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Is Melbourne bicycle share all spin?

By Alan Davies - posted Wednesday, 9 June 2010

I hope I’m proven wrong but I can’t help feeling Melbourne Bicycle Share is much more about political spin than about transport.

The PR material indicates the scheme is pitched at short-distance and short-duration travellers “running an errand at lunch or going across town for a meeting or lecture”. It extends “your public transport options and makes the CBD more accessible than ever before”.

The big question to my mind is what exactly is the need that this scheme is filling? Or more precisely, what is the justification for the government subsidy it requires?


The very idea of a CBD is that it is walkable and if the trip’s too far then travellers take public transport. In fact public transport in Melbourne’s CBD, where we have the choice of the city rail loop and a dense tram system, is pretty good by world standards. Quite simply, the CBD doesn’t need share bicycles for transport.

I can’t see a lot of sense, either, in spending public money to take off-peak passengers away from public transport - that’s the very time when the system has spare capacity and should earn extra revenue with minimal extra cost. And why subsidise walkers to ride instead?

I’m not in any event confident that Melbourne Bicycle Share is even going to work.

If it will appeal to anyone, it will be to committed users. Both the mandatory helmet requirement and the pricing structure favour subscribers who are prepared to keep a helmet at work and pay the $50 annual standing fee. The compulsory helmet, $300 security deposit and trip fees will deter casual users, for whom public transport will be as cheap or cheaper.

The casual user for a two-hour trip faces a $2.50 flag fall for the first 30 minutes, which is marginally cheaper than a $2.70 City Saver fare but more than the $2.18 cost of a 10-trip City Saver. However a two-hour zone 1 Metcard costs $3.70 and covers both the forward and return journeys. Two hours travel with Melbourne Bike Share costs $19.50.

Those who use the scheme will be people committed enough to mix it with taxis and trams, to ride in a suit in summer, to ignore “helmet hair”, to pedal a very heavy (18kg!) behemoth up Bourke Street, and seek out a parking station to secure the bike in at the end of the trip. These people sound very similar to those who already commute on their own bicycles.


The scheme kicks off with just ten parking stations, mostly close to the Swanston and Elizabeth Street spines, so at least initially the choice of origins and destinations is very limited and in direct competition with trams. It’s planned there will eventually be 50 stations and 600 bikes, but if it doesn’t meet expectations these additional stations will no doubt be pruned severely.

The sustainability rationale for this project is pretty weak. To the extent they are used at all, these bicycles will be a substitute for trains, trams and walking, not cars. People who use taxis are time-poor so I think they are the least likely to use them.

I can’t see that Melbourne Bicycle Share has much potential for tourism, either. The bikes are too heavy, it costs $80 for 4 hours riding and tourists have to provide a use-once helmet. But if it were to be used primarily by tourists, why should it be subsidised by taxpayers?

Perhaps it will find a market with lunch time joggers who’ve destroyed their knees.

So we have a publicly funded scheme that addresses a need that doesn’t exist and is designed in a way that almost guarantees it will fail to attract large numbers of riders. All of that was obvious from the get-go, but of course it doesn’t matter because its real purpose is to give the impression of promoting sustainability. Its $5.5 million of spin (and you just know it will cost even more when the overly optimistic estimates of patronage, maintenance costs and losses from vandalism are found wanting).

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First published on the author's blog, The Melbourne Urbanist, on June 1, 2010.

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About the Author

Dr Alan Davies is a principal of Melbourne-based economic and planning consultancy, Pollard Davies Pty Ltd ( and is the editor of the The Urbanist blog.

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