For a number of years now, the City of Vancouver has been exploring options available to implement a “Public Bike System” (PBS), otherwise known as a bike share program. The issue has resurfaced in the news recently due to conversations about BC’s bike-helmet laws, how they might affect the success of a bike-share program, and different solutions that might be used to ensure compliance with those laws. It’s an issue that affects not only BC, but also other places that have similar helmet laws, like Seattle.
A bike share program has an uphill battle in Vancouver. Concerns extend beyond helmets to who would use the program, who would pay for the program, and what effects it would have on traffic in the city. Add to those concerns the rather loud voices of those who feel bike issues are being pushed too hard by City Hall.
One of the big things I don’t quite understand about a Vancouver bike share program is who the intended users are. Vancouver has many cyclists already; who would pay to ride someone else’s bike? Tourists? People who don’t have room to store bikes? In a recent interview with The Georgia Straight, Bikeshare BC’s executive director Keith Ippel indicated that their vision of Vancouver’s bike share program is a system that is the “last mile” extension of the transit system. Transit users would get off a bike or Skytrain and then use the bike-share system to travel the last few blocks to their final destination. This would not be a system intended to compete with existing bike-rental programs, but a system that would work better in areas such as the UBC campus and the downtown peninsula.
Helmets are a huge issue. As it stands, if you are riding a bicycle in BC without an approved helmet you are subject to as much as a $100 fine. Requiring users, particularly casual or spontaneous users of a bike-share program to wear helmets is clearly a huge barrier to the success of the program. The only other bike-share programs in the world that require cyclists to wear helmets are generally considered failures: Brisbane and Melbourne, Australia.
Some of the ideas to ensure that riders obey the law seem, well, they seem a bit strange. I don’t think I’d wear a helmet that I didn’t know the history of. I also don’t think I’d be too keen about how clean a used helmet is, even if it’s been sterilized somehow.
In terms of funding, almost all existing bike-share programs operate with some level of support from government. The City of Vancouver, however, has indicated that it’s not interested in underwriting a bike-share system and given the backlash against the cost of the bike lanes, I doubt the public would have much appetite putting significant money into a bike program that would only benefit a small subset of Vancouverites and tourists. Montreal’s system (Bixi) suffered cost issues related to problems with vandalism and theft, and continues to rely on millions of dollars in public money.
The details of the various proposals that the City has received have not been revealed. It will be interesting to see what the different organizations propose.
Do you think that a privately-funded bike share program can be successful in a jurisdiction that requires all riders to wear helmets?
Last modified: January 16, 2012