Melbourne Bicycle Share – how about some balance?Posted: August 19, 2010
His letter to The Age this morning (“Share the smarts”) contends that bike share schemes have taken off in more than 135 cities around the world. “In any city that values public health, combined with a sustainable solution to transport and congestion problems, they would have to be a winner”, he says.
He also wants to see the compulsory helmet laws repealed so that Melbourne Bicycle Share can flourish.
I think the discussion around the Bixis is very confused. Too many people are mistaking policy on Bixis for policy on cycling. They’re very different – one’s a political stunt, the others real life.
Contrary to Mr Todd’s claim, Bixis won’t do anything whatsoever to reduce congestion even if their numbers are expanded. They are a substitute for walking and public transport in the CBD and near-CBD, not for cars. The sort of person who’s going to cycle at lunch time from Spring St to Melbourne Uni is not generally the sort of person who would otherwise drive.
Nor will they do anything about increasing the mode share of bicycles at the expense of cars on the journey from home to work and back again. They’re for short local city centre trips when you don’t want to walk or take a tram. People who pedal to work have their own bicycles – and they’re almost always better suited to the task, having more gears and being considerably cheaper and lighter than the Bixis.
And anyone who relies on a Bixi for health and fitness isn’t really serious. Those who are will commute by bicycle. Bixis are about riding to a meeting in a suit – they’re not about getting hot and sweaty.
Mr Todd points to successful bike sharing schemes in other cities. Our modest fleet of 600 Bixis costs $5.5 million. If I assume there are some economies of scale, we could have 5,000 like Montreal for (say) $40 million.
No thanks. I’d rather see that sort of money spent on facilities and infrastructure for real cycling – like encouraging kids to cycle to school and their parents to cycle to work. Or trying to encourage the 82% of Melburnians who don’t work in the city centre to take up cycling as a regular and serious form of exercise (as well as the large number of Melburnians who aren’t in the workforce).
But what I find really, seriously worrying is the idea that we should make a decision as far-reaching as abolishing compulsory helmet laws just so we can promote Bixis. As it happens I lean slightly toward an anti-compulsory view but I appreciate it’s a complex and extremely important issue. I don’t see the fate of Melbourne Bicycle Share as an important part of that decision. Unlike Mr Todd I respect Bicycle Victoria’s stand on this matter even if I don’t entirely agree with it.
The Bixis are really just a side show when it comes to what’s important about bicycle policy. They’re a lightweight bit of spin that was concocted to excite civic pride and push a few green buttons. Anyone can be serious about bicycles without being a dupe about Melbourne Bicycle Share.
Given that the money’s already been spent I don’t wish the scheme any ill will. But please, no more money for Melbourne Bicycle Share and no more conflating it with the helmet debate. Spend the money and political capital on something real (visionary, even!).