Rent or buy? Which is the better option? Normally these questions are asked in relation to housing and other large expenses, like buying (or leasing) a new car. But bicycles? According to TreeHugger
, Spain's Catalonia government suggests that people who use the Barcelona bike sharing scheme Bicing should get off the government bike and buy their own. Personally I agree with the Catalonia government. Bike sharing schemes in major cities are great in theory - reduce carbon footprint, provide people with an option to easily move about the city and to help prevent obesity and its related health complications by providing an opportunity for exercise. I remain unconvinced however that from a limited government budget the cost of purchasing and maintaining a fleet of bicycles for public use is value for money or that there is any benefit provided to consumers by private companies whose motives may be more profit than public health focused
I live in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia - the new world city as Brisbane Marketing
likes to promote the city; in an attempt to move away from Brisbane's infamous reputation of big country town. Former Lord Mayor and now Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman, started the CityCycle
scheme (Brisbane's version of Bicing) in October 2010. However there was 2 major issues that impacted on CityCycle usage - Queensland's mandatory cycle helmet laws
meant that you needed to either bring your own helmet along or find a retailer that would hire or sell you a helmet, as helmets were not attached to the bikes or available for hire at bike stations. The other major issue that impacted on adoption of the CityCycle scheme was that in order to use the bike you had to sign up to a subscription package plus pay hire fees. Herein lies the problem with these services - the cost to the user. A bicycle ride that I have long wanted to do - is along the riverfront from Kangaroo Point through the Southbank Parklands and out to West End but I live 45 minutes away from Kangaroo Point and it all seemed like too much hassle to pack up my bike and drive in.
When CityCycle was announced I thought I would finally be able to take this longed for ride. It was not to be however when I investigated the cost of hiring a bike. Allowing 2 to 3 hours for the ride, it is going to cost over $30 plus the cost of travelling to the City and the hassle of having to sign up to a subscription. While proponents of the CityCycle scheme may argue that this trip is not indicative of the trips that CityCycle was designed for and therefore I should not judge the scheme harshly as a result of it being ineffective for tourist use, I argue that attracting tourists to enjoy Brisbane while riding is an important function, albeit not its key function, of the CityCycle scheme and therefore criticism based on cost for tourist rides is valid. Proponents of the scheme also can point to the fact that if you only ride for 30 minutes, CityCycle is free to hire - however this would mean ensuring that I break my journey every 30 minutes at a CityCycle station (provided there's one nearby), hope there's a bike free and then go through the hassle of collecting a new bike. No thanks.
Many other Brisbanites must have felt the same as me as sadly CityCycle quickly became the bicycle version of the white elephant and in a city of over 2,000,000 million residents plus a working commuting and tourist population, only 22,000 people have taken advantage of the CityCycle (Brisbane Marketing
statistics, June 2012). Brisbane CBD roads do not have enough space for the cars, trucks and buses that negotiate them daily to worry about having to share this congested space with wobbling cyclists unused to the cut and thrust. As well as this the free city loop bus is a much better option for workers wanting to travel across the CBD, it takes all of 10 minutes and are air conditioned, so in the heat and humidity of a Brisbane summer you arrive at your meeting fresh and comfortable rather than looking like you've just been caught in a particularly poor smelling shower.
After a review by the Brisbane City Council
of the CityCycle program in 2011, amendments were made to include 400 courtesy helmets attached to bikes in the CityCycle fleet and changes to the subscription structure including price reductions. Despite these changes, operator JCDecaux
report that as at June 2012, only 600 trips per day are made on CityCycles
The image that sums up CityCycle Brisbane for me is the one at the top of this piece - a row of otherwise pristine bikes unused and sitting forlornly in flood waters. This image is from the devastating Queensland floods in 2011 however perhaps the bottom of the Brisbane River is where the CityCycle scheme belongs. Maybe they could be used to create a diving feature or a flood barrier. It more than likely is a better use of the bikes than sitting on the side of the road taking up parking space or space that could be put to better use with the dreaded bus lane.
For me, a smarter alternative to the CityCycle scheme would be a series of dedicated bike garages around the Brisbane CBD where people could securely lock their bike and have a shower to refresh after riding and get a drink or meal. I see these garages set up as social enterprises where homeless people are able to be employed as bike caretakers and are provided with a studio apartment in the facility. Programs to assist people to return to work also have a place in this utopian social enterprise through the cafe and in customer service. Let's have a stock of bikes for people to hire but let's reuse and recycle rather than invest in new - these bikes can be refurbished as part of return to work or other rehabilitation programs. Close the CityCycle scheme and open a few bike garages and Brisbane will truly be Australia's new world city.