Thursday, September 30, 2010

Melbourne Bike Share

I thought I would share my thoughts on this scheme, slightly off topic, but this is a blog that is partly about Melbourne so I guess it fits. Here is the bike I borrowed the other day with my vegies from the Vic Market securely stowed in the front, that little basket is better than it looks.

When I heard about Melbourne Bike Share starting up I was pretty excited as I really like riding around Melbourne, but since having my bike stolen I haven't been able to. I could buy a new bike but I have absolutely zero room inside to store it and I am reluctant to store one outside again after the last theft. Plus the block of flats I live often receives grumpy body corporate letters from lawyers stating that we are not allowed to keep anything in 'common areas', despite the fact that the area surrounding the flats is basically concrete and a few tidily stored bikes would hardly be a problem... but that is a separate issue.
My point is that I am probably an ideal candidate for this bike share stuff. I live close enough to a couple of bike stations, about a 5 minute walk. I don't have my own bike and much of what I do, uni, meeting friends, shopping, is located near other bike racks.

I am still getting my head around which routes to take, which roads have bike lanes, where the bike lanes suddenly vanish, and so on. So far I have been using it to ride to Melbourne Uni where I work/study, I usually walk so this cuts my travel time from about 35-40 mins to 15-20 mins, which is great. There really is no way for me to get to uni on a tram or bus that would be quicker than walking, so riding is ideal. I have also used it to ride to the Vic Market, and that took about 10 minutes instead of 25, and from Melbourne Uni into the city, which took about the same time as a tram but was a lot more fun.

I have some days when I ride in and then have other things on in the evening and don't ride home, so the flexibility of not worrying about how to get my own bike home works well. The little basket with an elastic works quite well as long as your bag is sturdy/big enough, the other day my bag was a pretty empty and almost too small to secure - but they basically work well. As you can see in my picture I secured my market shopping nicely. The seats are easy enough to move up and down, though I have noticed some bikes getting a bit stiff, or being completely stuck - so double check it can be adjusted before you hire it. They are quite easy to ride, they are the style where you can sit up straight, which is my preference. I'm not concerned about riding fast and there are not too many hills, and certainly no really difficult ones, on the routes I take. They are quite heavy and noticeably less maneuverable compared to most other bikes I have ridden, but for short trips they are fine. I am a bit concerned about riding at night, they do have a light but it seems very weak? Also it would be good if they had a bell on them (unless I have missed it).Also it would be useful to be able to get a small fold up map of where all the stations are.

I took out an annual subscription so hiring the bike is pretty easy, I just stick my key in and it beeps and releases the bike. Then you give it a good shove into the stand when it is returned and it beeps again. I had one issue the other week where a bike I returned locked in but for some reason didn't register as returned and my key was blocked, however, the bike share people sorted it out and were very helpful so that was great.

There has been a lot of talk about this scheme, and mostly about what is wrong with it, and there are some things wrong. I also feel that it has been marketed very badly, I keep thinking of opportunities for them to promote it, yet I have seen virtually no promotion of it.

More stations - I guess this is something that is dependent on it growing in popularity but it does seem to me that the area covered is a bit limited. There are some places in the city with several stations within metres of each other, whereas other areas are completely missed. I think the area covered is only about 5 square kilometres, which isn't much. Also many stations are located along tram lines. For me the motivator in subscribing was the ride to uni, the route is badly served by public transport as nothing goes there directly, I would have to catch a tram in the opposite direction and then catch another tram, or walk halfway and catch a bus. Things that take longer than walking. I feel that more stations that allowed people to take routes across Melbourne that don't have direct tram or bus lines would be really sensible. I would love to see some in Fitzroy, some in South Yarra near the Domain Rd shops, some in Richmond, even Prahran - and these are just the places I tend to frequent, I'm sure other people would like to see them in other suburbs. It seems to me at the moment some stations are positioned in places that councils or tourist marketers (is that a phrase??) like to think everyone wants to be in Melbourne (i.e. Docklands, Southbank etc), rather than where many people are actually going. Also getting between inner city suburbs in Melbourne on PT can be a bit of a joke, especially on weekends, I often end up walking rather than waiting for trams. A bike would be a great way of getting round this.

Marketing - Why does the website not link correctly to twitter or facebook? Both icons simply prompt you to promote the Bike Share website via your own twitter/facebook account. I actually had no idea they had a twitter account until a friend tweeted at them. Not only is it silly not to link directly to their own accounts, but icons that automatically 'promote' something via your own facebook/twitter account without explaining that this is what they will do are frustrating and a bit sneaky.

Why is Melb Bike Share not involved with 'Ride to Work Day'? [UPDATE - I just noticed that on their website they are affiliated w RTWD, but I can't really find out how exactly] Surely they could give out some free day passes to people who register with Ride to Work but don't have their own bike. I think they need to get people on the bikes as much as possible, even just for one trip, to break the ice. There are quite a lot of racks at Melbourne Uni, so I wonder why they don't promote it more with the students, who could even use them for getting across campus. I have had to trek between Tin Alley and the Law School in the past, and it is a good 10-15 minute walk.

I also feel they should take on the bad press, maybe have a blog on their website where the post media coverage, both good and bad and actually respond to the bad, how they are tackling it etc.

Cost - I think the annual subscription that I took out is very reasonable, $50 for a year. The daily and weekly rates are also pretty good, they are aimed at short trips and I think this is fine. However, I think one huge barrier for daily and even weekly users is the ridiculously high security deposit of $300. I read somewhere that this is not refunded till the next working day, and I could imagine even longer if used over the weekend depending on your own bank. As someone who does not use a credit card I simply don't have this in my debit account to be put aside. I know people who wouldn't have this space on their credit cards. Or imagine a family wanting to use them, you could end up having to put down $1200+ in security deposits! Or you might be a tourist on a budget, or worried that if there was an error and you have left Melbourne it might be tricky to get your money back. A definite deterrent. This actually put me off using the scheme until I was ready to take out an annual subscription. I understand the need for a security deposit for the bikes but the other schemes I have looked up, like the one in London, simply take credit/or debit card details and charge you after it is clear the bike has not been returned. So if you use the scheme correctly then you only have to lay out the actual cost for daily/weekly rental and other usage costs you incur.

Helmets - I know this is the big thing in most discussions. I do feel though that talk about the scheme has been a bit hijacked by people who want to ditch helmet laws, and as most of these seem like super keen bikers, with their own bikes, are they really worried about the scheme? I do I get the problem, honestly I do. Especially for tourists the need to have a helmet will be a huge barrier, who travels with a helmet? Who would want to buy one just for the day? But it seems the government won't shift so rather than everyone getting up in arms about it I would prefer to see how Melb Bike Share, the RACV, the city council and whoever else is involved will try and find a work around it. They at least need some rental helmets, if not at all stations maybe at the more touristy locations like Fed Square. Also what about those dinky fold up ones they had in The Age a while back? Those would be perfect. 

Personally the helmet thing is not a huge barrier for me. I had a few bad falls as a teen and my preference is always to wear a helmet. Also, for me the helmet is not the only thing I have to consider, I need to make sure I wear the right shoes, have a bag that can go in the basket or won't fall off as I ride, not wear the wrong kind of skirt and so on. But, still there will be times when I will think 'damn if I only I didn't need a helmet, I would jump on a bike', specially for the trips that are down very safe streets.

Has anyone else used it? Any other opinions?


  1. Do you notice many students using the bikes to Melbourne Uni? I would have thought it would be an ideal ride from Flinders St station or Central, when the trams are so often overcrowded.

    BTW they do have a bell! It's on the left handlebar, underneath it. You can hit it with your left thumb. Actually you kind of 'roll' it. It's a little strange. As for maps, I printed out a copy of the Google Map on the website that has the stations marked. Not ideal, but a start. If you have a internet-enabled phone, try this website -

    Totally agree about the ineptitude of the website. I wish they had a forum or mailing list where users could talk to each other. Half thought of setting one up myself, but not motivated enough yet... And the "trip history" - only five per page?! And you can't export them? It's a bit of a half-hearted effort.

    Re security deposits - I am not sure what they mean by that, because I got a daily and a weekly pass before I bought the yearly, and with those they only charged me $2.50 and $8, as advertised. I guess they only invoke the "security deposit" if you don't return the bike?

  2. Hey thanks for the info. I will check out the bell today.
    I have noticed some students using them for that route into the city, and the bikes are definitely moving around more and more at the Uni bike racks. I have ridden them from Uni into the CBD and it is great, so quick and there is a proper bike lane for a lot of it. A student came up and did 20 questions on the bikes with me on Friday.
    I think the idea of a forum is a good one, would definitely be interested if you (or they) set it up.

    That's interesting and good re the security deposits, obviously a misconception on my part, but I had read the info several times as it seemed such an odd thing to to. I also have seen others mention it so they should probably address this

  3. I think the $300 security deposit is not actually charged to your account but rather reserved. e.g. if you have a $500 credit limit on your credit card, MBS will reserve $300 of it meaning that your available balance will reduce to $200 until your hiring period is over and MBS releases the amount. Am pretty sure only 2 bikes can be hired per credit card.
    I have a annual subscription and have probably already saved more than the $50 fee in public transport costs and time (compared to walking).
    I live a short walk from a station so the helmet issue is not a major problem for me however, if I didn't live nearby I'd probably never use the bikes. I use them to get to or from home and not for adhoc biking.
    I too wish there were more stations in the inner suburbs like Fitzroy, Collingwood, Richmond, South Yarra and North Melbourne.
    Oh yeah, light is effective so others can see you coming but not very useful for seeing where you are going. I discovered the bell by accident. It's very useful when overtaking pedestrians on shared pathways.

  4. Usage looks pretty lame compared to the other schemes around the world. Just look at DublinBikes usage - I don't think Melbourne can blame the weather on low use!

    Great bikes but a waste of time in countries with mandatory helmet laws. Sure, some people will use it regardless and BYO helmet and some will continue to use them without helmets (there are quite a few doing this) but many are being put off by it.

    Helmet rentals are a waste of time unless every station can rent/return a helmet and who wants to buy more than one helmet - that's not very good for the environment...

    Primal Tuna

  5. I know, I am sceptical about the helmet thing. I think it will work for tourists but not really so well for general use, especially as there are only two places to rent them atm, which kinda misses the point of the scheme.
    That said I don't think Melbourne should abandon the scheme simply because of the helmet laws, perhaps it will never have the usage of other cities until helmet laws are relaxed but I disagree that it can't work at all.
    Also I think a big issue is simply that Melbourne (really Australia) is not that much of a bike city, loads of people have never ridden a bike, or not since they were kids. I think this will slowly change.


Hit Counter