CityCycle Denial

By August 5, 2011 July 16th, 2015 18 Comments

Today’s Courier Mail has another negative article on Brisbane’s CityCycle bike hire scheme. The recurring criticism is a valid one – hardly anyone is using the bikes.

Politicians, transport bureaucrats and state-based bicycle advocacy groups in Australia have proffered every imaginable excuse for the failure of bike hire in Brisbane and Melbourne. For some, it’s the weather – Brisbane is too hot, Melbourne is too rainy. Others claim the casual usage fees are too high (a casual daily subscription is $11 for CityCycle). Or that there are too many hills and not enough bike lanes.

While each of these factors undoubtedly has some marginal effect on usage, none come close to explaining the the drastic under-performance of bike hire in Australia. For example Melbourne does not have higher patronage than Brisbane despite being mainly flat with casual daily subscription rate of just $2. Cool, fine days (which are plentiful in Brisbane at this time of year) do not see the people out in their thousands to use the bikes.

Sadly, Australian politicians and bureaucrats refuse to acknowledge what everyone else knows: public bike hire schemes will not work with mandatory helmet laws, as the table below so clearly illustrates.

Public bike hire schemes worldwide

City Total Bikes Compulsory
Daily Trips
Per Bike
Dublin 450 No 9
Barcelona 6,000 No 8
Mexico City 1,200 No 8
Paris 20,600 No 6
Hangzhou 61,000 No 5
Montreal 5,000 No 3.6
London 6,000 No 3.3
Toronto 1,000 No 2.2
Washington DC 1,100 No 1.9
Brisbane 1,000 Yes 0.3
Melbourne 600 Yes 0.3


  • john henry says:

    I feel like that chart should be printed and stuck around your universities.

  • Max Headsafe says:

    Where is the comparative head injury data?

    • Luke Turner says:

      Fair question, but I don’t think that comparison will tell us anything much. Serious head injury is such a rare thing that in some cases we would be comparing zero with zero.

      For example, it’s been widely publicised that the London scheme has recorded over 6 million trips in it’s first year without a single serious injury or fatality. Certainly there have been no serious injuries on the bikes in Brisbane and Melbourne. Not because everyone is wearing helmets, but because hardly anyone is using the bikes.

    • Alexreid says:

       I have seen data by Dr Dorothy Robinson published in the British Medical Journal  which suggests the injure rates have increased.

  • Well, there is also what I will call “corporate compulsion”: Capital Bikeshare (Washington D.C.) and the Hubway (commenced service in late July in Boston) both require helmets for users, the latter a bit more concretely, it seems (but I am not a lawyer). Moving up the list – and not incidentally out of the USA – Toronto, Montreal, London – plus Ottawa which is not on this list – all simply advise people to wear helmets… 

    Helmets are not required by law in D.C. or Boston but users of the bike share bikes are, and so what this is really about is  liability. For Hubway, the operator, Alta Bicycle Share, is not liable for injuries to the user whether or not they are wearing a helmet. What this can mean is that if a required helmet increases injury (e.g. through rotational injuries) that Alta is not liable!

    More about this on my blog:
    Ottawa and I think all Bixi operations in Canada:

    • Luke Turner says:

      Interesting, I wonder if the operators of Capital Bikeshare and Hubway have any means of actually compelling people to wear the helmets – I don’t imagine they would.

      In Australia, they police are quite vigilant in enforcing the helmet laws, and the fines can be quite high – it’s $175 for not wearing a bike helmet in Victoria, for example.

      • AlexReid says:

        In Australia it is unlawful to do anything likely to endanger someone’s  safety or health.
        If the person is aged 7 or under the jail term can be up to 7 years if found guilty.
        Qld Criminal Code s326
        Since we are not allowed to endanger the safety of others we can not force our children out into the sun with a bicycle helmet on. Sunscreen is clearly infective as the skin cancer rate for melanoma is continuing to rise alarmingly, over 4 deaths per day now DownUnder.

        Bicycle helmets are as you know, responsible for far more harm than good to our children. They are not recommended for outdoor use by the worlds leading dermatology experts due to the recommendation for outdoor head-wear in the workplace legislation. Also anyone who has not been living in a remote cave for the past 30 years knows that forcing a child to use a bike helmet will expose the face and neck to cancer causing harm from the sun.
        I was caught wearing a sunhat, because I’ve had 3 skin cancers on my face, so I have to carrie a wepon for protection against police trying to make me walk, when I was fined without Advocacy (I am disabled, brain injury) I was treated unfairly by the courts. and when I complained to the media they took it the wrong way and I ended up in jail.
        Warm Regards

        PS:  I sent this to the Government …
        This is an important message for the ministers secretary, media and legislative council.
        Australians are being affected unlawfully by corruption and a piece of seriously flawed legislation.
        Enforcement of the all age mandatory bicycle helmet law is totally in breach of a far more serious law, see s326 Qld Criminal code.

        We are seeing more skin cancers on the face and neck, more neck injuries, more childhood obesity, more teenage suicides, documented. and more rotational brain injuries, tiny drop in head injuries after the drop in the participation rate is factored in.

        See publication from the Institute of Public Affairs…>


        Time for a comprehensive review.

        I would strongly suggest the Government cease and desist without undue delay pending further action. After all your not getting paid to to waste our money and endanger our children’s safety.

  • Andrew says:

    Major head injury is quite low for bikes, in fact major injury on bikes not involving a car is very low. Dublin has being going for two years with over 2 million journeys and a couple of hospital visits, out in 24 hrs. Theses bikes are sort of impulse transport who wants to carry a helmet. All the real data suggest you would be better off making all car users wear a helmet to protect against serious head injuries, so why don’t they make it law? Drivers would not want that. Or car makers don’t want their cars seen as dangerous. A great example of what we know and what we do

  • Kerry from Melbourne says:

    I do think part of the problem is the price.  I just got back from a month in London and there were loads of people riding around on hire bikes. Their casual rate is 1 pound for a day (and 5 for 7 days). After that, you have unlimited 30 minute sessions (or escalating fees if you keep it more than 30 minutes). But part of why I don’t bother with the Melbourne scheme is it is way too expensive.

    But of course helmets. I noticed in a month of riding in London, probably 50-75% of people do wear helmets. That seems to have gone up in the last couple of years, probably newer rides feeling unsafe. But the interesting thing is of those I saw on hire bikes, I saw maybe 1-2% wearing helmets. I have to imagine if somehow helmets were required on London hire bikes, the number of rides would come crashing down very quickly.

    • Dave Kinkead says:

      There is some good news for CityCycle with daily prices being reduced from $11 to $2

      This means the program is far more attractive for casual users (as the annual fee was very low at $60).  Yet, I still hold that helmet compulsion is a massive impediment to casual users.  Now, we’ll be able to see just what impact fees without a helmet exemption make (and then wait for the deniers to blame the next issue in line – the heat, the hills, the signup time etc)

      If we ever get a helmet exemption, my prediction is that we will see a significant increase in casual usage almost immediately.  I just wish the govt would get their head out of the sand and give an exemption a trial.

  • Curious where you got the data from. I am trying to do some research of my own on this.

  • Luke Turner says:

    There’s no one source. Most schemes have released usage data in one form or another, you just have to look around for it. For example, London’s is here:

    A lot came from media reports quoting figures supplied by the operators.

  • Tom Moloney says:

    I don’t know about Brisbane but Gold Coast was a great place to ride a bike. I’ve lived, ridden & raced in the above cities Dublin, Barcelona, Mexico City , Paris & London. Melbourne is my home city & in my opinion has a culture of motorist aggression toward cyclists far in excess of any other. (including LosAngeles & Rome) Maybe this is a contributing factor in low bike hire.

  • Lynda Newman says:

    My son and his friend have just been fined $175 for not wearing a helmet on hire bikes in Brisbane. This was an on the spot fine. Surely it would be helpful if helmets were also made available? This is a very harsh fine and a caution would have been more appropriate in the first instance. My son is visiting Brisbane from UK and I am one very angry mother.

  • Snoops says:

    Can I borrow a City helmet from a station and bring it later just back, or if I am not allowed to wear thoos helmets if I riding a peronal bike??

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