Paul Lewis: Bike-share scheme gets off to ambitious start

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Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

San Francisco's bike-share scheme starts today and it will be fascinating to see if the community-minded citizens of this city do better than New York - or Auckland.

This is perhaps a much more bike-minded city than Auckland; the ill-fated Auckland scheme closed down in 2010 after opening in 2009. Part of the problem was compulsory helmet laws - the convenience of using a bike to finish your commute is restricted if you have to lump a helmet around.

The practice of fixing a helmet to the share bikes was also flawed; there were worries about passing head lice or other medical problems on. Melbourne and Brisbane got round the problem by offering subsidised helmets for $5 at many convenience stores and two vending machines. The helmets can be returned to the retail outlet for a $3 refund. In California, people over 18 don't have to wear helmets.

New York's bike-sharing scheme is only a few months old and has gone well - except for a few problems.

One, commuters are indeed using them to ride from a rail or bus station and docking them at a point closer to work. But not as many are riding them back. That means they end up with an oversupply of bikes at the wrong end of the city. Large lorries have to go to these areas and then truck the bikes to where they are needed for the next day.

Two, patrons of inner-city bars have realised that the free bikes are a wonderful way to get home and New York streets are now home to a far greater percentage of drunk cyclists in office clothes.

San Francisco is starting out with 700 bikes at 70 stations in San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Redwood City. It hopes to expand to Berkeley and Oakland and other areas in the Bay region - a large footprint.

Starting today, members who pay $88 for a year or $9 a day for an electronic key can check out a bike at one station and leave it at another. To encourage short trips, bike use is free for 30 minutes or less, while overtime fees can add up to $150 a day.

The initial cost to the city is US$7 million ($8.9 million). It is part of a nationwide move to find cheap ways to move people, cut congestion and pollution, and improve public health.

But we haven't yet been able to make it work in Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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