Thursday, 21 March 2013

Get On Your Bike

The Vic State Government does some pretty silly things to pander to interest groups, minor parties, independents and to try win marginal seats. And this one is right up there.

This time its Public Transports Minister, Terry Mulder, banging on about the ridiculous Melbourne Bike Share scheme, and trying to get people into it after 3 years of failure by offering free helmets.

An unexpected side effect of the bike share was the
 explosion of artistic Melbourne photos on Instagram.

Here you can see how stubborn a government can be to not admit they made a mistake, even if it means saying things that can’t possibly be believed. This kind of Government spin in defiance of facts hasn't been seen since the start of the Iraq war, when the Iraqi Information Minister insisted the Americans were nowhere near Baghdad airport, despite the fact B52s were happily landing there under the Stars and Stripes. Mules are said to be stubborn but even a mule would be a better option for getting around the CBD than those ridiculous chunky blue bikes.


The article in today's Age says it all...

Two hundred free helmets will be distributed, covering a third of the bikes in the Melbourne scheme, which costs Victorian taxpayers about $50,000 a month in helmet subsidies, plus $5 million over five years

How can the State Government justify spending even one dollar on a useless, pointless scheme that has proven to be a money draining failure? Surely the $5 million could better be spent on 1001 other things within the Public Transport portfolio. A new tram or train. An improved road. Anything. But no. Melbourne has the same public transport problems and the same traffic jams which existed in 1970. Good money is continually thrown into harebrained publicity stunts disguised as improvements.

Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder said helmets, which to date have not been available at bike stands, had been a stumbling block since the program began in 2010.

"The big hitch from day one was the issue with helmets," Mr Mulder said. "It really wasn't given enough consideration when the program was put into place in Victoria.

Not given enough consideration? Lack of common sense is rife in parliament, so I can accept that Mulder wasn't able to understand simple and obvious realities. But the fact that none of the advisers, consultants, staffers and hangers-on who would have been paid millions to develop this scheme – none of these guys thought helmets might be an issue? It was never raised once? That is utterly unbelievable. And with every media outlet, every article, every member of the public saying this scheme wouldn't work because of the helmets, it's impossible that it wasn't brought to the attention of Mulder.

Its a simple formula:
Helmet owners = bike owners = don't need to rent a bike. 
Potential bike renters = not bike owners = don't own helmets.

No. They all KNEW helmets were going to be the problem that would kill this scheme. But no doubt the funding was approved, they'd got the greens on side with an environmentally friendly initiative, the press conference was booked, and too many consultants had contract extensions pending for anyone to hit the brakes on this out of control bike racing down Collins St.

"That caused the system to be very slow in terms of uptake. We'd like to think we'd get to a point where we would break even, if possible."

Break Even – if possible. Reach for the stars. If possible.

There are so many other reasons that this program was never going to work. Unlike Amsterdam and Copenhagen where everybody rides bikes, here in Melbourne, either you ride, or you don't. Its that simple. If you ride, you have a bike and helmet, and if you don't ride, you don't own either, and have no intention of hiring a bike.

Perfect spot for a leisurely ride
And not forgetting the CBD is one of the worst possible places for tourists and novices to ride. This is not San Francisco, where you can jump on a bike, leisurely ride along the foreshore and Golden Gate bike tracks with all the other slow going tourists and catch the ferry back! Here you get trams, tram tracks, hook turns, pedestrians with iPods walking all over the place, traffic, weekend hero bike riders with Cadell Evans complexes, all with the seemingly single minded intent of making you go over your handlebars and breaking your collarbone. There is no worse way for someone to get to know Melbourne or biking in general.

[Mulder] said RACV contractors would regularly clean the free helmets and he understood there would be no health issues

Will the RACV also be fishing the helmets out of drains and rubbish bins? Will they be taking them from drunken city workers' heads on Friday nights? Would you wear a helmet that still had chunks of vomit in it?

Would you rub your head all over the filthiest, sweatiest person you see walking past you on Bourke St? No? What about wearing their helmet?

Mr Mulder said the government had no plans to axe the program, despite its failure to break even. "There is no intention whatsoever to stop the scheme. We just want to make sure we get the scheme working better than it is at the moment," he said.

Of course not, axing it would be to admit they made a mistake, and may look bad.  Never change your mind, even if it is the most obvious action and will save money. The only solace is that eventually this program will quietly disappear, no doubt with the Government claiming it was only ever a 5 year trial.

The bikes are still struggling to attract users, with some bike docking stations being used less than once a day on average in January. 

The busiest stations are at Federation Square and Sandridge Bridge at Southbank, the only two that attracted more than 1000 users in January.

There are roughly 50 bikes at those two stations. That's 0.65 usages per bike per day. So a bike being used less than once a day in Melbourne's warmest and sunniest month is as good as it gets? You'd get in trouble from your parents for using the shiny new bike they got for your birthday that little. Would hate to see the August results.

But Mr Mulder said the government was considering expanding the scheme further into the inner suburbs, with Port Phillip and Yarra councils indicating interest.

Mulder, are you MAD? It is one thing to try save face by not axing the program, in spite of common sense, the blatantly obvious, and clear-as-day facts. But to even imply that this program could be extended is a farce. Based on that comment alone, Mulder should hire one of his beloved bikes, and ride himself straight to the closest asylum. He should even take the helmet with him, he'll need it for his padded room.

Mr Mulder said uptake rose about 30,000 last year from 102,000 uses to 137,000.

These may look like big numbers...

As per the bike share website there are 600 bikes at 51 stations. So the 137,000 uses equates to each bike being used two times every three days. Enough said.

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