I was in Brisbane again over the weekend and took a particular interest in the state of Brisbane’s languishing bikeshare program, CityCycle.

This was a promising opportunity for CityCycle. It was a long weekend, the weather was mild, and the 2012 Brisbane Festival finished up on Saturday night.

In the afternoon the city was alive with thousands of TATs (Teens & Twenties) on their way to Parklife in the Botanical Gardens. There was a spectacular fireworks performance, Riverfire, on Saturday night.

I was in the city centre and Southbank on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday morning.  I spent a lot of time walking and looked closely at 15 bike stations during the course of my wanderings.

All but one of those stations had at least two bikes with bright yellow CityCycle helmets attached and available for hirers to use at no additional cost (see exhibit).

However in all that time I only saw two cyclists – a couple of thirty somethings – using the bikes. They were wearing the yellow helmets but cycling uncertainly on the footpath, even though at the time (10 am Sunday) there were relatively few cars around.

I don’t think there’s any doubt getting access to a helmet is a factor holding CityCycle back. Although helmets are available at many stations, some riders are bound to be deterred by the possibility of catching nits.

Another constraint is inexperienced cyclists are nervous about mixing it with traffic. But they’re not the only things holding CityCycle back, as I soon discovered.

I went to hire a bike on Saturday morning for the purposes of research, having decided I was prepared to chance any hygiene risks with the yellow helmets. I was staggered to discover, though, that I couldn’t hire a bike on the spot – I needed to be a registered subscriber!

I couldn’t just swipe my credit card at the kiosk to subscribe. Subscriptions must be done beforehand, either on-line, by telephone or at distribution points like libraries. In other words, there’s no possibility of spontaneous use by first-timers.

That’s got to be a cold shower for visitors and any locals who decide on the spur of the moment they want to give CityCycle a go. I doubt I was the first to give up.

Deterrents like the mandatory helmet law and limited bicycle infrastructure are unlikely to be addressed in the short term. But other bike schemes don’t have this sort of administrative hurdle. It shouldn’t have happened but it should be addressed straight away.

Like Melbourne Bikeshare, this strikes me as a scheme which was set up without, or despite, sensible evaluation and planning processes. It seems the objective was just to get a bikeshare scheme; but no one cared if it actually worked. Worse, it’s almost as if CityCycle was designed to fail.

That’s my personal experience. I’m keen to read a new research paper examining CityCycle that’s just been published – the abstract seems to be consistent with my conclusion. I’ll look at it in detail shortly.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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