful Velib system in Paris 10,060 bikes and 750 stops on opening day. Compared to 100 bikes and 10 stops in Melbourne (as mentioned in your last post) all along the Swanston Street corridor that is already the most serviced street in all of Melbourne by trams.

    The system must be expanded and expanded rapidly, with helmet mandatory helmet laws for anyone over 16 scrapped alongside it. Governments should be encouraging cycling for all users (not just bike share users) not setting up barriers against it.

    I’ve done a more in depth analysis of the program on my own blog which can be seen at

  7. […] of Kyneton that Melbourne Bicycle Share is a winner and I never have (see my previous posts here, here and […]

  8. […] It suggests the market should be deliberately widened to include tourists (as I’ve argued before) as that could significantly increase the political power of the Bixis. It would require a […]

  9. […] changes. It suggests the market should be deliberately widened to include tourists (as I argued here) as that could significantly increase the political power of the Bixis. It would require a […]

  10. […] failure has more to do with misguided strategy – for example, aiming the scheme at locals rather than tourists – and legitimate concerns about the safety of riding on city centre roads. I suspect access to […]

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