In most of my previous blog entries regarding CityCycle, I have repeatedly stated that CityCycle is its own worst enemy - with their terrible communication skills being their biggest challenge. Things haven’t changed. It is still all about Communication.
In four months, I have taken around 120 trips - everything from swinging down to the shops, to riding to events, commuting to the CityCat/CityFerry network and just riding cause it is a gorgeous day/evening. Even on the most conservative of estimates I would have saved 80 plus bus or car trips. I doubt I am the most frequent user; just maybe one of the more vocal ones, but before I get into the challenges, let me share some of those great benefits of the scheme. I have had some great rides - Teneriffe to Orleigh Park along the river at sunset was just wonderful! I have saved a heap of money on Translink, and kept my car off the road - and most importantly, not had to drive around finding a park, or even worse, paying for the right to park. This was especially true during the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy. I would just grab a CityCycle, ride there, rack it and shop. I especially enjoyed riding past the line ups of cars to just get into car parks! There’s a lot of extra exercise in there as well. I for one certainly see the benefits of the scheme and continue to use it as my primary mode of transportation for inner city living.
There are some hiccups.
I will get to CityCycleMailFail shortly, but let’s talk about the how the service has been performing.
Even before the floods, CityCycle was around 40 stations behind schedule (just ignore the fact that the whole scheme was a year late). As you may recall, they were to be 100 stations up and running by the end of 2010 - they hit the 60’s in December, but stagnated there. It should be noted though, that those extra 10+ stations had a huge impact on the “ridability” of the scheme. More stations opening up meant more locations to hire and rack - thereby increasing the number of routes available to users.This was especially true for the Northern end of The Valley, Newstead and West End, with locations opening up in potentially high traffic areas. Post floods we are now at 63 live stations.
Unfortunately, station locations that users are desperate for (especially SouthBank which was caught up in the brouhaha between Brisbane City Council and SouthBank Corporation - You may recall I broke the SouthBank Corporation story before the media in my last blog post on CityCycle) are still not active and some of the placement of stations makes you wonder why they chose that position at all. As one cynical reader of mine suggested, it is more for the advertising placement that the convenience or suitability of those locations.
Another hurdle to the success of CityCycle is the lack of bikes at Train Stations - such as Fortitude Valley, Central, South Brisbane and yes, SouthBank. Initially the main focus was to have the stations up and running around the CityCat/CityFerry system and the bike paths - and this did work well, with New Farm Park being the busiest station on the board - however, with the CityCat/CityFerry network down, and the upriver terminals out for an extended period of time, we need to focus on the trains to get this scheme moving along again. According to CityCycle, there were unexpected structural delays in the building of these stations, but when asked why completed stations aren’t live, there was no definitive answer, just that they are opening shortly (read in the next couple of months). I have recently moved from CityCycle Central (New Farm, Valley and Teneriffe) to the city end of Spring Hill and the closest stations are closed - the one at Central Station hasn’t even had building works commenced yet. Interestingly though, the completed yet closed stations still say they are opening in late 2010. We know from the rapid opening of stations at Teneriffe Ferry after the temporary closing of the only open site due to building construction, that completed yet closed stations can be opened and live almost immediately. Why then is there such a delay in opening the rest of the completed stations?
Membership is continuing to rise, albeit slower than the first three months. In the last month, there was a net increase of 600 new subscribers on board, giving a total subscription base of 3590. Factor in the heat, those weeks of rain, then the flood - that isn't too bad. I believe that once the temps start sitting in the mid-high 20's again we will see a sustained increase in membership. CityCycle is MUCH better when you arrive at your destination without helmet hair or your clothes sweaty. There has been attrition however post 3 months, with a few people I know personally cancelling their subscription. I doubt my friends were the only ones to do so. One has to wonder why CityCycle isn't trying and stop the rot. Here are people who WANT to use it - put good money down to do so, yet walked away. I wonder how many of these people just gave up waiting for their stations to open? I don’t know of anyone who was contacted to find out why they cancelled their account. Why not get some feedback and find out why and then address these issues? If the accounts weren’t being utilised, suspend the account, then offer them a free month when more stations are on line etc? The bikes are out there, get people on them!
Current figures show that during the week, 224 trips are taken each day, with 170 on the weekend. Think about that for a moment. That is 224 people not on your bus or train. 224 cars not driving into or around the CBD. That is 224 people getting more exercise, and most importantly 224 trips represents 1 in 3 of total number of bikes utilised a day. For someone to say that the figures show that people aren't interested, I suggest they re-examine those numbers and think about what an extra 200 plus people of public transport or the roads in the inner city equates to. While the roll out to Milton, Toowong, St Lucia are going to be a longer time coming possibly with the re-assignment of funds post-funds, the impact of this scheme and the positive benefits will be long felt.
The availability of bikes and racks continues to be a stumbling point in the scheme around the network. One glaring example came with the death of the Floating Walkway, the station at Malt St really increased in usage - it is the one just near the bikeway into the city that goes under the Story Bridge. It seemed as though every other day I was calling CityCycle about getting bikes put into the racks. When they did deliver bikes, it would only be 4 at a time - which meant that people walking home from the city up Ivory Lane would jump on a bike and ride home so there would be again only 1 or 2 bikes the next day if you were lucky, and they were usually racked by commuters returning home after 6pm. This week, this was finally been addressed with 80% of the rack refilled at a time. What I don’t understand, is why CityCycle has to be constantly told to move bikes. I thought the whole point of their integrated system was so they can react quickly to ensure the availability of bikes and racks, instead I am constantly told “We will get out technicians on that.”
The cleanliness of the bikes has also been a major issue. With the floods, no one really rode the scheme for a week - and spiders set up home on some bikes and birds pooped over more of them. Almost two weeks after my last email to clean the bikes at one busy station on James St, there are still spiders controlling over half of the racked bikes. I don’t know about you - but I don’t particularly want to be picking off spiders before going for a ride. I don’t have a phobia, but I certainly don’t want to be in heavy traffic and have a spider crawl out of the plastic and scare the heck out of me. Another issue here is that the public seem to use the baskets in lieu of garbage bins. I can’t tell you the number of times I have gone to a bike to find bottles, rubbish, junk mail etc left by Joe and Joanne Public. As there are no bins near most of the stations, the choices riders are faced with are very limited. Either walk it down the street to the first available bin (sometimes not an option as there can be none in sight in residential areas), put it in another basket and make it someone else’s problem, or take the garbage with you and drop it in a bin along the way. Surely keeping the bikes clean of rubbish, bird poop and insects is the job of the cleaning techs, but they either don’t do it very well, or they are spread so thin, stations just don’t get cleaned. In my entire time riding the scheme, I have only seen one station and bikes getting cleaned (at QUT).
Early on, the broken bike rate was sitting at around 10%. These days it is higher, sitting at just over 15% for me (this includes stuck bikes in racks). One trip I had to use THREE bikes, with the third failing about 100m from my destination. You often see bikes with the seats backwards for weeks at a time in racks - with the technicians doing nothing to fix them. Common problems are loose seat clamps, locked brakes, sticky/locked gears and the pedals getting caught on the skirt/pant guard each rotation as you ride. One of the real hinderances to getting the bikes fixed is that the onus is on the user to send an email through the CityCycle webpage, to advise them of the number of the faulty bike. I, like many others I am sure, have the best of intentions of advising of faulty bikes, but if you are riding out to an event, you can’t do it till you get home, and by then you have forgotten about it or can’t remember the number. Even though there is an app (more on that later) you can’t advise JC Decaux of faulty bikes in it. Overseas, the accepted practice to advise the roaming bike technicians of a faulty bike is just to turn the seat around - unfortunately this is not working as a communication tool here. On the plus side of the CityCycleMailFail, everyone now has the email of the Customer Care team - so perhaps we can just email directly instead.
The iPhone/iPod application itself has real issues - as does their linked network. Post flood, for days stations that were closed were still listed as open on the app and the web based map, even showing the number of bikes and racks available. When this was finally addressed (after I got sunstroke from having to walk 1km at midday to the next station only to find that the system hadn’t registered my previous bike being returned, and then waiting another 20ish minutes without shade post call to the Call Centre to fix it) the closed stations didn’t communicate with the app correctly. Stations that were closed, were still coming up on the favourites page, again with bikes and racks available. After multiple calls to the Call Centre with no result other than “Sorry, here is the closest rack/bike,” I emailed, and was sent back a list of the closed stations without even an acknowledgement of the problem. This problem was further compounded by CityCycle’s media communication as to their response to the floods. Now this probably was due to Brisbane Times, but it was reported that all of the 17 stations that were flood affected were now reconnected (read open). They were not. In fact, not all of the affected stations are yet back in service.
Of course, CityCycle is big news again after I broke the CityCycleMailFail story via Twitter on Friday. A few people were jumping on the privacy bandwagon and again expressing their reasons as to why the scheme should be canned, is doomed to fail, is a waste of money etc (Looking at you Ray Smith - Labor Mayoral Candidate). I certainly am not thrilled that my private email address is out there, but kudos to those who did receive the email for not doing a reply all. Mistakes do happen, and while this was a doozy - it wasn’t to the level of McLarenMailGate, but I must admit, it certainly didn’t look good. Around 15 minutes after the mass email Friday, they unsuccessfully attempted to recall it, and again listed all the emails. An apology was in the media around 45 minutes after the initial email, and an emailed apology (BCC’ed) was sent just under 3 hours after the event. I am not sure why this was classed as an “urgent, unscheduled communication” post floods - surely another day wouldn’t have hurt, and it wasn’t as though the floods and the availability of stations during and post floods was a surprise. To me, this isn’t a nail in the coffin of CityCycle. Let’s keep it in perspective. People make mistakes.
Communication is still the biggest challenge that CityCycle faces. The loss of subscribers, the difficulty in getting clear answers to opening times of stations, the clunkiness to advise of a faulty bike, the failure of its app and on line map system, and yes, CityCycleMailFail are all problems caused by the poor communication structure/plan by JC Decaux here in Brisbane. The second biggest challenge are the roads and sharing them with cars, buses and taxis. Thankfully, groups such as the very active and passionate CBD Bike Users Group are out there doing what they can in conjunction with council and government to up bicycle usage and to keep us safe. Things we can look forward to are more bike lanes, improved bike paths, more awareness etc. I am concerned about Brisbane City Council’s care of the road system in inner city. Given my new location, I am riding more on the roads and the area close to the curb is terribly rough/uneven, especially with the poor suspension on the CityCycle bikes - imagine a pot hole/poorly repaired hole, down a hill with things in your basket - yeah, not great.
Yes there are lot of negatives here, but they aren’t insurmountable problems. Even with these annoyances, it is still very usable and saves me so much money in PT fares (especially with the increase) and parking, not to mention fuel costs. I get out, about, see the city first hand, have more exercise and really enjoy using the bikes. Just today, I rode from my home in Spring Hill to a cafe in Teneriffe for breakfast. I then jumped a ride a friend as it was too hot to ride at midday (I could have caught the CityGlider) to West End, then rode home this evening. $5 here, $10 there doesn’t seem like much, but if you think about it over a year on say a week’s usual usage, I am saving a minimum of $780 in PT alone, not counting street or carpark parking, fuel, wear and tear on car etc. So easily at least $1000 a year. For my $60 subscription, that is one good return on investment. I will continue to embrace the CityCycle system, whinge about them when they let me down, but will always get back on the bike. After all, I’d be crazy not to.