I want to ride my bicycle…

I have a business proposition for you and I wonder if you might be interested in investing. What we’re going to do is something I’m calling Truck-Share™ and it involves buying a load of trucks and leaving them parked up in strategic locations in and around Melbourne, and hopefully other cities in the fullness of time when the idea’s caught on. The way it’ll work is that when people have a load of things to move but don’t really want to buy a truck of their own they can just pay either an annual, monthly or daily fee to use Truck-Share™ and that means they have the use of any spare truck from any of the locations where they’re left to any other Truck-Share™ parking point. This also saves the trouble of having to make a return trip with an empty truck because the user can simply leave it at the nearest parking point to their destination. The trucks won’t need an ignition key but will be left secured by a special electronically controlled wheel-clamp that opens to smart-keys provided to paid up users of the scheme, whose responsibility it is to secure the truck again after they’ve finished with it. Failure to return the truck or loss of the truck while it’s in the user’s care will obviously attract a fee to help cover the cost of a replacement truck. Oh, and all the trucks will be painted in an exciting blue and white colour scheme.

Eh? What do you mean it’s a fucking silly idea? It’s sheer bloody genius. Yes, obviously there’s a wee problem with the fact that you need an appropriate licence to drive a truck, but then again you need to have a bike helmet to ride a push bike here and that didn’t stop Melbourne Bike Share. And that’s been a terrific success, hasn’t it?

Hasn’t it?

MELBOURNE’S shared bicycles are languishing on city streets, six months after the scheme’s launch.

VicRoads figures show an average of 183 trips a day are being made on the 450 blue bikes, which are costing taxpayers $5.5 million over four years.

The bike scheme has been crippled by Melbourne’s compulsory helmet laws.

Oh, cock.

Seriously, and piss-taking aside, who the hell are the shared bicycles for if not for the casual user, and when are they going to be wandering around the city with a bike helmet? I know plenty of people who own a cycling helmet but without exception they all own a fucking bike as well. Not only that but whenever they travel anywhere with their bike helmet they invariably take the bicycle too, and being as it’s incredibly difficult to ride two bicycles at the same time they won’t need to borrow one of the shared ones. At the same time people who aren’t regular cyclists are quite likely to have neither bike nor helmet, so while they might like the idea of being able to pay a small fee to use a bike to get from A to B many will be put off by the helmet law. And as the article makes clear it’s not exactly a cheap fine either.

Anyone riding a bike without a helmet faces a $146 fine.

That’s about £90, or if you want an idea of its worth in price parity terms I reckon that would buy me enough diesel to reach Sydney – a lot of bloody money to get pinged for having decided as a responsible adult to accept the personal risk of cycling half a dozen blocks without a lid. Is it really a surprise that the helmet law is having a negative affect on the Bike-Share scheme?

But maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe it’s bike share schemes in general.

Melbourne’s scheme lags far behind those in overseas cities. About 140 cities have introduced shared bikes; only Melbourne and Brisbane have compulsory helmet laws.

Dublin City Council’s bike share scheme also has 450 bicycles. Launched last September, it now averages 3020 trips a day.

Ah, so that’ll be a ‘no’ then. Still, at least Melbourne has avoided the horrifying carnage that has turned Dublin into something that looks like a cross between the Tour de France and a bad day on the Somme, right? Ah, wait, no.

Dublin councillor Andrew Montague, interviewed recently on bicycle blog situp-cycle.com about the success of Dublin’s scheme, said more than 1 million trips had been taken on Dublin’s 450 existing bicycles without a fatality, despite helmets being optional.

Bear in mind that Dublin and Melbourne have roughly similar population densities and so probably roughly similar traffic levels and other hazards, and both have a fairly decent public transport system as an alternative to Bike-Share. They both have trams, even. Granted Melbourne has many more trams and tram routes than Dublin and no doubt some would argue that difference justifies helmet laws here, but I’m very sceptical that a few ounces of foam and plastic will do you much good against a forty tonne tram moving at perhaps as much as 20km/h or so. Yes, it might mean a few more falls but that taking that risk or not is still a decision reasoning adults can make on their own.

Some have pointed the finger at the decision to launch the scheme in June this year, the middle of winter and one which turned out to be a colder and wetter winter than Melbourne has seen in recent years. Okay, but then Dublin is a colder and wetter city than Melbourne – sorry, Dublin people, I’m not knocking the place and it’s a good city but it is colder and wetter than Mellie – on top of which they launched their Bike Share scheme in September 09 just a couple of months before being hit by the coldest winter for a couple of decades. And still they managed to notch up more than 3,000 trips a day, more than a million a year, with about the same number of bikes that the Melbourne scheme has. Either they kept cycling through a more bitter winter than anything Melbourne gets or they began queueing up for the things once the spring came. Either way, the launch in the actual middle of the Australian winter isn’t really a plausible excuse for Melbourne Bike-Share getting a fraction of the use that Dublin’s scheme gets. And Dublin, or at the very least Cllr Montague, understands why.

He said Melbourne needed to remove its compulsory laws to succeed. ”It’s clearly not working now [in Melbourne],” he said.

Yes it does, Cllr Montague. And it’s been warned and warned and warned, but despite nearly all other cities with similar schemes having either no helmet law to start with or choosing, as Mexico City apparently did (PDF), to scrap it the Victorian government wouldn’t be told.

[Victorian Roads Minister (at the time) Tim] Pallas rejected the idea of changing the helmet laws.

”Bicycle helmets save lives and lower the severity of injuries,” his spokesman said. ”In line with Victorian road laws, helmets are compulsory for people using Melbourne Bike Share.”

He said the government was confident the scheme would become popular. ”We are pleased with the numbers and expect they will continue to grow with the progressive rollout of the scheme and with warmer Melbourne weather.”

Except of course the numbers haven’t really grown with the warmer weather, have they Tim? And why not? Fucking helmets, mate, that’s why. I mean, just look at this transcript from an ABC program on the topic (listen to the podcast here, complete with obligatory Queen sample – this brief vox pop is at 38:42):

Chinese tourist: Oh, yes we need helmets. Where are these helmets? I didn’t know….

[Presenter] Wendy Carlisle: You have to bring your own.

Chinese tourist: Oh, really? Oh no, we don’t have it, so, it’s not useful I think, yes.

Wendy Carlisle: OK, thank you very much.

Chinese tourist: Thank you. ‘Bye.

So there we have it. A casual user who, being a tourist, didn’t have a bicycle on her and would have happily coughed up a few bucks to use a Bike-Share bicycle, but she was stuffed by the helmet law and put off from using it. Think she’s alone, Tim? Of course he bloody isn’t – 1.4 million people visited Melbourne in 2009, and how many of them do you think would have chosen to pack a bike helmet. Any that came having planned to hire a bike during their stay may have found out they needed to bring a helmet or would have brought one anyway, but casual users? Come on. A tourist or even a local could conceivably walk past the bike racks and make an impromptu decision to ride a few blocks, which the scheme allows for by selling daily and weekly subscriptions from automated credit card machines found by the racks. And then they see the notice saying that wearing a helmet is required by law, and since they don’t have one they go and get the tram instead. The obvious solution is to allow a free choice whether to risk it or not, but that’s really not the kind of thing Nanny State Victoria, aka the Labor government, would be at all interested in. Hence not only Tim Pallas’s response to the idea of scrapping the law but the actual “solution” the government came up with.

The Victorian Government will trial disposable helmets, to encourage use of Melbourne’s bike share scheme.

The $5 helmets will be available from vending machines at Melbourne University, Southern Cross Station and 30 city convenience stores, from today.

Riders can return the helmets after use for a $3 refund.

The Roads Minister Tim Pallas says the helmets meet all the safety standards.

“If you want a top quality good loking helmet maybe you’ll want to pay good money for it,” he said.

“If you want a helmet for the purposes of a short term hire, these are more than adequate for the job and they’ll do a good and safe job.”

The helmets that are returned will be disinfected and rented out again.

Wonderful, though if you can’t see it being cleaned how do you know it was done properly? Stillbut as The Age point out the fucking things cost the Victorian taxpayer $8 each in subsidies, which is on top of the $5.5 million cost of the scheme itself. Fair enough, it’s not a patch on some of the other sums Labor have spunked away while it’s being running the state (Grand Prix, Wonthaggi desal plant, etc) but all the same … oh, wait, is that jingling sound the noise of even more money being spent?

A $25-helmet is given free to people who sign up for an annual subscription. Helmets have also been made available cheaply at some city stores and hotels.

I’d like to thank you, Tim, from the very bottom of my wallet, for identifying the opportunity to allow people to take responsibility for their own safety and its costs and then ignoring it in favour of spending even more fucking money on nannying people. The good news is that Labor is no longer in government and with luck the new Roads Minister, whoever it turns out to be, might revisit the helmet law issue, though since the Coalition aren’t really much more into individual choice and personal freedom than the ALP I’m not hugely optimistic. And to be frank if it doesn’t happen I expect the scheme to wither and die, as ably argued on these videos (found here).

Depressing that so many of the Melbourne people spoken agreed that the scheme was going to struggle with the helmet law but immediately ruled out the obvious solution of repealing the law. I can understand the guy in the bike shop – he has a stock of bike helmets to sell after all. But the rest? They just parroted the Nanny state line about safety, happy in their inability to account for the lack of injuries and fatalities on all the other schemes in cities around the world. I wonder if I could interest any of them in a couple of hundred bright blue DAF light-rigids? They’re all hardly used.

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Posted on November 30, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on I want to ride my bicycle….

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