I had the opportunity to trial the Melbourne Bike Share scheme last month. I had a couple of job interviews around the city, and I hadn’t taken my Brompton, so I thought I’d check out the new bike share scheme.
I know that usage of the bikes has been slow to take off, and a number of people have attributed this to Victoria’s compulsory helmet law. While the bikes can be hired from a good number of locations around the city, at the introduction helmets were unavailable. The bikes have a big warning sign that helmets are compulsory, but initially, no advice about where to obtain a helmet.
They seem to have made attempts to address this, and have hooked up with 7-eleven convenience stores. Helmets in the Bike Share scheme’s blue colour scheme can be bought from 7-elevens close to the hire stations for $5, and then returned for a $3 refund.
At the first 7-eleven I had no luck. “Sold out” they said, so I ended up walking to my destination. I could have gone helmet free of course, but I decided to stay on the right side of the (albeit nonsensical) law. On my way back from Lygon Street I found a 7-eleven with helmets close to a hire station. For $5 I purchased my Melbourne Bike Share livery helmet. It was brand new, and in it’s packaging. The shop assistant helped me cut the labels free and dispose of the packaging, but seem bemused that I was going to use it straight away.
So off to the hire station. With my credit card, I paid AU $2.50 for a one day access to the scheme. Hires less than 30 minutes are free after this. Regular users can subscribe for a year for $50, and weekly subscriptions are also available. A curious crowd gathered round as I hired my bike, and I felt a bit self conscious.
The bikes themselves are great. Upright positioning, really comfortable, 3 sensible gears, a front rack with a bungy cord to secure bags into; they appear very similar to the London hire bikes. I felt stable, secure and safe, cycling in Melbourne for the first time. Returning the bike to a station was a breeze.
So the next day I had my job interview at the other side of the CBD. I’d usually cycle that type of journey. But what to do with the helmet. In Wellington I leave my helmet chained up at the rack with my bike. But without this option, I wondered what to do with the helmet between rides. Carry it into my job interview with me? Leave it lying about in the foyer? My handbag wasn’t big enough to carry it discretely. So what did I do? I walked rather than cycling.
And this is the problem of a bike share scheme where there is a compulsory helmet law. Who carries a helmet with them all the time on the off-chance they might take a trip by bike? And what about the times that carrying a helmet is not possible or appropriate. I see that there are calls to exempt bike share users form the compulsory helmet law, given the low risk cycling users are undertaking. For me, as a visitor and casual user, I was discouraged.
But I did get my $3 refund on the helmet when I left.