Of course, successful cycle hire schemes around the world work on the basis that many of the riders who use the schemes can do so on an impulse, just turning up at a docking station, swiping their credit card, grabbing a bike and setting off across town. And this is where cycle helmets and bike hire don't mix; the need to carry a helmet around with you negates the ability to hire a bike on an impulse. Hiring out helmets with every bike is a hygienic conundrum and selling helmets to keep with each hire bike defeats the ability of the cycle hire scheme to be cheaper than other forms of public transport or riding your own bicycle.
Needless to say the bike hire scheme in Melbourne is proving to be less than successful as a consequence of the Mandatory Cycle Helmet Law, but the law is not going unquestioned.
Sue Abbot, an avid everyday and ordinary cyclist from the rural New South Wales town of Scone was stopped last year for cycling without a helmet and ticketed. She has since had her ticket quashed and is currently seeking special exemption on human rights grounds to be allowed the choice of whether she cycles with a helmet or not. Her blog charts her progress, or frustrating lack of therein.
Mike Rubbo, who writes the Sit Up Cycle blog has said from the start that bike hire schemes can not work in conjunction with cycle hire. And last weekend he decided to do something about it...
Mikael Colville-Andersen, the rabble rouser from the Copenhagenize blog, was in Melbourne at the weekend to give a public lecture about urban cycling as part of the State of Design Festival. Rubbo decided to time Colville-Andersen's visit with a little direct action of his own to speak out against the cycle helmet laws. His protest? He and a group of like-minded friends rented hire bikes and rode them in their normal clothes around town without helmets on. That doing so could see them receiving a criminal record seems beyond belief, and perhaps doing so is what is needed for the public debate to be had about the rationale of the law.
According to accounts of the day there was a heavy police and media presence at the little protest ride, and a number of cyclists were fined in accordance with the law for riding lid-less. With Mexico City having repealed it's mandatory helmet law in order to initiate a successful cycle hire scheme, and Tel Aviv in Israel considering doing the same, let's hope this is the kick-start to an important debate that Australia needs to have. And may it be a warning to our coalition Government that, despite helmet lobbyist's best efforts, it would not be a good idea to introduce such a law here in the UK (and there are indeed forces at work who would seek to see the same realised, despite the consequences)
Mike Rubbo's 2009 film 'Bike Share and Helmets don't mix', via Sit Up Cycle Blog.
The Mandatory Cycle Helmet Law in Australia served to bring about a 40% drop in cycling rates, encourages drivers to get closer to the remaining cyclists on the road, helps to portray everyday cycling as somehow sporty, unusual or 'other' and as has been demonstrated has stymied Australia's attempts to introduce a working bike hire scheme. On the contrary, in Montreal where the Bixi bike share scheme (on which the London and Melbourne schemes are modled) operates with no mandatory helmet laws, some 3.5 million KMs were ridden in the first year with only 5 accidents and none of them serious, according to the Bixi press office, which just goes to show that a lack of helmet laws hardly brings about a two-wheeled apocolypse.
Of course if you are going to race a bike down the slopes of the Alps or across the country on some gnarly dirt track then a bicycle helmet makes good sense. But to HAVE to wear one just to hop on a bike to pop 5 minutes down the road to the shops? Why not let adults be adults and decide for themselves? Any investment in cycling infrastructure, cycle hire schemes and increases in cycling rates depend on it.