The Brisbane Times has reported the results of a 3-month trial to improve the appalling usage rate of Brisbane’s CityCycle bike hire scheme. While there has been a slow and grudging acknowledgement from politicians and transport officials that compulsory helmets are a major impediment to the success of CityCycle, there is still some denial about just how poorly our scheme is performing.
Recent figures from the trial period, in which 400 courtesy helmets were distributed around the stations, reveal that usage is still hovering at an average rotation rate (daily trips per bike) of 0.4, as reported last month. Lord Mayor Graham Quirk claimed that the daily usage for the fleet of over 1000 bikes peaked at around 500 trips per day during the trial, meaning that even at times of maximum patronage every second bike was sitting idle all day.
Compared to other bike hire schemes outside Australia (none of which require compulsory helmets), this level of usage is truly pathetic. Earlier this year Dublin’s bike hire system set a new daily usage record for their bikes of 6,281 trips. With only about two-thirds of the number of bikes as CityCycle, this represents a phenomenal rotation rate of 9.8 trips per bike – almost 25 times greater than the CityCycle record.
The courtesy helmet “solution” offered by Brisbane City Council is clearly ineffective – 250 of the 400 free helmets have gone missing after just 3 months. Many people are also understandably reluctant to wear a one-size-fits-all communal helmet which has potentially been worn by hundreds or thousands of other people. The evidence from other countries is that for this sort of slow “utility” cycling, the majority of people are comfortable and often prefer riding without helmets.
The only solution to the situation here is to allow adults to ride CityCycle bikes without helmets, as is the case in hundreds of other cities around the world where bike share systems are successfully operating.
Fears that helmetless riders will lead to a dramatic increase in injuries are unfounded. The aforementioned Dublin Bikes has so far recorded over 2.5 million trips without a single fatality or serious injury. Likewise the larger scheme in operation in London has now chalked up over 8.5 million trips, again without a single fatality or serious injury.
Bike hire schemes have the potential to be an important part of the public transport mix in our cities. They can also act as a catalyst to achieving better cycling infrastructure as well as greater public awareness and appreciation of cycling in general. Failure of bike hire schemes such as CityCyle would amount to a huge setback for cycling in Australia.
If you want to see them survive please let our elected officials know that you support an exemption from helmet laws for bike hire users.