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Montréal is the birthplace of a global cycling revolution. Whilst not the first city to implement a city-wide cycle hire scheme, Canada’s second largest city is the first to see it’s system duplicated around the world. Developments in the UK, United States and Australia have introduce accessible cycles to those living and working in cities, most of which have achieved great success.
In Montréal, the city’s 1.6 million residents have access to 5,000 bikes and 400 docking stations. Less than five months after its launch, Bixi served its one millionth trip – meaning residents of Canada’s second largest city make almost 7,000 trips a day by Bixi.
London’s cycle hire scheme has been similarly successful. Launched in July 2010, the city has 5,000 bicycles and 315 docking stations. With 107,000 members and one million trips made in the first ten weeks, the scheme has been so well-received that an expansion into the east London borough of Tower Hamlets has been scheduled in time for the London 2012 Olympics, introducing 2,000 new bicycles to the city.
The Canadian cities of Ottawa and Toronto have also introduced Bixi-style schemes, and many cities in the United States have recently or soon-to-be launched equivalents. Even Australia is on board, launching Melbourne Bike Share in May 2010. However, their scheme – despite being identical to Montréal and London’s – has been poorly received.
So what went wrong in Melbourne? Due to its compact city centre, Melbourne Bike Share is small compared to international equivalents, coming in at around 600 bikes and 50 docking stations. But with a population of 4 million in the greater Melbourne area, the potential for a large user base still exists. However, the scheme has only been able to manage an average of 183 trips per day – a truly embarrassing figure compared to those of Montréal and London.
The reason for the scheme’s lack of success is as clear as the tyres of its unused bicycles are clean – mandatory cycle helmet laws. In Australia, anyone caught riding a bicycle without a helmet can be fined. Refuse to pay those fines and you can be sent to jail. In London and Montréal, any adult pedestrian can casually hire a bike. In Melbourne, you have to have a bicycle helmet with you at the time. There is no opportunity for unplanned bicycle use. The city may have a population of 4 million, but only a fraction can realistically use its cycle hire scheme.
Montréal started the Bixi revolution, and many cities have benefited from the scheme’s success. It is entirely possible for Melbourne to achieve similar usage levels. But first, Australia needs to revoke its mandatory cycle helmet laws.