CityCycle: The First Months

Active transport in Brisbane received a boost recently with the introduction of the new CityCycle scheme. John Nightingale takes a look at how the scheme is going in its first months, as well as how it might impact on the culture of transport over time.

Brisbane and Melbourne have now joined the many cities on other continents that have a widely available cycle-hire scheme. The famous schemes in Paris, London, Barcelona and so on, have been sometimes too successful, with the operators struggling to keep up the supply of bikes at popular hiring points and avoiding lack of docking spaces at drop-off destinations. They have also struggled with the problems of damage, vandalism and theft.

But so far, these schemes have persisted in overcoming the problems and providing the service. Whether a profit is being made is not the point for most cities, though it is for the service providers. Revenue streams from advertising may be as important as subscriptions and user payments.

Brisbane’s first month and a half (October 1 – November 17) has seen 2,516 subscriptions, including 478 Casual or Daily ones. That implies that a few more than 2000 ‘serious intent’ users have subscribed, some of whom may have tested the water with a day’s subscription to start with. They have used the scheme 10,569 times, or nearly 225 times per day.

With about 60 of the planned 150 hire stations open by this date, and about 10 bikes per station, each bike was used more than once every three days. This is more often than the sceptics might have expected, but less often than the enthusiasts might have hoped. Council has provided for sale or hire of some 1635 helmets, 300 to retailers, the remainder to corporate supporters. So far, only one report of attempted vandalism has been received. Maintenance has not been an issue so far.

Melbourne and Brisbane are the first cities into which a scheme has been launched with at least two major impediments: the most obvious one being Australia’s helmet law, the second being the extremely aggressive road environment into which the user is launched.

Compulsory helmet wearing prevents a casual user taking an impulsive decision to take a bike instead of walking, a bus or another alternative for a short and/or unexpected journey. The user must have immediate access to a helmet or risk the rigours of the law falling upon them.

Melbourne has attacked this problem with a scheme that allows purchase of a helmet for $5 with a refund of $3 on return of the helmet from a limited number of convenience stores and two vending machines. Brisbane has a network of 13 (at the moment) retailers selling $25 helmets. Strangely, only some of them will rent a helmet for the same amount, the deposit being $20, $5/day.