I took advantage of a recent trip to give the Brisbane CityCycle a go.
I used a daily subscription which was $2 for unlimited 30min use for the day – 24hrs from your chosen start date and time. I subscribed online and was given a subscription number and a pin number (of my own choosing). There is also a mobile site so you can sign up on the spot with your smart phone. They have just dramatically dropped their prices to encourage use. This price makes it very attractive to use the system and perhaps if they had went live with such prices, the scheme would be performing a lot better than it is. This online and shop only subscriptions seem a bit limiting and it would be an advantage to be able to sign up at a station.
Currently, they have 150 sites proposed. Just having a look at the station map, it seems to me the sites are mostly centred around the city CBD with branching out starting to head to Fortitude Valley and New Farm. Disappointingly, there aren’t many stations in and around South Bank which I would have thought was the perfect location for a scheme to start – boardwalk bikeway, parklands, cafes, access to other public transport, popular tourist location. Also, I thought stations between the Kelvin Grove Uni and the city would have been a popular route. No expansion as yet along the Bicentennial Bikeway towards Toowong and UQ.
Unfortunately, the CityCycle system is not exempt from the compulsory helmet laws. I took my own helmet especially for giving this a go. The city council made an announcement that free / loaner helmets were going to be made available at the various stations. Personally, I think the compulsory helmet laws are a major inhibitor to casual use and from what google indicates, a bike hire system like this hasn’t received large scale use or popularity in locations where there are compulsory helmet laws. Of the stations we saw, helmets were present on approximately 20% of bikes. Some stations had no helmets. I would not want to rely on a helmet being there.
Using the stations
The stations seemed fairly straight forward to use. You go up to a station and type your code in, then your pin and select a bike you wish to hire. You then have 60 seconds to unlock that bike. The locations of stations was fairly good and seems fairly evenly spaced. When ever we were getting close to the end of our 30mins (I set a 25min count down on my watch to let us know), it wasn’t hard to ride around a bit to find a station to return the bike to. You then have to wait 2mins before you can rehire a new bike (or the same bike). We did not encounter any stations that had no bikes or any stations that had no empty docking spaces.
Pulling the bike out of the station requires a bit of force. It is also seemed a bit tricky at times to re-dock the bikes as you had to align a large metal plate with the slot and force it back in. The system does give you audible tones to alert you that a bike is not in properly and when it has accepted the bike correctly.
The display screen was not very accessible. It was very small when compared to size of the post it is attached to and the fonts used seemed quite small. The screen was exceedingly bright at night so when you looked at the screen, it was really hard to read and then use the number pad to type in your various entries. Instructions on the screen were available in languages other than English.
Riding the bikes
The bikes are step through style and have 3 gears, a bell, automatic lights, a lock, a stand, a front basket, mud guards and chain guard. In the riding group was a tall male and a short female and both could ride the bikes comfortably with the adjustable seats and relaxed geometry. The bike is quite heavy and definitely felt it. I guess this is a necessity as they have to be robust enough to handle public and frequent use. But this clunkiness was really felt when riding in traffic when compared to my normal bikes. I felt I wasn’t nimble enough to confidently ride in traffic although I am typically very comfortable, even in heavy traffic. I also didn’t feel right riding on the footpath. It seemed a bit awkward to ride in and out of pedestrians and seemed a bit of an imposition. So, I was left with the feeling that the bikes didn’t really belong – not on the footpath or on the road.
All the bikes that we encountered seemed mechanically sounds. We didn’t have any that had flats tyres, faulty lights, faulty gears or any other problems. Some bikes seemed a little less tired than others but overall, they worked fine.
Finally, I really enjoyed riding the bikes. I thought they were fun, convenient and cheap. A great way to tour the city. We used the bikes for a bit of fun way to get to a restaurant and home again. I think it would be a great way to spend a weekend or an activity to do with visitors to Brisbane. In it’s current form, I can’t really see it taking cars off the road and I don’t know how many people would use it to commute to various locations – having to bring a helmet or take a gamble at one being there. Real inhibitors to the scheme’s overall success seem to be the helmet laws and the lack of cycle specific infrastructure. Not many roads in the coverage area have cycle lanes or any other kind of cycle infrastructure.