A public cycle hire scheme has this month been launched in the Australian city of Brisbane, with 500 bikes at 50 docking stations and plans for 2,000 bikes at 150 stations by December next year.
As with the similar scheme that opened in Melbourne in May, one potential hurdle for the project is a state law that makes cycle helmet use mandatory.
Reports of low usage in Melbourne are usually put down to this, but officials have this week unveiled a solution: disposable helmets will be made available from vending machines – at Southern Cross railway station and the University of Melbourne, on a trial basis – and 30 7-Eleven convenience stores across the city for just AUS$5.
To sweeten the deal, people can return the helmets to stores for recycling and get $3 back. And officials insist that, when it comes to the safety of the lids, which are made from polystyrene and thermoplastic, "the Australian standard is as good as it gets anywhere in the world".
Julie Laycock, 7-Eleven head of marketing, said: "Just as you might pick up your bottle of water, sunscreen and snacks for your picnic, now you can pick up a helmet for a bike ride along some of Melbourne’s scenic parks."
As yet, similar plans have not been announced for the CityCycle scheme in Brisbane. Preparations there have included the introduction of Bicycle Awareness Zones, “share the road” signage and a reduction in the speed limit to 25mph.
Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, who led the official launch ride, said: “I think that we’ll see the numbers build up progressively but I think it'll take a couple of years before we can pass judgment on how successful this will be.”
By no means all of the funding for the Brisbane system will come from subscriptions and hire charges – the rear wheel guards of the bikes will carry advertising, as will screens on the docking station terminals.
Steve O’Connor of JC Decaux, the firm which won the contract to manage the scheme, said its success depended almost entirely on advertising. “This is our 20th (bike hire) scheme around the world and advertising plays a major part in funding infrastructure and ongoing maintenance of the schemes,” he said.
There are public bike hire systems in towns and cities across the globe from Taipei to Toulouse, from Blackpool to the forthcoming scheme in Miami beach with its solar-powered docking stations.
At one time the world’s biggest bike share system, Velib in Paris is reported to have clocked up 80 million trips in its three years to date. The city of Hangzhou on the Yangtze delta has what is probably now the biggest system in the world – usage figures there were high enough to trigger a major expansion of the scheme and a target of 50,000 bikes at 2,000 stations.