Take one non-cyclist.
Add one much maligned bike share program.
Include a healthy dose of passive aggressiveness.
Even before CityCycle started, I was sold. The more people dismissed it, the more I wanted to do it, to prove them wrong.
What did I know about cycling though?
I believe the technical term is: Jack.
I hadn’t cycled as part of commuting since high school (a very nasty fall due to some road works saw me keep off a bike for many, many years). I did spend a few hours on a bike on a holiday overseas a few years back, but riding in Brisbane? Forget it. Everyone knows just how dangerous it is!
Yet here I was. Committed to CityCycle to prove to people that you could use it as part of your day.
That I did.
I battled through the roll outs and the station that still hasn’t opened close to my home… I pushed through and ended up selling my car, because I rode everywhere. When I went out of the CityCycle network, well there is Translink for that. When I really needed a car, I just hired one. I would CityCycle to and from the rental agency. Too easy and oh so much cheaper than owning.
Living and working in the inner city meant that I could get away with not needing a car, with jumping on a CityCycle and getting to where I wanted to go. Free helmets saw me use the bikes even more – because on the odd occasions I didn’t have my helmet with me, I could jump on one and just ride. I mean why walk 10 minutes when you can ride it in 2? Need to get to a meeting (or a coffee) a few blocks away? Jump a CityCycle. It is just so easy.
Over the course of 2 years, I went from pavement and bike path only riding, to being a confident (and law abiding) road based cyclist.
CityCycle did exactly what it is purported to do, for me at least. It got me out of the car, saw me opt out of much public transport (or at least incorporate it for shorter distances), increased my cycling confidence, improved my fitness, and transition into a bike owner.
A few months ago, I took on a new role, located way outside the CityCycle network. When I looked at the job and the location, I didn’t worry about parking, I checked public transport (as a back up) and how it was for riding to and from work. This of course meant I would have to buy a bike. So my CityCycle journey was complete.
I currently ride to and from work daily. If it is a lovely day, I come home the long way along the river, to truly enjoy the city. I love my town and I love riding. I plan weekends around where I can cycle and explore. I have met a whole new group of people – cyclists! Who would have thought that a few years ago this would be me? I would have laughed at you for suggesting it.
Yet here I am.
I have been asked quite frequently since buying my bike if I will be keeping my CityCycle membership. You know what? I will be. I still think CityCycle is the best option for one way trips, or if I want to go somewhere I don’t feel confident about locking my bike up unattended for hours. For $60 a year, I truly believe it is best option out there for many people… you just have to commit to not only trying it, but sticking to it.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Dutton Park!
- 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.
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:
- Get bins at stations to stop the rubbish dump in baskets. Unsightly and offputting.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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).
- 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!"
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, one month in and people seem to be, if anything, more interested than ever in how CityCycle is going and amazingly my thoughts on it - I was even contacted for a TV news story on the gosh darn thing. I think I am one of the few people blogging about CityCycle, or I am the one who promotes their blog the most and also lucky enough to have some great readers who promote it on.
So how has it been traveling? If you read the local papers or online news sites, it is doomed to fail, taking the council’s money with it. But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Really.
There has been much comparison to the failure of Melbourne’s bike hire scheme, and how they are now doing vending machines to provide helmets for riders. In my humble opinion, that isn’t the issue. Melbourne has less stations and it was also launched in Winter. Was someone not having a helmet the deal breaker on riding? Personally, I don’t think so.
CityCycle is designed to be an alternative to other forms of transport for commuters. Commuters know they are commuting. My helmet (in its yellow CityCycle bag) goes with me if I think I will use the scheme - just like my GoCard goes with me - there is a difference in size I must admit. On the very odd occasion that you are out and spontaneously wish you could ride a CityCycle from Roma Street to Fortitude Valley, yes it is a shame you can’t hit the vending machine for a helmet, swipe a credit card, and ride. But really, that is not the majority, and not what it was intended for - if this was me, I would just jump on a bus. CityCycle isn’t designed to replace other forms of transport, it compliments it.
Much has also been made of the $11 a day cost, comparing it to bus fares. I paid my $60 upfront, that is what, 17-18 cents a day. Six days in twelve months is all you would have to use it to break even (give or take) on the daily rate. The other way of looking at it is this - a year’s membership approximately equates to one zone trip on your GoCard every two weeks. I have used CityCycle 30+ times in the past month and that would have been much more had it not been for rain and the 10pm lock out. I also did nine hours more exercise last month than I would have otherwise, not including the walking to and from the stations.
It hasn’t all been puppies and chocolate… There are some problems.
CityCycle’s biggest problem is its own poor communication.
Its webpage is atrocious. Unnecessary clicks, hard to find information, woeful design etc. Their app is better, but has some problems. You really have to spend a bit of time to set it up with your stations to get the benefit of it, and live isn’t really live or always correct.
The Call Centre is either brilliant or hopeless. Some staff know what is going on, most don’t. Give them with a problem outside of “how do I register?” or “how do I use my card to hire a bike?” and they are stumped. Some of their staff are just downright hopeless at customer service. You can read more about this here.
Another problem are stations that look live, aren’t. An Opening Soon sign on the machine would be great - as the little one on the racks are also on live stations - so how can you tell, especially if someone has already racked a bike? Commercial Rd / Skyring Tce (Teneriffe CityCat, Cross River Ferry, Bus Hub) Station 66 is a great case in point - there were 9 bikes there recently, yet it is a closed station. I would love to know what happened to those people who left bikes there.
The biggest issue in my area, New Farm/Teneriffe/Merthyr, is lack of bikes or lack of racks - which probably contributed to the Station 66 problem. This morning (Sunday) at 8am I rode to Merthyr - my app said 2 racks available but figured I might jag one or at worst, rack at New Farm Park. Knowing the problem in my area, I counted how many racks were available along Macquarie St and Merthyr Rd - seven. Just seven free racks over four stations. Granted I was on the main drag and didn’t check New Farm CityCat or the Powerhouse, but lack of racks is a big issue. Because not all the stations are live yet, there are limited options to rack in popular areas. When I got to Merthyr Village this morning I got the last space, though the machine and my app still said there were two. Thankfully the lack of bikes issue has settled down, and I haven’t gone past a live empty station in the last week.
Predominantly very good. I have had three dodgy bikes. Two with gear issues, one with a broken seat lever. 3 from 30 is a 10% fail rate, though only one was not ridable.
I love the basket - no hot and sweaty backpack! Fits my laptop perfectly and handles a baguette with some shopping no issues.
The lights come on automatically.
Seats are nice and wide.
Brakes are OK - not super, but as you aren’t going that fast, it isn’t much of an issue.
People who say the bikes look sissy just don’t get that it is for comfort and stability and not sleek racing in lycra. I have seen more guys on CityCycles than girls - so I don’t think any guy who is comfortable with their sexuality have a problem with the bikes.
One station at least, has real issues. Merthyr crashes itself and resets regularly. Some bikes are stuck. That is you can see the bike, but the rack number doesn’t come up as an option.
Station updates (and the app + webpage) aren’t really live. I have been to a station that had closed for service, yet was still listed as open (red) on the webpage. There is also a lag to updating numbers of bikes and racks.
Some stations are poorly designed with racks quite a distance from the machine. Sucks when you pick that bike, go to release it and it doesn’t. Walk back, repeat a few times till the machine resets.
The roll out of stations makes glaciers look like F1 cars. After two weeks, five more stations went live (including the reopening of a broken station). In the following two weeks, only one more.
Unless I can’t count, we still don’t have 50 stations open - given their current lag in opening stations, I doubt that they can do the rest by the end of the year - let alone another 100 in the new 14 months.
Stations in key areas are still not open - Southbank and the Northern end of The Valley are cases in point.
When it works, it works brilliantly.
When it doesn’t, often staff don’t know how to solve the problem, or they don’t have the resources to do so. Being told that they don’t have the staff to move bikes when stations get full regularly isn’t what you want to hear. Being told they don’t have the staff to move bikes on the weekend is even worse.
The last official comment I can find states that subscriptions were increasing at around 60 a day. There was a little over 1000 by the end of the first weekend, so that would put membership at around 1,800 so far if registrations remained constant. I was told today by a fellow CityCycler that there were just under 2,000.
The service does work. I came across bike #00001 on Saturday morning. I took her for three rides before she disappeared from Merthyr this morning. I had just picked a new bike and lo and behold a girl rides up to do her shopping on #00001. Someone had ridden it to another station and she had picked it up taking it on yet another journey. One bike had taken three people off the bus or out of their car in just the space of a few hours.
Riding in the early morning sun along the boardwalk at Teneriffe (frequently).
Having a chat with an old man about how much he loves CityCycle as we ran into eachother in a cafe, both with our CityCycle bags and helmets.
Hearing friends and acquaintances explain excitedly that their stations were getting closer to opening.
Seeing the same faces on the bikes… sometimes I am reminded of the Prius Smug episode in Southpark… we do look pretty pleased with ourselves.
Riding to meet friends for dinner, parties, coffee and picnics and not once having to wait for a bus or circle the block over and over for a park.
Seeing that I can ride to BIFF.
Poor Customer Service at the Call Centre.
Almost getting taken out by a silver Audi that swerved in front of me, blocking the bike lane, to reverse park.
Almost riding into a silver BMW that braked through a stop sign into the bike lane at a T intersection.
Almost falling off my CityCycle when I was seeing if you could ride the bike into the rack.
Planning a night out, only to find out that there were still no stations live within 500m of the venue - I just ended up walking.
A month in, we are still at #twopandas though on some brilliant mornings it is a 5 star start to my day. We have a long way to go yet.