Archive for the ‘Services’ Category

When an apple isn’t an apple – Brisbane City Council’s dirty little Bicycle Infrastructure Secret.

Friday, April 11th, 2014

There is so much mis-information about bicycle riding out there. Whether it’s TMR’s questionable use of language, local radio stations asking people if they are going to obey a new law, or “journalists” writing clickbait – it’s out there… buckets and buckets of it. We bicycle riders have a mantra we try and stick to – “Don’t read the comments.” Why? I find it scary what some people think. It’s all about perception, really.

Some of our infrastructure (main North-South route on the Southside) goes through storm drains - safe? Hell no

Some of our infrastructure (main North-South route on the Southside) goes through storm drains – safe? Hell no

Some motorists perceive bicycle riders to be law breakers or pushers of an elitist agenda. Some bicycle riders perceive motorists as being selfish and unaware of the impact their driving has on others and the health of a city.

What doesn’t help is the perception, helped along by the Brisbane City Council’s frequent pronouncements, that there is a network of 1,100km of bikeways in Brisbane.

Language is so important. Calling Brisbane’s mishmash of infrastructure a “bikeway network” is a perfect example of misrepresenting the truth that does a lot more harm than good.

How many times have you seen a motorist interviewed say something like “why don’t they ride in the bike lane?” or “we spent all that money on bikeways for the cyclists, so why do they ride on the road?” And you know what? When you know that there are around 6,000km of roads and 1,100km of bikeways, it’s a damned valid question.

The only problem is, is that this data is wrong (or at least counted very creatively).

A road is that bit of bitumen going outside my house, down the shops, past the school and to my office – and there’s 6,000km of it.

A bikeway, according to how the Brisbane City Council counts it, is some sort of bicycle related infrastructure (more on that later) that goes outside my house, down to the shops, past the school and to my office AND BACK AGAIN! That’s right. The Council counts BOTH SIDES of the road.

One of the 186kms of unridable bike lanes. This one is in New Farm.

One of the 186kms of unridable bike lanes. This one is in New Farm.

So there’s 550km of bikeway then, right?

Yeah, well, no.

No? I hear you ask.

No.

You see some infrastructure on the road is counted more than both directions.

Take Victoria Bridge into the CBD from South Bank for example. For motorists, it is counted once. For bicycle riders, it’s counted three times. Yes, three times. There are two bike lanes that are narrower than TMR guidelines (inbound and outbound) plus there is a shared path on the upstream side of the bridge. Three times.

So when someone says “why aren’t they riding on all that infrastructure we built for them?” the answer is, “It isn’t there.” As to what is there – well that’s a whole other problem.

The majority of people who ride these days are sports cyclists. Not all, but most. These fit, brave and oft times lycra wearing bicycle riders aren’t the ones that are being targeted to start riding. Older people, women, mothers – all are being strongly targeted to ride. Money is being spent on programs and communications to encourage them to do so. However all the research here and abroad says unless you feel safe, you won’t be a utility rider (ie just riding for short trips, taking the kids to school, nipping down to the shops, slowly riding into work etc). Saying that we have 1,100km of “dedicated” bike paths (on and off road) sounds like there’s safe infrastructure out there…. but the low numbers of women riding says that this is not so.

Aberleigh Road BAZ. You can just make our the yellow bicycle through all the repairs.

Aberleigh Road BAZ. You can just make our the yellow bicycle through all the repairs.

The Council’s own data shows that less than half of these 1,100km (419km) is off road (including informal paths). That means that most is on the road, and of that, 50% are BAZ.

What’s a BAZ? It’s a Bicycle Awareness Zone. Essentially it’s just a normal road with some orange bicycle stencils on it. That’s not infrastructure – that’s crossing your fingers.

30% are bicycle lanes (186km). Don’t get excited. There’s a reason why bicycle riders don’t ride in bicycle lanes too (and we don’t legally have to). Most are in the “door zone.” Just like a motorist would drive out from a parked car incase a door is opened, so must bicycle riders. “The width of the door and a little bit more” and that means, riding on the edge of the main lane versus in the “safety” of the bicycle lane. Further more, it’s often safer for the rider to “claim the lane” vs trying to ride on the edge of the lane.

I do believe that the Council wants to do the right thing. It makes huge financial sense to have more people (of all ages) on bicycles, where and when they can.

As it stands now though, what the Council touts as infrastructure, in almost all cases, really can’t be classed as such, when compared to the rest of the world.

We have those “dedicated bikeways” in heavy and fast moving traffic offering no protection and aggravation to motorists, we have paths that are impassable after heavy rain as much of the off road paths are on flood plains and some even traverse storm drains, paths that are so dark at night that people are afraid to ride on them, and we have planners and councillors that are car focused, even removing funded bikeways.

A strip of paint, does not safe infrastructure make. This is LaTrobe St in Paddington

A strip of paint, does not safe infrastructure make. This is LaTrobe St in Paddington

The Council needs to step up, show some political will, some foresight and make Brisbane the “New World City” it is selling itself to be. Until then, Brisbane’s “1,100km network of bikeways” receives One Panda. onepanda

Source material can be found via the CBDBUG’s site here.

DISCLOSURE: The author of HowManyPandas is a member of the CBDBUG Leadership team and is also the author of the tumblr blog surlesfleurs mentioned in the open letter to the Lord Mayor and images used here.

Vitamin Me Update – Christmas in Cairns – 2011

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

 

Me loving the Vitamin Me @ Agincourt Reef with the SilverSonic

Saturday – December 24th, 2011.
After reading news reports on the huge volume (56,000) of people expected to be through Brisbane Airport on Friday December 23rd, I must admit I was somewhat filled with dread at the idea of negotiating the crowds and the queues. The large number of people on the AirTrain did little to assuage these fears. However, it wasn’t too bad at all. The Priority Check In line at Virgin Australiacertainly made it better – I just walked straight up, then plonked myself in The Lounge. I was still full from a wonderful lunch with my team at La Dolce Vita (Milton), so didn’t partake in noms but did have a few glasses of Les Petites Vignettes.

Champas and my boarding pass. Pity I couldn't spell the name of the Brut correctly

I was informed by the Lounge Angels (do we call the guys that too?) that the flight was full, so no chance of an empty seat next to me, so I stuck with my seat close to the front and hoped for no kids. Joy of joys, the other other people in my row failed to board! HUZZAH! As such I had a lovely trip, relaxing for the 2ish hours from Brisbane to Cairns, while everyone else was squished.

I should say that I haven’t been to Cairns since 1985. I remember a tiny airport, roads with no gutters, big trees overhanging roads and old houses. Imagine my surprise as I looked out the window to a lovely city below me. Yes the character houses were still there, but now there was a thriving (well kind of, the GFC was not kind of Cairns) CBD.

I had pre-booked a transfer into town with a company I had never heard of (CoralSea Coaches), and figured that if they didn’t show, it was only $15 return after all. My transfer arrived, on time and in a perfectly clean mini-bus I was deposited directly at my hotel. It probably took all of 5 minutes as I was the only passenger they were meeting from my flight.

What a view to wake up to!

My hotel is the Mercure Harbourside. While I don’t generally stay in Mercure, it seemed like a good location and the price was great. Unfortunately it was arranged before the 50% Accor sale but still incredible for being right on The Esplanade. Nevertheless, I had high hopes – all be them 3.5star hopes. After initially being told I didn’t get an upgrade (I usually do), the Check In staff decided to give me a double upgrade. I had booked a queen bed suite facing the mountains – I got a king bed suite facing the Coral Sea. When I woke up this morning (24th of December) and looked out my window (whole East wall) I saw the sea, the islands and the sun streaking orange across the lightest smattering of clouds.

Don't linger or the crocs will get you!

Even though I had consumed a fair bit of wine on the patio the night before, I was up and about early to beat the heat. I went for a relaxing stroll along The Esplanade into town. Mercure Harbourside is about 2km from the centre of town – so close enough to be walkable and far enough to be quiet (and it is right next to a bottleshop). They also run a free mini-bus to and from town hourly. So the plan was to stroll, take photos, enjoy a relaxing breakfast, buy some more goodies for balcony wine, something for breakfast Xmas Day, and most importantly, anti-seasickness tablets as I am going diving on the SuperSonic out of Port Douglas tomorrow before jumping the free ride back to the hotel for a swim and perhaps a nap.

The walk itself was divine. There was a light breeze that offset the heat and humidity nicely. Unsurprisingly, there were lots of people out. From cyclists, to mums pushing prams and a few walk of shames plus all the runners and dog walkers. The way the light reflected off the water or dappled through the trees was just perfect. I had to laugh when I saw the no swimming due to crocodiles sign. Naturally I stopped to take a photo! These two old guys walking an incredibly old pooch came up behind me and said with an evil laugh “Don’t linger or the crocs will get you!” I love Queensland humour!

I love these Angel Fish fountains.

One of my favourite images of Cairns has to be the gorgeous angle fish fountains/sculptures in the Lagoon. There was no way I was missing that photo opportunity given the perfect morning light and snapped a couple of pics while wishing I had brought my bathers with me. The Lagoon reeks of chlorine but looks so inviting. What is really cool about the Lagoon, apart from the water, is that it is in the shape of Queensland.

From there I strolled up the main street a little, to get away from the overtly tourist targeting cafes to find breakfast. Even though the tips on Foursquare for Perottas weren’t that favourable, I decided to give it a go as everyone there seemed to be locals (wearing real clothes, greeting eachother etc). I wasn’t disappointed. While I paid the same for what I would have paid for my hotel buffet breakfast, the quality was far superior. Lovely scrambled eggs, roasted field mushrooms and bacon on toasted sourdough drizzled with olive oil. Their decaf latte was superb. Just writing about breakfast makes my mouth water. Located right next to the Cairns Regional Gallery it catches the breeze nicely, has lots of ceiling fans and great service and food. I may just come back on Monday or Tuesday.

Saturday Afternoon – December 24th, 2012.

After breakfast at Perotta’s I hit Woolies to buy some food for the balcony meals and tried to buy anti-seasickness tablets. Unfortunately the chemist closest to where I was was closed till 11.30am and while I was waiting for the mini-bus back to the Mercure Harbourside, I thought to check FourSquare and found one a couple of blocks from where I was. I had 10 minutes to get there – only to discover it was a shopping centre. I managed to get back to the pick up spot in 12 minutes – all be it stinking hot and perspiring.

Back at the hotel, I spent the day relaxing by the pool, reading a book, slathering on sunscreen and cooling off in the water. Naturally, during the high UV periods I disappeared back inside, but even with these precautions, I still managed to burn in a couple of places where I hadn’t reapplied my sunscreen carefully enough. Nothing bad – just a little pink in a couple small places (unlike many of the guests here who were bright red in the evening). I am not one that can sit around and do nothing for hours on end, but the warmth of the sun, the lightness of the breeze and the coolness of the water made the time pass quickly – though I constantly checked the time so I wouldn’t burn.

A twitter follower recommended a local Balainese restaurant for dinner, the chicken curry was to die for. I was dropped off at BayLeaf by the hotel mini-bus. I waited at the lovely bar of BayLeaf as my highly recommended dinner was cooked. The restaurant had a lovely feel to it – and I adored the use of Tourquay bottles for water. I picked up dinner and strolled the 500m back to my hotel, and promptly poured some wine and mineral water to enjoy another balcony meal.

It was still incredibly hot and muggy, but the light breeze made it spectacular. The sunset was amazing – with the colour streaking all the way back to the East. As the night closed in, the fishing trawlers out in the Coral Sea had their lights on, so their port and starboard lights looked like Christmas lights out to sea. (EDIT: I looked today and they might be the warning lights around a large sand bar but I think the boats sound much more romantic). The sounds of night closed in, soft laughter drifting up from the restaurant and bar by the pool as I watched the green and red lights blink on and off while I fell asleep.

Perfect day.

Christmas Day, Sunday December 25th.
While people were opening presents and gorging on food – I was lazing around the pool at the Mercure Harbourside, carefully ensuring I didn’t burn. I finished a chick-lit book by Sheila O’Flanagan and ate leftovers from the wonderful BayLeaf. I should explain there is a still a meal worth of leftovers upstairs in my room.
It does amaze me how determined some people are to “brown.” I didn’t think there was still that belief where they think if they go lobster red then they will go brown back home. The number of people I have seen burnt under peeling skin is just scary. The message of Slip Slop Slap doesn’t seem to carry or isn’t communicated as it used to be – and certainly not to those from overseas. Perhaps there should be some sort of communication about it.

Boxing Day however was a totally different day for me.

Boxing Day, Monday December 26th.
I was collected from my hotel and taken up the very scenic Captain Cook Hiway to Port Douglas to go out diving on the SilverSonic – run by QuickSilver. Unfortunately, the pick up was running about 25 minutes late to some guests who weren’t where they were supposed to be, so it was a mad rush to get onto the boat when we arrived in Port Douglas. The driver was a lark! He catered very well for his audience. At one stage there were only 2 non-international passengers on the boat, so he made sure he pointed out the kangaroos, shared stories in basic English and pointed out other touristy things to do while in town. Driving through Palm Cove was divine. I said at the time, it looked like a beach in Thailand or Vietnam – still, island off shore, shady trees, quiet little beachside town. I can’t wait to stay there!

The day itself on the SilverSonic was incredibly well organised and the ratio of staff to guests was MUCH higher than I expected. From multiple life guards, to swimmers with the snorkelers and 1 dive guide to 6 divers (all put into groups in line with experience) it was a very slick operation. I had read reviews from other dive/snorkel boats where the certified divers had to hang around under the intro divers – this was absolutely not the case for SilverSonic.

The tour participants were broken into groups – with snorkelers first called to be given their gear, then the intro divers to do their safety briefings and watch the what to expect video. Finally we were called down, and we were given a very thorough safety briefing – all be it a little hard to hear at times over the intro divers. I must admit I was surprised by the quality of the gear on the boat. I had brought my own because I once used hire gear on holidays and it was terrible. Everything looked reasonably new and very well cared for. Noone in our group had any problems with their gear. It should be noted that the gear (not including stinger suits) is included in the price of diving.

For the first dive, there wasn’t a sense of rush – we got into the water, got our bearings and slowly made our way down. It was a nice easy dive, so our very professional Dive Master/Guide Erin Smart could assess us and what we liked. I was impressed how attentive she was to her group – constantly checking on us – not just during the first check dive, the following two as well. I saw noone pop, look worried etc, and she timed the dive really well so we came to the mooring about 35 mins into the dive so we could drop off those with 50bar. We also spent the safety stop not just hanging out, but exploring at 5m – very well planned. The dive we did was Garry’s Gut – and provided us with a good entre of what we would see. Turtles, reef sharks, lots of aquarium fish etc.

The second and third dives we did were drift dives. As such we had a little bit of a scurry to get ready and into the water. I felt like I had just got comfy and relaxed up on deck and I, along with the certified divers were called back down again. This was probably my favourite dive of the day. Panova was a great site. Reef sharks, turtles, aquarium fish, great bommies, nudis, and a lovely medium sized maori wrasse. In the blue I also caught a glimpse of 3 devil rays that Erin spotted for us. That was a great surprise!

Our third and final dive was another drift dive – Just Magic. This was an incredibly relaxing dive – we all hung around 10m for most it and again stayed down the maximum time 50 minutes. I came up with 100bar, as did most of the others, but it was time. I was starting to feel the chill of three dives in a few short hours, even in 28c waters. Again we saw turtles, reef sharks, and lots of aquarium fish. There was also a photo stop where Erin took photos of a couple of the divers with their cameras behind a well positioned Nemo family. I passed but Erin took an awesome one of me on the second dive.

For 5 hours on the reef, we spent most of it underwater. Each dive was 50 minutes. Each dive had a real focus on safety and Erin’s care of her group was fantastic. If you do get the opportunity to dive while in Cairns or Port Douglas, I highly recommend the SilverSonic, not just for the excellent staff to guest ratio, but also for the huge amounts of food at lunch (the guests and the crew didn’t come close to eating it all – and it was a good range, including vegetarian), the quality of the guide staff (ask for Erin), but most importantly because of just how fast and stable the SilverSonic is. We blew past the Poseidon, and I wouldn’t want to be on her on a rough day – she was moving a bit and it was pretty much dead calm as we left Port Douglas.

It wasn’t all perfect though. Unfortunately, one of the other boats in the QuickSilver family had an engine problem, so returned to shore about 20 minutes late. Then four guests went missing who were supposed to be on my bus. Even though we were told very clearly, do NOT go shopping, there isn’t time, two went shopping, and the other two were having photo problems from the boat. We finally left after I had been waiting an hour. I understand maintenance delays – I fly a lot, but people who think they are more important than the other 30 odd waiting really annoy me off. In the end we left without two of them, and the QuickSilver team had to send a bus back for those two guests – what a waste of time and money for the company.

This was a great trip, and I highly recommend.

Upon returning to my hotel, I filled the bath, washed my dive gear then beelined for the pool. BLISS! It was so good to just be covered by the water and just relax. Bed came shortly after, as you can imagine after 2 hours on a bus, 3 dives and a day in the sun.

Tuesday December 27th.
It was hot. It was the first morning when I woke up and thought “Oh so this is what people have talked about.” The heat and humidity was oppressive so I decided to just hang out around the pool for the day. This turned out to be a brilliant idea, as I got to get some final relaxation in. The highlight of the day would have to be the sounds of thunder in a clear blue sky. Shortly after a huge storm front was barrelling across the city into the bay. It was brilliant. The next thing I know the heavens opened and the rains fell. The apparent temperature in Cairns fell by 13c and I had to get a pot of tea to warm up! The really nifty thing about my hotel was an automatic roof in the bar/cafe. So when the first drops fell, the roof closed keeping me and the other guests dry (well we had been in the pool so dry-ish) while we watched the show. It rained like in the video for 45minutes and it was still raining (lightly) 2 hours after the first drops. It was fantastic to experience my first tropical storm in the tropics.

Unfortunately, at 5pm my poolside relaxing had to come to an end, and I changed into “real clothes” and headed to the airport. I was again picked up bang on time by the lovely people at Coral Sea Coaches. Again I took advantage of the Priority Boarding queue and checked my dive gear in. Unfortunately, there is no Lounge in Cairns, but I didn’t have to wait for too long before I was back on a plane to Brisbane.

All in all, this was a fantastic quick getaway.

Organisations mentioned in this post:
www.sunloverholidays.com.au
www.virginaustralia.com.au
www.coralseacoaches.com.au
www.silverseries.com.au/sonic.htm
www.mercure-harbourside.com.au/
www.bayvillage.com.au/bayleaf
www.cairnsdining.com/509

 

 

More CityCycle Misinformation

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Thanks to the Courier Mail for this pic.

It must be a day ending in Y because the Courier Mail has written another negative piece on CityCycle.

Now, I do understand that not everyone sees the benefit of the program, but “cherry picking” and misrepresenting the numbers by “journalists” is becoming seriously tiring.

Figures released this week found the number of annual subscribers plummeted from 1251 in October when it began operating to only 131 in January.

The way that reads suggests that the total number of annual subscribers dropped by over 1000 in a 3 month period. It actually is the number of new annual subscriber take up – or did 1000 people really cancel their annual subscription. Also, January – didn’t something happen in January. Let me think… Something that impacted the suburbs serviced by CityCycle?  131 people taking up the service in a month with disaster and cleanup is pretty damn good (no pun intended). Talk about cherry picking the least favourable stat and playing it up.

The article then goes on to say

CityCycle operator JC Decaux was paid $93,000 for the October quarter, $73,000 for the January quarter and $143,000 for the March quarter – they receive $122 per bike in use for each quarter.

This statement suggests that the use is increasing back up again substantially – almost double in the second quarter of the year. Though how the 131 subscribers managed to do this I don’t know. This also doesn’t factor in four of the six weeks that CityCycle Paris ran – which generated a staggering 9000 trips (though truthfully most of us just changed bikes more often with a little more riding vs thousands of people joining the scheme. For example I did 97 trips in June – at least 30 of those were me changing bikes mid-journey to garner an extra entry).

Finally let’s look at those figures.  $143,000 paid by the council representing $122 for each bike in use during the quarter. That equates to almost 1200 bikes in use – again not bad for 131 subscribers.

Really Courier Mail – pick up your game.

PS. Could the other 130 subscribers please stop leaving my local station with no bikes twice a week? kthnxbai

PPS. Great little article on why the Dublin Bike Share is so successful. Not the answer most people in Brisbane would think.

 

Blue vs. Yellow – A Comparative Look at CityCycle and Melbourne Bike Share

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Early morning ride time in Melbourne.

So I went back to my old home town of Melbourne for the first time since Melbourne Bike Share and CityCycle launched.

When I lived there 10+ years ago I would never have believed you if you had told me that I would be riding bikes through the centre of Melbourne, let alone riding almost every day in Brisbane. I didn’t ride. Period. In fact I didn’t ride until October 2nd, when CityCycle launched last year.

Cut to today. Last month I clocked 97 trips on CityCycle, ride to and from work most days and use a bike share program as my primary form of transportation. Therefore, it made sense to spend my weekend back in Melbourne riding around town on the blue bikes that make up Melbourne Bike Share.

Rugged up to ride in Melbourne

Melbourne Bike Share (MBS) and CityCycle (CC) are from two different players in the Bike Share market. One, Bixi possibly best known for the Boris Bikes in London and the other is JCD, best known for the Velib program in Paris. Both are successful systems in their own right (except here in Australia – insert helmet argument here if you like). Their bikes and their programs, while both “bike share” are quite different.

So how did the two compare? I will break it down to categories and decide which won what. If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, just scan for colours – Melbourne Bike Share is blue and CityCycle is orange because yellow is too hard to read. You can see which scheme won each area by the colour, or if it is a tie there is no colour. The one with the most colour wins. Very scientific, I know.

Let’s take a look at the bikes first:

Frame:
The first thing I noticed with the blue bikes was that they were higher. The frame is larger, the step through lower and it is MUCH lighter – I did expect MBS’s frame to be better given that it doesn’t hold a locking mechanism or the rack bar like CC, where much of its weight is located. MBS has a thin piece of metal that sits under the basket to rack and no lock (more on that later) making it a better frame given its lack of heaviness. One to Melbourne Bike Share.

There was a distinct lack of consistency across the bikes in Melbourne.

Gears:
The same gears are on both bikes, however I found more variation on the bikes with MBS and also thought that they were geared lower, so even less likely to build up much speed. Perhaps it is because the CC bikes are newer but they are more consistent and better for riding. One to CityCycle

Brakes:
Not sure if they are the same, however I found the tension on the brakes on the 8 different bikes I rode in Melbourne to be wildly different. Again, this could be age and or use, but going with CityCycle for consistency again as while there is some variance, it is nothing on MBS.

Me bruised and my bag bent. Taez says no to the basket in Melbourne

Basket:
I was super excited that MBS had a basket with a strap. After watching their video I realised it didn’t have sides but figured it would still be ok. Nope. The amount of tooing and froing to get the strap over is a pain, I have more than one bruise on my wrist from it. The elastic was so stiff, it even bent my bag. Compare to the wire basket on the CityCycle, you just chuck your bag in and ride. I got so fed up with the MBS system I just rode with my bag over my shoulders.

Lock:
MBS has a handy “loop” that you can run your own lock through. Personally, I don’t want to be carrying around a lock, and have used the CityCycle lock a total of twice. So do I want the option of less weight but less convenience, or more weight and more convenience? In the end, I have decided that since the two times I needed a lock were spontaneous (a cider pick up and a bathroom break – not related), convenience wins – this one to CityCycle.

Brilliant yet simple design on the seat post and clasp. You can also see the loop for your own lock.

Saddle (including height adjustment):
As far as my bottom could tell, it was the same saddle, however how the seat post and clamp on the MBS was far superior to that of CityCycle. While the clamps are both lever actioned, MBS releases a circular grip making raising and lowering the seat post a breeze. It also meant that I didn’t have to almost bend my hand back to move the clamp as I do on the CityCycle. Also with MBS they have numbers on the side of the seat post. So rather than measuring with my hand and often getting rust or oil on it, I can just visually set it. Melbourne Bike Share – this was awesome!

Handlebars and Grips:
As people who follow me on Twitter know, my hands are prone to get all owies when I ride the CityCycle too much because of the raised pattern of the grips. As such I bought a pair of gel gloves (yeah yeah I know, shut up). I packed these (along with some unpadded full gloves for the cold in Melbourne) for my weekend of riding, and imagine my surprise when my hands clasped soft and smooth grips! I only used my bike gloves once. The handlebars were also higher than the CityCycle, thereby creating less pressure on your hands. Consequently, the comfort on the Melbourne Bike Share bikes was far superior to CC.

Dump and go - the ease of the Brisbane basket.

Tyres:
Given that I am not the most confident of riders, I have often had a mini freakout when the tyres of the CC get caught in a edge of the road or slight raise going from the road/grass to pavement. The tyres on the MBS are not only larger (less energy expended) but they are wider with what appeared to be off road ridges on them – totally different to the dinky little CC tyres.  I loved the tyres, and didn’t have a single moment where I was worried I might come off because my tyre caught on something. All you Melbourne Bike Share.

Manoeuvrability:
I used to think that the CC had the manoeuvrability of a battleship, but compared to MBS bikes, it is like a hummingbird. The lack of range on the MBS was staggering. I noticed it when I went to take out my first bike. I went to turn the handlebars and they just stopped. I can’t imagine how the bike goes up a disabled or bike ramp, but then again I guess you can’t ride on the disabled ramps in Melbourne anyway. This was one of my main dislikes of MBS. Another one to CityCycle.

Now the ease of use of the program:

Umm that is a lot of information!

Hiring a Bike:
In Brisbane we have the yellow cards that we swipe, enter a pin number, select a bike, release it and go. In Melbourne they have chipped keys that you slot into the rack next to the bike you want, wait a couple of seconds and the bike is released. Done. For ease and speed, MBS has it hands down, though the convenience of putting a credit card style card in your back pocket is pretty good, but this one stays with Melbourne Bike Share. MBS also has a casual, daily and weekly instant hire process. I didn’t try it, but it is there, all be it involving way too many steps for me to want to utilise it when $50 a year is so cheap.

Finding Stations:
Say what you like about the bright yellow of the CityCycle and stations, but I will say this, they are MUCH easier to find than the MBS stations. MBS is deliberately unobtrusive, often sitting back off main roads. I found the Melbourne stations quite tricky to pin point, and would be stopping to check the app frequently, swivelling my head around trying to find the station. Bright yellow may be harsh and the advertising a pain, but you can spot a station easily. Unobtrusive is good, but being able to find a station is better – this one to CityCycle.

Access to the Stations:
Brisbane City Council has done a fair bit of work in recent months to put in directional ramps to the stations for ease of gaining access to the pavement as well as getting off the pavement to the road. Melbourne doesn’t have this at all and some stations are in the middle of the block, so no easy access. All CityCycle.

Love love love the maps attached to the stations in Melbourne.

Locations:
Brisbane has twice as many stations, so it is easier to find a station close to where you want to go. I will say though, that MBS had a station within a block of almost everywhere I was going, and Brisbane currently lacks stations at key areas, though this is supposed to be addressed in phase 2. It also felt like MBS was more for getting around once you got into town, where as I feel as though CC is designed to move people in and out of the city. As it stands, for how I used/use the system, it is a tie.

On Road Station Maps:
The maps that CC have at their stations can best be described as decorative. In contract, the maps for MBS show the stations and also helpfully say “you are here” as well as point out where helmet vendors are located. As a tourist (even though I lived in Melbourne for 8 years), I found myself plotting routes with the station maps and the app. Together they worked so well. It made picking my path and working out where the heck I was when I just went exploring so much easier. Well done Melbourne Bike Share.

The owie grip and the heavy lock on the CityCycle

Road Cycling:
The quality of the closest metre to the curb in Melbourne is much better than here in Brisbane. That alone made riding much more enjoyable. However, add to this the fact that Melbourne turns some parking on the sides of roads into Bike Lanes (enforcing the Clearway too) and it just gets better. Then you also have the unofficial bike routes – on the roads predominately set up for trams and come commercial vehicles. Apart from me really pissing off a couple of tram drivers (sorry I couldn’t go any faster no matter how many times you rang your little bell), it was great to have a a grid through the city without all the cars. The only problem I had was that some areas became tram only so you had to get off the bike and walk it on the pavement – though I seemed to be the only one who followed the signs. This one goes to Melbourne Bike Share.

Off Road Cycling:
I love riding through the parks in Brisbane. I frequently divert on the way home to ride through the Botanical Gardens, or I cut through King George Square. In Melbourne though, there is no riding on pavements, cutting through parks etc. Also there are far less off road bike paths (that I could find anyway) than in Brisbane. I found this quite annoying while in Melbourne, but I followed the rules. Brisbane has this one – CityCycle.

No more "but I can't be spontaneous because I don't have a helmet"

Helmets:
Yes, it is the law in Australia that we must wear a helmet when we ride. Some of us are for it, some of us are against it and some of us just think you should be able to make up your own mind. To find a helmet vendor on CC’s webpage you click on a link and get a list (not mapped) of 14 companies that will sell you a helmet outright. With MBS you have lists and maps that show stacks of 7/11’s that sell the ($5 each and you get $3 back when you return it) as well as two vending machines that dispenses them for the same price all conveniently located on each station map. Melbourne Bike Share gets another.

Cost:
Both models have an increased scale for keeping bikes longer than the prescribed amount of time. MBS costs $50 for the year and CC costs $60. However, with an annual subscription with MBS you get 45 minute trips and can borrow bikes 24/7, unlike CC which has a maximum free time of 30 mins and are only open from 5am till 10pm. Another win for Melbourne Bike Share.

Webpage:
Hands down this goes to Melbourne Bike Share – it is easy to use and navigate. Whomever designed and signed off on the CityCycle page should be performance managed.

Customer Contact Centre:
I haven’t had any problems (less the current incorrect expiration date on my account) with Melbourne Bike Share so I can’t comment on how it compares to CityCycle’s hit and miss with their call centre. So this one is currently even.

CityCycle Station - clean design but lacking in functionality.

Registration:
I had no problems registering with either program, but it took me multiple times for the activation page to come up for Melbourne Bike Share and as I mentioned it is currently showing the incorrect dates. So this one to CityCycle.

Communication:
This has been a major bugbear with me and CityCycle. They are TERRIBLE at it. It is as though they are doing the exact opposite of Melbourne Bike Share who actively engage with their riders on Twitter and Facebook. I have received personalised emails that actually relate to what I asked in a timely manner as well as receiving updates on how my “key” was going. This one is all Melbourne Bike Share.

Mobile App:
While CityCycle’s helpfully named AllBikesNow is functional to a point, I have many problems with it not displaying live data and its inability to communicate anything other than bike and rack numbers. AllBikesNow meet SpotCycle (again an amazingly unhelpful name). Not only can you change the display style, but it also has a timer and best of all it shows the cycle paths, lanes and unoffocial bike ways. SpotCycle takes AllBikesNow and laughs at it.

Problems with a Bike:
If you have a problem with MBS you follow the accepted practise of turning the seat around. We do the same here in Brisbane, however if there is something particular, we can record the number and advise CC. I am not saying this is a perfect system, it isn’t and I have spoken about its drawbacks before, but it is better than MBS as MBS has no numbering system I could see or means for reporting a faulty bike (I may be wrong and am happy to be proven otherwise). This one goes to CityCycle.

So who has the better bike?
5 : 4 to CityCycle.

Which is the better program?
8 : 5 to Melbourne Bike Share.

Overall, Melbourne Bike Share wins. 12 : 10. Neither scheme is perfect. Some things I can’t stand on one, I love on the other. I could have broken it down further, (ie the stands for MBS are wussy any my bikes kept falling over, or just how crappy both their bells are – same style of bell mind you, the lights etc), but theses are the main things I find important in my day to day riding. It begs the question though, why isn’t Melbourne Bike Share more successful? They have the helmets, they have a casual hire option, yet for my weekend away I never saw another blue bike in action. I didn’t see movement on my local racks. I even could draw a line in construction dust on some of them. For all the naysayers about CityCycle (and yes it has its challenges), it is being used more than Melbourne Bike Share.

 

 

 

#fourbluepandas

 

Sneak Peek – CityCycle Phase II

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Thanks to JCD for the pic.

So I have been pretty quiet on the blog recently, not just about CityCycle but about everything.

That is not to say there hasn’t been a lot happening with CityCycle, there has.

We have the creatively named KillCityCycle campaign chugging along with reams of disinformation and vitriol; the push to make the stations more accessible for riders (had a couple of wins there); the CityCycleParis competition; my meeting with the CFO and Comms Manager of JCD Australia; my speaking about CityCycle and Active Transport at Engineers Australia: just to name what instantly comes to mind.

What has energised me to write is that I just spoke to the BCC’s Project Manager for CityCycle – Samantha Collie again. And let’s just say the news is good!

I first spoke to Ms Collie after I expressed my concerns regarding the safety of one station in particular and a couple of others in the network. Today Ms Collie was calling me back giving me an update. After briefly discussing works to be completed and an action plan to test the existing stations for usability in both directions of travel we spoke about Phase 2.

First up – let’s talk about where it is going….

  • There will be a few more in the city that couldn’t be done last time.
  • UQ!
  • Milton!
  • Auchenflower!
  • Toowong!
  • Dutton Park!
  • Southbank!!!!
  • Mater Hospital!

What extra information I have (most of it relates to me or people who I asked for).

Central Station will finally be getting bikes. It won’t be quick, as there is some works going on there currently, but we will be getting multiple stations at Central including one just down from Turbot Street. This will make hooning (I mean commuting down Edward a breeze). There will also be a station on Anne St as part of the revamp of Central next year.
Southbank have agreed to four (yes 4!!!) stations inside their boundaries.
There will be a like a ring road of stations for Dutton Park and up to the Mater which then connects back through South Brisbane.
UQ will have multiple stations (hope they are big ones) though personally I think they need at least 4 plus they will be getting three stations en route from Toowong Village to UQ.
Toowong will have good access including one just by the Commonwealth Bank.
Milton will have multiple stations – though unfortunately NOT Suncorp Stadium though was advised I should lobby them, but as we know, Suncorp Stadium are NOT bike friendly at all. We will see great Milton access (especially given the lovely BiCentennial Bike Way there), plus stations in hot spots – like the stations and entertainment/restaurant areas. My closest station to work will be Little Cribb St, which means I can avoid the hill past the Barracks.
I forgot to ask where in Auchenflower, but I imagine the station and along the bike path plus a couple of feeders.

All up there will be 46 new stations with construction commencing in September, 2011.

The official announcement will be on Thursday, June 9th by Cnr Simmonds the Minister for Active Transport. So stay tuned for the exact locations, more details and general YAYNESS!

Can we get a HELLS YEAH???

UPDATE: Media release to be Tuesday 14th June, awaiting confirmation from Cnr Simmonds’ office for full details.

Views and Views About CityCycle

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

 

The view west in Cnr Simmonds office. Another perfect Brisbane Autumn day.

Well if getting my ego stroked by Campbell Newman before he resigned wasn’t enough, I was contacted by the office of Councillor Margaret de Wit (Council’s Chairman, Public & Active Transport Committee) shortly after Bike Week to discuss CityCycle: specifically my thoughts to improve it.

Unfortunately, after reading up on Councillor de Wit she went and got shifted to another portfolio due to the reshuffle post Newman. As such I met with the fresh faced Councillor for Walter Taylor Ward, Julian Simmonds, who is the new Council’s Chairman, Public & Active Transport Committee on his second day of his new job.

In preparation I had 22 discussion points on how to engage the public and garner more subscribers/users.

In no particular order they were:

  1. Get bins at stations to stop the rubbish dump in baskets. Unsightly and offputting.
  2. No 10pm shut down, even 11pm would be better. CityCycle is far safer than waiting on the side of the street for Translink to hopefully show up. What is the point of riding to the movies if you can’t get home without standing in the dark for 30 mins waiting for a bus.
  3. Lack of dedicated bike lanes in the network. How can you encourage people to ride when the perception is that it isn’t safe to do so.
  4. What is the point of the fake BAZ’s. They don’t make it safer, and some of them are in dangerous areas were a bike lane would be far more beneficial. It gives a false sense of security.
  5. The alternative is to ride on the pavements, however this isn’t possible as some corners in the network (especially by stations) don’t even have a ramp. More than once I been verbally abused by pedestiran for riding on the pavement.
  6. Commit to a no helmet trial for a month to three months to see if it will make a difference. Translation: shut up the anti-helmet agenda.
  7. 3 month subsidised subscription during winter. No reason why we can’t do a half price for 3 months and get people on the bikes. The more out there and seen, the greater the awareness and the safer it is for all cyclists.
  8. People say they want one integrated card, though I just think this is another excuse. It is SO cheap, it doesn’t matter if you don’t use it. 18cents a day people.
  9. Communication. We have JCD hardly talking to us, and BCC responding to Citycycle enquiries via Twitter. Talk to the subscribers. Have delays communicated. Why are some stations taking longer etc? Why don’t we get updates via email? I know they tried once and it was a debacle, but really… Why doesn’t JCD engage their users? Why does JCD make it so hard to speak to them? eg Non-users wanting to communicate can’t use their on line contact form (unless they work it out like Sue Hetherington). It can take 2.5 weeks to get a response to an enquiry.
  10. Redesign the website. Actually make it easy to use. It is atrocious and so non-user friendly. Finding the right information shouldn’t take more than 2 clicks.
  11. Explore non-punitive 30 minute + hires. Maybe everyone gets 10 a year – a grace of 15 minutes. If you are a continuous offender, then start with the charges.
  12. More technicians to service the bikes. Ringing the bell and rotating the gears isn’t servicing them. The guards are bending and catching on the pedals, baskets are squished. I am still sitting at a 15% faulty bike rate. That is more than one in ten – how can you get people on board with faulty bikes. If 200 odd ppl are taking trips a day – that is 20+ faulty bikes/poor experiences.
  13. Better management of the busy stations. The system is all integrated, so why do I have to call to get bikes delivered to my local stations? They know it is empty, yet they don’t move the bikes around nearly enough. Also, why close down the bulk of the stations for football games? I know they want ease for pedestrians, but surely you want people to be riding to the games. After the game last night (Monday Night Football), why were high usage stations still closed after 9am on Tuesday morning? The only stations near Roma Street that were open looked fully racked. Too bad if you were wanting to catch a train – you would have to had dropped it at the Cycle Centre, KGS or Barracks.
  14. Advertising by stations only. I can suck up the eyesores, like I do bus stations, but IMHO, no station, no advertising. People are anti-advertising already, but why can JCD get their ads up in a location that still hasn’t had its station built?
  15. Another campaign. We have had the wettest summer on record. Now it is cooler, and drier, have a campaign about the scheme – tie it into that nifty 50% offer.
  16. Quality control and training for the Call Centre as it is either great or hopeless. You shouldn’t be able to call three times and get three different answers (not counting the “I don’t know, let me run downstairs and find out” responses).
  17. Respond to all the negative press. We know that the papers and tv hate cyclists already, CityCycle is like Easter and Christmas rolled into one. Why, when they do yet another negative story, is there noone from council being interviewed and quoted? The media complained that only 224 trips were taken a day, why didn’t the Council say “That is fantastic! That is 224 people not on the bus from New Farm or West End in or out of the CBD!”
  18. Don’t speak on the defensive. Seems like whenever someone from council did say “Boo” on CityCycle it was on the defensive. Why not generate your own positive press? If CBDBug can get media coverage on cycling, surely the BCC can get positive message out there, if not, hire someone who can.
  19. Get Riverwalk up and running again ASAP, as New Farm is no longer CityCycle Central. The trip to the city no means riding through incredibly heavy traffic with no bike lanes, BAZ’s or even a fake BAZ.
  20. Better road quality! Even in a BAZ, often the state of the road near the curb is a mess and highly dangerous (and not just to watermelons). It is challenging enough riding on the roads without having to swerve to avoid uneven/dangerous holes/dips.
  21. Educate the bus drivers! I have been in so many near misses with buses. Their driving really puts cyclists at risk. Again, you can’t get people on bikes if they think it isn’t safe.
  22. Pedestrian education. Pedistrians don’t know that we can ride on the pavement. They have headphones on and can’t hear the bell. They run into bike lanes without looking. Cyclists aren’t perfect, but we are already working not to get taken out by a car, dodge the holes in the road, avoiding the bus that just stopped with its tail across the bike lane without having to swerve to miss jaywalking pedestrians.

So those were my talking points. Most have been said before, but not to the Council’s Chairman, Public & Active Transport Committee. One thing I liked about Simmonds was that he has actually used the bikes. I KNOW! In fact, he was a policy officer on the project back in the day, so it is his “baby,” and he wants to see it succeed. Overall he was receptive to the dicussion points. Agreed on some, would get back to me on others – though some are just way too hard to try and pull off for an easy fix. He was genuinely interested in my anecdotal expeirences, and wanted to know what I had heard/seen about people for or against CityCycle. I do truly believe that the majority of people who are against the scheme haven’t used it at all, have their own agenda (self promotion/politics/helmets), and predominately wouldn’t use the scheme if it came up and said I am free, here is a free helmet that magically appears when you want it and you don’t need to sign up.

On the plus side though, Riverwalk is a go, and construction is expected to be underway before the end of the year. YAY!

Finally, if you ever can’t find a bike, they have some there, on the 6th floor of Brisbane Square.

PS. Cnr Simmonds watches the Channel 9 Today show… #shudder

PPS. I was also contacted by JCD last week to discuss my ideas and use of CityCycle. Never rains but it pours.

 

Collage of the 2011 Flood on Display in Cnr Simmonds Office.

Pandas, Spandex and Snags

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

 

Das Panda meets a Fan

Today was Ride2Work day as part of Bike Week, Brisbane puts on a huge free breakfast (snags, cereal, juice and coffee) and lets cyclists take over King George Square. This morning, around 1000 cyclists (and more than a few journalists) showed up to either praise or dis cycling.

I was briefly interviewed by the always lovely Anne O’Keefe for 612Brisbane (ABC Local Radio and Brisbane’s #1 Breakfast show) and had the chance to talk CityCycle with Lord Mayor Campbell Newman. It was amazing to hear him tell me that he came across my blog and printed out my latest piece and gave it to the POTB. I saw my last piece have a lot of Brisbane City Council hits in one day a month after posting – now I know who and why. You can listen to both myself and our Lord Mayor here.

Some random snaps are below.

 

"Two wheels are better than four!" (I think she is only holding up one finger though so unicyclists don't feel excluded)

"We will continue to roll out CityCycle!" Music to this panda's ears.

 

More bikes on the racks than at a Triathalon

Anne interviewing Can Do Campbell for Ride2Work Day (she also snuck in a question about dying trees)

Happy Ride2Work Day everyone.

PS. Apparently I was filmed by Ten and made their main Brisbane News – though I don’t know in what capacity. I hope it was me looking super cool while I swiped my CityCycle card!

 

CityCycle 4 months in

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

CityCycles in the city during the Flood by Jono Haysom

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.

Still a lot of white.

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.

You would THINK that a station at Central would be a high priority, right?

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.”

Soon we will have 2000 mobile garbage bins in the inner city.

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.

YAY! Station open and bikes available!!

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.

Oh wait, the station isn't even listed!

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.

Crashing phones everywhere!

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.

#threeandahalfpatientandforgivingpandas

So Just Why Was Pretty Little Liars the #1 Tweeted Series for 2010?

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Number 2???

Let’s be honest, there are better shows out there – True Blood, The Walking Dead, Mad Men etc and all except Mad Men made the Television Twitter Trend Top Ten for 2010, but just why did Pretty Little Liars come in at #2 over all the the highest rated series.

According to Mashable and Read Write Web, teens don’t tweet, however the demographic for this show is decidedly teen with over a million teen viewers watching our over made up band of “heroes,” with a total weekly audience of 2.5 million – the highest ratings ever for ABC Family – coming in a whopping 41% ahead of its competition in the same time slot. Also, there has only been ten episodes of the show, so it isn’t like this is a cumulative effect over 22 eps, as the back half of the series is to be shown in early 2011 with season two (already green lighted and shooting to commence in January 2011) to hit the screens as a late Summer (US) show. Shows that are much more reflective of a tweeting demographic didn’t get up there, plus hugely successful shows such as Glee (can’t stand it) and CSI (peoples still watch that?) that came in located in the lower half of the list. If my pre-Glee blocked stream was any indication of the volume of tweets that must be required to come in at #6, I dread to think how many more tweets about Pretty Little Liars actually racked up.

I talked about the first two episodes of Pretty Little Liars a couple of weeks back and have since watched the entire front half of season 1.

This show is much more teen, tween and family orientated that HellCats, yet here in Australia on GO! it is shown at 9.30pm, with HellCats at 7.30pm. Don’t get me started on GO!’s idea of programming times (remember Chuck?) but I don’t understand why a show that is much more family friendly than HellCats is on after Vampire Diaries, a show with very young adult and supernatural themes.

Love that they are done as dolls - posable yet empty.

In the States however, it was on at an age appropriate time and racking up the ratings and as such the tweets. However it isn’t just the television show. Pretty Little Liars is taken from the very successful tween novels by the same name. Out of curiosity I did buy the first book from iBooks and found it remarkably well written. None of this unnecessary fluff that filled out JK Rowling’s later books, but crisp, clear writing with drama, suspense and real character development. It is also written for the parents who are reading with this children, leading to discussions about age appropriate issues, to ensure that their young girls learn from the mistakes of the main characters and have a strong sense of self worth so they can make the right choices. However it does all this without being preachy and a little bit salacious (as much as it can be with teens).

There are some major differences in the show to the books, but over all it stays true to the themes, plot twists, suspense and character development of the books. In my first review, I said it was intriguingly engaging crap. And to be honest, that does still hold true, but I can certainly see its appeal of the family market. Some times though I want to shake the females in that show until they demonstrate some sense.

Every cliche is in this show. Every single one. From the student having a relationship with her teacher, to the fat girl now thin and popular, to the step siblings having a technically not incestuous relationship, sister in love with her sister’s boyfriend, and let’s not forget the divorce storyline and “sexual tension” between some of the parents. Add into this a mix of Gossip Girl style texts knowing all their deepest and darkest secrets and you can see why this show is so popular.

We are pretty, but also dirty and naughty.

But being popular isn’t enough. If Twitter is about sharing information in real time (which according to Read Write Web teens are not want to do) why is Pretty Little Liars Tweet Rating so high? Some of the tweets tell the answer as they are a direct reflection of not only the books but also the show’s style – cliffhanger after cliffhanger after cliffhanger. A lot of the tweets were watchers hypothesising on what they think might happen, given their knowledge of the books and what has happened in the show. There is also an awful lot of discussion about why characters made the choices they made – whether they agree with the decisions or not – and this reflects nicely back on the books – encouraging the readers to learn from the mistakes of the characters to make the right choices. And of course, there is a fair bit of discussion on what is being worn. Looking at the most recent few pages of search results it is filled with tweet after tweet of how they can’t wait for the show to return on Jan 3rd (US release). That is one loyal fan base.

So the buy in from those watching and therefore tweeting is higher than other shows. Anecdotally, if I love a show, I tweet I am watching it, jump on the occasional discussions regarding it on twitter but that is about it, and I certainly don’t keep mentioning the show in my tweets (I am just too verbose to fit it all in), however these tweeters do and the amount of retweets is just insane.

Finally, it should be noted that I don’t actually know anyone who watches Pretty Little Liars. According to gomiso, none of my friends watch it, and it has been very slow on the uptake with viewers who use gomiso with only 120 people following (compared to the 2k+ Fringe follwers). Also, from people who read my first review of Pretty Little Liars, a whopping 83% came from the US. Now I know my blog is read predominately by Americans and Europeans but even for HowManyPandas that was pretty full on – but then given the lack of suitable time slot for the show here in Australia it isn’t that much of a surprise that there is little to no interest here.

So if we all believe Twitter is the temperature gauge to what is “so hot right now” to quote Mugatu, we should all be turning on Justin Bieber and watching Pretty Little Liars. For a deomographic that doesn’t tweet, they sure have an impact on trends.

PS. Anyone know where I can find top trends in Australia for 2010? Will even accept LMGTFY.com responses.

PPS. The Last Airbender came in at #6 on the top ten tweeted movies – I bet 99% of those tweets were about how bad this movie actually was.

So What’s Up with CityCycle? Some Questions Answered

Thursday, November 25th, 2010
citycycle rack newfarm

Fantastic shot by StephenK1977 via Flickr

I was thinking about what I was going to write next week to commemorate 2 months of citycycling around BrisVegas when today CityCycle (JCDecaux) called me.

At first I thought it was going to be that survey that was doing the rounds a month or so back. Instead it was someone to answer my questions – someone who actually knew some answers and had a positive attitude… totally unlike my second last experience with their Call Centre team.

I was gobsmacked recently when I rode past Commercial/Florence St #65 after a little under a week away to see the once busy station closed – red guards in place and everything. This station is used a lot by the Bulimba crowd, so I couldn’t understand why it was closed, especially given that stations #66 and #67 (the large stations built for the bus hub and cross river ferry) had yet to open.

So I sent an email and expected one of the typical emails back. Instead, I got a phone call and since this person was in the know and helpful, decided to ask all the questions that no one else seemed to have been able to answer.

So why is #65 closed given that it is currently the only station near the ferry terminal?
Oh. It is closed for two weeks due to building construction next to the site and then it will be open again.

When are the other stations (66/67) going to open?
Early 2011.

BREAKING NEWS: CityCycle has opened station #67 – Vernon Tce and Commercial Rd 24 hours after saying it wouldn’t open till 2011. I will pretend it is because I told them that you couldn’t catch the CityCat there and that people needed a station for the cross river ferry. In truth I go back to my communication comment, as he physically looked up the stations in the system for opening dates. No surprised they can’t communicate with the general public if they can’t even get their internal communication right.

So not late 2010? (as per advertising)
Unfortunately no, 2011.

CityCycle South Bank

One station now live kinda close to South Bank - but isn't a major station

So does this mean that the stations at Southbank are going to be early 2011?
We don’t know. We are waiting for signoff from Southbank Corporation.

(????) So it has nothing to do with you?
Waiting for Southbank.

What about the people who have signed up but can’t actually use the system at all or as it is supposed to be used? When Merthyr Village went down I got a number of weeks added to my account. Some people still can’t ride at all.
We are doing extensions for those subscribers.

There was some idle banter but that is the crux of it.

Another great shot by StephenK1977

Now we already know that the problem with the inital construction of the stations (some are still being built) is the Brisbane City Council. But what I (and others I had spoken to) wasn’t aware that the hold up with getting stations into Southbank, possibly the most relevant place to have them is Southbank itself. Now we know that Southbank is a state owned corporation, and were recently in the news due to planning rights negatively impacting the BCC – at the time I was thinking so what? The ABC is getting a nice new studio finally! Now of course it directly impacts me and dang it all if I don’t agree with Can-do Campbell. (For those keeping count, we are at 3 things) Why, if this has been signed off on and part of the service level agreement has it not been signed off?

What I foolishly didn’t ask was why there was such a hold up on the other stations (blown back from late 2010 to early 2011) – because there is a station just near Southbank that would be awesome. I also didn’t ask why they didn’t communicate to their users that the station #65 was going to close temporarily. They did post on their webpage (and I use the term literally not flatteringly) that they had opened six new stations, taking their total to 57. How did I find out? BCC twitter account – CityCycle’s communication team does not exist I have decided. I have commented a couple of times in previous pieces and interviews that their communication, or rather lack of it, is their biggest challenge.

57 < 100. 43 in a month is just not going to happen.

It is great to hear though that subscribers who have bought their card to “change they way you move” will get extensions – though I suggest you probably need to call the Call Centre to get that done.

So let’s talk about the last few weeks of CityCycle.

First up – a HUGE improvement on the movement of bikes in New Farm, Teneriffe and The Valley. Within 48 hours of my radio interview on Brisbane’s #1 breakfast show (That is ABC Brisbane612) bikes were being regularly shuffled. I could check in on the app during the day and see the stations getting evened out. So 10 points for fixing that.

Secondly, they finally opened my second (of three) local stations. I finally don’t have to cycle up a hill to rack my bike after riding for 25mins. That is worth another 30 points.

Thirdly, they have finished construction on my third station – located at Malt St – so soon I can skip the hills and coast downhill into the city – YAY! Please open this station soon, but for finally finishing it – you can have another 20 points.

Forthly, you opened up the stations at The Palace Barracks and Palace Centro (local station recently opened) in time for BIFF. I can’t tell you how great it was to be able to cycle to BIFF. Not having to pay for parking or circle and circle to find a park in a side street when the carpark is full at The Barracks was just awesome. Cycling home (mostly down hill) after 9pm at night with the cool breeze past my face was brilliant. Dodging drunken twats in The Valley, not so much.

Fifthly, their response to my email – a call was super nice – so another 10 points there. Normally I get an email like this one. You do get a response quickly which is good, and I have seen them action an email, fixing a station problem.

Prompt but soulless.

Sixthly, I am seeing a lot more people riding. I am seeing more people heading back from work and on the weekends it remains very popular. I am changing roles, so hopefully my next position will see me working near a CityCycle station!

The only negatives has been 2 faulty bikes – 1 with a faulty seat lever and 1 with dodgy gears, and of course their woeful communication with the public and their users.
My suggestions: Get a Communications person on board – my contract finishes on December 3rd – so I am available. Update your app so I can email you directly from it, rather than having to go onto the webpage on my mobile device. Get a twitter account – I saw a tweet the other day asking the BCC CityCycle questions. Communicate with your users.

Things are slowly turning the corner for CityCycle. A couple of friends of mine just moved into the next street from me, I asked them if they were going to subscribed – they said yes. Good sign.

#threepandas

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