Melbourne cycle hire scheme a victim of the nanny state?

Citizens shun scheme which requires them to wear a helmet

by Mark Appleton   November 29, 2010  

Melbourne (© Diliff, Wiki Commons)

Tags

Compulsory helmet-wearing is killing Melbourne’s cycle hire scheme.

That’s the inescapable conclusion being drawn by the city’s residents if posts under an article in the Melbourne Age are to be believed.

The Age reports that, on average, just 183 trips a day are made on the 450 hire bikes, which are costing taxpayers $5.5 million (Australian) over four years. That figure compares poorly with Dublin’s scheme, which has the same number of bikes but averages 3020 trips a day.

Melbourne and Brisbane are the only cities in the world whose cycle hire schemes are subject to compulsory - and enforced – helmet-wearing laws.

Things have now got so bad that the city is now subsidising the sale of cycle helmets, with each lid costing the city $8 in subsidies.The penalty for riding a bike without a helmet in Melbourne is a $146 fine.

One poster to the Age website appears to sum up the general consensus: “The scheme had a built in Achilles heel and it ended up going lame. I hope no one is actually surprised that it's going so badly.”

Another says the problem is the Australian government's inability to properly interpret and act upon statistics: “The government is effectively choosing the high likelihood of death by heart attack over the low likelihood of death by head injury.”
 

28 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Sigh. A few weeks ago I was cycling along that very path shown in the picture. Today I cycled to work in 0ºC and snow.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1301 posts]
29th November 2010 - 17:56

like this
Like (0)

hope you had yr lid on Smile

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7033 posts]
29th November 2010 - 18:05

like this
Like (0)

Yes. Specially purchased for the trip! I usually cycle in just a cap. In fact, I'm so used to a cap, that I wore one under my helmet. Helped to keep the blazing Melbourne sun out of my eyes and shade my pasty English face.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1301 posts]
29th November 2010 - 18:29

like this
Like (0)

cat1commuter wrote:
Sigh. A few weeks ago I was cycling along that very path shown in the picture. Today I cycled to work in 0ºC and snow.

I know how you feel. I sometimes think we missed a trick with Australia and New Zealand. Instead of colonising them, we should have built a huge fleet of ships, and moved the entire population down there each winter, then back again each spring.

posted by handlebarcam [527 posts]
29th November 2010 - 20:35

like this
Like (0)

But how did they not see that a helmet law and a bike hire suited to spur of the moment trips wouldn't work? Confused

posted by thereverent [284 posts]
29th November 2010 - 20:57

like this
Like (0)

It's not the helmets: most of the people I see riding the blue bikes aren't wearing helmets so that obviously isn't inhibiting them. As commented before: the scheme was deliberately started in winter to iron out any bugs in the software, we've just had our coldest winter in years and our wettest spring in a decade and - most importantly - there's no need for the bikes because we have excellent street level public transport. Most of the cities where the schemes have succeeded don't have decent street-level public transport: we do. There are trams on every road around the city and they're CHEAPER than the bikes. The Age article managed to bury at the end a comment that it probably wasn't helmets that were the issue.

EDIT

Just had a look at the comments: about half are running the nanny state line the other half are in support of the helmet laws. And then there's this:

"The helmet issue is a furphy that hides the real reason this scheme is failing.

The hire structure is arranged to make short trips free or cheap, and longer trips prohibitively expensive. Furthermore the bikes can only be taken from docking station to docking station. So the bikes are only useful for short trips in the CBD.

Herein lies the issue. Melbourne's CBD is saturated with hop-on-hop-off trams running in every direction every minute or two, and it's ringed by the city rail loop. Short trips within the CBD are incredibly easy already by public transport, and 80% of the people in the CBD already arrived there by tram or train so they already have a Metcard.

Who exactly would wish to pay extra to take more time and effort to get around the city by bike when it is faster, easier and cheaper to use the public transport system? They are designing this bike scheme for a market that doesn't exist.

They should relocate half the docking stations to the inner suburbs, with a focus on cross-town trips that are poorly served by public transport. If people could make a five minute ride from Collingwood to Melbourne Uni or Carlton to North Melbourne, usage rate would skyrocket."

I think that is what I have said on a couple of occasions.

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
30th November 2010 - 5:36

like this
Like (0)

"hope you had yr lid on"

Angry

Dave

Why is Road CC runnning an anti-helmet campaign? If you are so interested in the sutuation in Melbourne why don't you spend some time also quoting the Australian neurosurgeons and others who keep politely pointing out that helmets save lives?

Or how about speaking to myself or the thousands of other daily commuters who are fully in support of the law rather than pointing to non-cyclists posting to The Age website? The only people I see not wearing helmets here are the numpties who've dragged bikes out of the shed to ride to the pub - interestingly they're the ones helmet laws supposedly discourage.

And Dave, if you have such an issue with Australia's helmet laws perhaps you'd care to explain the explosion in cycling in Melbourne over the last few years? Or am I imagining the crowded bike lanes and the cyclists that weren't there 25 years ago?

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
30th November 2010 - 5:38

like this
Like (0)

@Sakuraetc No-one here in the UK is "anti-helmet", they are just anti-compulsion on helmet wearing. Plenty of people here wear helmets but few reckon we should be forced to.

I have seen the Australian Neurosurgeons reports and frankly they are about as scientific as "my uncle fell of his bike the other day. if he hadn't been wearing a helmet he wouldn't be here now". Lobbyists for helmets are good at quoting supportive reports which generally turn out to be flawed in one way or another. There are a great many reports which suggest that the evidence is inconclusive at best.

As for the remark about the pub cyclist, evidence in this country indicates that you are more likely to suffer a head injury in a pub than on a bike - should all pub-goers be forced to wear a helmet? Similarly, many motorists suffer head injuries in crashes which could be mitigated if they had been wearing a helmet - should they also be forced to wear helmets? Ditto (ad nauseam) pedestrians.

The compulsory helmet law is more a reflection of anti-cycling sentiment in official circles than of anything else, from people who are fine with bikes as long as they stay away from roads and don't slow down motor traffic.

We have seen how an Australian government can be brought down when it attempts to rein in the worst excesses of its big polluters. We are hearing about how the Hunter Valley wine region is being wiped out by strip coal mining. As a very big country with a fairly small population you may feel complacent about these things, but that can't last forever.

posted by Paul M [294 posts]
30th November 2010 - 9:01

like this
Like (0)

The risk of heart disease amongst fatties who don't exerscise far outstrips that of head injuries amongst cyclists. We're against compulsion with regard to helmet wearing for cyclists as there is no reliable evidence of helmet wearing providing any safety advantage. There is however evidence of a reliable study that motorists drive closer to cyclists who wear helmets. Most cycle helmets are feeble efforts and if you are honest you ahve to admit they offer somewhere between minimal and no protection.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1941 posts]
30th November 2010 - 9:18

like this
Like (0)

Sakurashinmachi - you're reading an awful lot into the six words that i typed, none of which is even remotely justified. I was hoping that cat1 had his lid on because apparently it's illegal not to wear one there Thinking

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7033 posts]
30th November 2010 - 10:44

like this
Like (0)

@Paul M
This is an argument that has been trotted out by the helmet liberals regularly. Can you provide any supporting evidence that it is true?

"Similarly, many motorists suffer head injuries in crashes which could be mitigated if they had been wearing a helmet - should they also be forced to wear helmets?"

Thanks in anticipation...

posted by kitkat [182 posts]
30th November 2010 - 11:24

like this
Like (0)

@kitkat
72% of fatally injured car drivers had suffered a head injury.
http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roadsafety/research/rsrr/theme5/fatalinhuriesc...

posted by thereverent [284 posts]
30th November 2010 - 11:47

like this
Like (0)

"Sakurashinmachi - you're reading an awful lot into the six words that i typed, none of which is even remotely justified. I was hoping that cat1 had his lid on because apparently it's illegal not to wear one there"

The only articles you run on Australia - the only mentions Australia gets at all on this website - are in relation to the helmet laws and are always slanted towards the anti-helmet angle. Case in point, the article in yesterday's Age - you reported it as the comments being predominately anti-helmet, yet there were a significant number of comments (apparently from actual cyclists) saying the reverse: why did you focus on the people who were against helmets? And if you were being balanced, why the "nanny state" headline? What do YOU think is the proper role of the state? If bike helmets are an imposition, what about motor bike helmets? What about seat belts? What about Australia's very strict drink-driving rules? Are they an imposition?

So, no I'm not reading a lot into your six words, I'm reading the clear angle you have been running on this issue over the last month or so.

And I find it fascinating that you're so sensitive when you seem pretty relaxed about the comments being made about Australians on other threads about helmets, including this gem:

"No they probably wouldn't. Australia isn't a country known for the intellectually inquisitive, as displayed on these pages.
We do indeed love Aussie-bashing, mainly because in this country it is almost impossible to avoid them and they are almost universally insufferable."

Universally insufferable .... right.

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
30th November 2010 - 12:24

like this
Like (0)

"Similarly, many motorists suffer head injuries in crashes which could be mitigated if they had been wearing a helmet - should they also be forced to wear helmets?"

Actually, the AMA does periodically recommend helmet use in cars. But they understand that it may be a step too far ....

"We have seen how an Australian government can be brought down when it attempts to rein in the worst excesses of its big polluters. We are hearing about how the Hunter Valley wine region is being wiped out by strip coal mining. As a very big country with a fairly small population you may feel complacent about these things, but that can't last forever."

I'm not sure I understand the references: the federal Labor government nearly lost an election because they walked away from an ETS, not because they did bring one in. Or are you referring to the new mining tax? And don't worry, I don't think the Hunter Valley wine region is in any danger from open cut coal mining.

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
30th November 2010 - 12:32

like this
Like (0)

Sakurashinmachi - the data on the use of motorcycle helmets by motorcyclists is widely accepted as being reliable. This was used to introduce a law requiring the use of helmets by motorcyclists in the UK in 1976. Subsequent data showed that this did indeed reduce the fatality rate as had been predicted. it is worth noting too that according to NHTSA data from the USA, those American states that either do not have or do not enforce the use of motorcycle helmets by riders also have the highest fatality risks for motorcyclists. Similar data is available from many other nations in Europe and also in Asia (most recently, malaysia and Thailand for instance) regarding the value of motorcycle helmets to riders safety.

My job gives me access to data on road safety and accident statistics from all over the world. To date there has been no reliable study showing that cycle helmets offer substantial safety benefits from anywahere in the world.

For a start the average motorcycle helmet is a vastly more substantial protective device than any bicycle helmet available on the market. Pick up a motorcycle helmet and weigh it and then examine its construction. Compare that to a helmet designed for a cyclist.

Bear in mind too that motorcyclists travel at higher speeds and use the road differently from cyclists. And I should know as I have been riding motorcycles for many years and continue to commute (when weather pernmits) on my high performance sportsbike, as well as clocking up many miles on my bicycles. I even have a car, though its the least-used of my personal travel modes.

Comparing motorcycle helmet wearing with bicycle helmet wearing is not comparing like with like.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1941 posts]
30th November 2010 - 12:54

like this
Like (0)

Sakurashinmachi:

http://road.cc/content/news/27652-australian-helmet-cam-study-says-motor...
http://road.cc/content/news/26897-aussie-cwg-gold-medallist-suspended-af...
http://road.cc/content/news/25724-australian-cyclist-gets-two-year-ban-a...
http://road.cc/content/news/25353-shane-perkins-excludes-himself-team-sp...
http://road.cc/content/news/25136-delhi-2010-clean-sweep-aussies-first-t...
http://road.cc/content/news/24763-australian-strategy-double-number-cycl...
http://road.cc/content/news/21666-renshaw-and-haussler-join-mcewen-missi...
http://road.cc/content/news/21351-aussie-bike-shops-face-11-million-fine...
http://road.cc/content/news/17755-aussie-kate-goes-home-hard-way
http://road.cc/content/news/16564-nsw-police-investigate-trucking-firm-a...
http://road.cc/content/news/14495-australian-track-world-champion-admits...
http://road.cc/content/news/14482-innovative-rear-light-nominated-major-...
http://road.cc/content/news/10979-aussie-former-politician-says-cyclists...
http://road.cc/content/news/10171-30000-more-riders-join-annual-australi...
http://road.cc/content/news/6198-cyclists-australia-say-no-sharing-lanes...
http://road.cc/content/news/4979-new-laws-could-land-aussie-riders-jail

plenty of stories about oz or aussies on here that aren't about helmets. just because it's your bugbear, doesn't mean it's ours. we publish news stories as we find them, at the moment there seem to be a lot about helmets and australia. hey ho. on they go.

I've just counted the comments on the age story and they're about 3:1 against helmet compulsion in Melbourne of those that express an opinion (34:12 by my count). Obviously i don't know everyone in Melbourne, as you apparently do, so I don't know which of them are cyclists. But I think we're justified from the available evidence to run the story the way we did. No apologies for that. 'nanny state' was a phrase that cropped up again and again in the comments. that's your compatriots saying it, not us.

Again, the three other things you mention – drink driving, seat belts and motorbike helmets – have been legislated on worldwide based on rigorous and unanimous scientific data. Is there a similar unanimous, rigorous body of data that supports helmet compulsion? No, there isn't.

who's the sensitive one here? I'm not sure it's me Thinking

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7033 posts]
30th November 2010 - 13:15

like this
Like (0)

Sakurashinmachi wrote:
And Dave, if you have such an issue with Australia's helmet laws perhaps you'd care to explain the explosion in cycling in Melbourne over the last few years? Or am I imagining the crowded bike lanes and the cyclists that weren't there 25 years ago?

Maybe because Melbourne has had a lot of investment to improve cycling infrastructure over the last ten years? And it is great to see that they plan to continue doing so.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1301 posts]
30th November 2010 - 13:25

like this
Like (0)

Sakurashinmachi wrote:
most of the people I see riding the blue bikes aren't wearing helmets so that obviously isn't inhibiting them.

Of course not, it is the people who are sitting on their arses in cars and on couches that the law might be inhibiting.

Sakurashinmachi wrote:
how about speaking to myself or the thousands of other daily commuters who are fully in support of the law

Ummmm, because they aren't affected by the law? They would have worn a helmet anyway. Or they are the kind of dullards who do everything that - and only do something if - someone in authority tells them to. In which case they wouldn't make very interesting subjects for interviews.

posted by handlebarcam [527 posts]
30th November 2010 - 22:00

like this
Like (0)

"There is however evidence of a reliable study that motorists drive closer to cyclists who wear helmets."

As I understand it, that "study" consisted of one researcher riding around on a bike and estimating how close cars came to him. (He also donned a black wig and on the basis of that decided that drivers gave women more space. As a Guardian journalist commented, the drivers may just have thought that he was mad and didn't want to come near him.)

To be blunt, that's not exactly a reliable study.

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
1st December 2010 - 4:46

like this
Like (0)

"we publish news stories as we find them, at the moment there seem to be a lot about helmets and australia. hey ho. on they go."

You must be looking hard to find them: I hadn't seen anything in Australia about the Queenland cops who deflated the kids tyres, but I just did a google news search on it - according to Google it's been reported just four times - by ABC Online, the SMH, the Toowoomba Chronicle - and by Road.CC.

"Obviously i don't know everyone in Melbourne, as you apparently do, so I don't know which of them are cyclists."

Aah, sarcasm. I said that you hadn't reported on all the posts, and I noticed a few posts from cyclists saying that helmets were valuable. As a compatriot pointed out in another thread on this site, helmets just aren't an issue in Australia. Are there some people here who it is an issue for? Yes, but there are also people who don't want our water to be fluoridated and others who get upset about mercury in tooth fillings.

"'nanny state' was a phrase that cropped up again and again in the comments. that's your compatriots saying it, not us"

Well the thing about the internet is that it's open to everyone: how do you know where the people posting are from? So why would you presume that these comments are my "compatriots" or representative of views in Melbourne? As I keep saying, it's just a non-issue in Australia. Lots of people thought that the bike hire wouldn't work since helmets were compulsory, but there's no wide-spread opposition to helmets per se.

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
1st December 2010 - 5:04

like this
Like (0)

Quote:
As I understand it, that "study" consisted of one researcher riding around on a bike and estimating how close cars came to him

you don't understand it at all then.

Quote:
You must be looking hard to find them

we're always looking hard for interesting stories

Quote:
We certainly live in a nanny state here in Victoria. Hopefully from today some common sense will come into play

That's not one of your 'compatriots' then?

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7033 posts]
1st December 2010 - 9:18

like this
Like (4)

Quote:
As I understand it, that "study" consisted of one researcher riding around on a bike and estimating how close cars came to him

you don't understand it at all then."

Oh, really?

Here's the actual report:

http://www.drianwalker.com/overtaking/overtakingprobrief.pdf

The method he used was to ... ride around on a bike and measure how close vehicles came to him:

"A bicycle subtly fitted with a video camera
and ultrasonic distance sensor recorded
around 2,300 vehicles overtaking
on a range of urban/suburban road
types similar to those encountered on a
commute. Further data were then collected
with the (male) experimenter
wearing a feminine wig, in order that he
appeared to be a woman to drivers approaching
from behind."

Please explain what the controls were in this "study"? Might not varying road widths have been a relevant factor? But road width isn't measured or correlated with passing distance is it? Busses and trucks came closer: might the obvious explanation for that be that they are generally wider than cars but roads are a fixed width in any particular place? You'll also note from the subtle video camera that he was wobbling around all over the place - what percentage of the 8.5 cm helmet/no helemt difference was actually made up of wobbling?

But I particularly love this breathless conclusion:

"Drivers passed closer to the rider the further out into the road he was."

No, really?

If this is the quality of "research" that anti-helmet activists are relying on then I can't see Australia having any reason to change its laws any time soon.

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
3rd December 2010 - 14:32

like this
Like (0)

Some US researchers ran their own version of Dr. Walkers "experiment" and also reviewed his study. They weren't very impressed with how he had presented his results:

"On the left is a true x-y plot that reproduces Dr. Walker’s result (with helmet), and to the right is a proper x-y plot displaying the full y-axis, and the x and y axes to the same scale. The final graph shows that the main effect is a generous passing distance (over 3.5 feet), and the effects Dr. Walker describes are really
small variations on the large passing distance. This method of truncating a graph axis and using axes of
different scales are classic techniques used to visually amplify a small effect and are discussed in the
classic text: “How to lie with statistics” by Darrell Huff, W. W. Norton & Company, 1954, ISBN-10:
0393052648.

This author believes that whatever few inches that may exist between helmeted and nonhelmeted
riders in Dr. Walker’s study makes no appreciable difference in relative risk because of this
large average passing margin (similar to the vehicle types above), thus invalidating Dr. Walker’s claim of
relative safety differences from helmet (or wig use)."

In other words, in their view the difference (if there actually was one) was irrelevant because all of the vehicles were in any case passing a safe distance from Dr Walker.

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
3rd December 2010 - 14:59

like this
Like (0)

you seem a little tense. have you been watching the cricket?
Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin

cactuscat's picture

posted by cactuscat [299 posts]
3rd December 2010 - 15:20

like this
Like (0)

cactuscat wrote:
you seem a little tense. have you been watching the cricket?

No, fortunately.

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
4th December 2010 - 9:21

like this
Like (0)

Quote:
Please explain what the controls were in this "study"?

so, like i said, you don't understand the study, or are wilfully obfuscating your level of understanding. first you say dr walker is estimating the distance, then you say he's measuring it. now you're asking what the controls are. if you don't know, what basis do you think you have for rubbishing the study? if you do know, why are you pretending that you don't?

Quote:
This author believes that whatever few inches that may exist between helmeted and nonhelmeted
riders in Dr. Walker’s study makes no appreciable difference in relative risk because of this
large average passing margin (similar to the vehicle types above), thus invalidating Dr. Walker’s claim of
relative safety differences from helmet (or wig use)."

are those researchers experts on traffic systems? if not, then they're only really qualified to comment on the methodology and whether the results are statistically significant or not. I note that they don't do either of those things, preferring instead to concentrate on the way the data is presented (partly valid, though the results are statistically significant) and adding some conjecture on whether they think they're meaningful (not valid)

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7033 posts]
4th December 2010 - 13:08

like this
Like (0)

this from dr walker, btw. from ages ago, not in respone to this.

http://bamboobadger.blogspot.com/2009/03/science-stories-devil-is-in-det...

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7033 posts]
4th December 2010 - 13:09

like this
Like (0)

dave_atkinson wrote:
Quote:
Please explain what the controls were in this "study"?

now you're asking what the controls are. if you don't know, what basis do you think you have for rubbishing the study? if you do know, why are you pretending that you don't?

The point is that usually scientists arrange their experiments so that they are only testing one variable: in this case, helmets against no helmets. But here there were a heap of other variables: road width/bike paths/time of day etc etc. What valid conclusions could be drawn on the basis of a study where factors other than helmet/no helmet weren't eliminated?

Quote:
This author believes that whatever few inches that may exist between helmeted and nonhelmeted
riders in Dr. Walker’s study makes no appreciable difference in relative risk because of this
large average passing margin (similar to the vehicle types above), thus invalidating Dr. Walker’s claim of
relative safety differences from helmet (or wig use)."

are those researchers experts on traffic systems? if not, then they're only really qualified to comment on the methodology and whether the results are statistically significant or not. I note that they don't do either of those things, preferring instead to concentrate on the way the data is presented (partly valid, though the results are statistically significant) and adding some conjecture on whether they think they're meaningful (not valid)

Well, he/they would appear to be well practiced in the field:

http://www.cyclistview.com/

This is the link to their rebuttal:

http://www.cyclistview.com/overtaking/files/A-Draft-Rebuttal-of-Walker-P...

You'll note that they conducted their experiment using a particular stretch of road, which they went up and down repeatedly, thereby eliminating some of the variables you'd get from riding around a range of roads.

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
5th December 2010 - 8:37

like this
Like (0)