Melbourne Bike Share – how can the Government save face?Posted: June 8, 2010
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.