The Pope of Cycling Offers A Eulogy
The news today out of Copenhagen is about the imminent failure of the city’s new bike share system. Copenhageners are ignorning the bikes, few trips are being taken on them and they have become a tourist gimmick, not the commuter dream they hoped for.
It’s a rare event that a bike share system fails. Only a very few systems around the world have folded. Melbourne was the poster child for failure thanks to their helmet laws, helmet promotion, lack of infrastructure and anti-cyclist laws. Now it looks like Copenhagen will step into the failure spotlight.
I am in two minds.
I have never been a fan of the bikes or the system and have done little to conceal that fact. I said it was doomed to failure back in 2013. I have wondered why Danish State Railways didn’t just copy the decade-old OV-Fiets system from Dutch Railways instead of being seduced by useless, overcomplicated technology. You can read all about why I think the system was a massive fail from the beginning in this article.
While it is always great to be proven right, it is also sad when a project that puts more bikes in a city is on the cusp of failure. Especially sad when my tax money was used on it.
The Copenhagen bike share system was launched a year ago. Here are some relevant numbers.
The average cost for a bike share bike in cities like London, Paris, etc is about $800. An OV Fiets bike costs about $400.
The Copenhagen bikes cost $3000 each. $10,000 each in total for purchase and maintenance over eight years. You read that right.
The Copenhagen Go-bikes aren’t even free, like in most of the 650 cities around the world with bike share programmes.
It costs 25 kroner ($5.00) per hour to ride one. You can get a subscription for 70 kroner if you want, and that knocks the price down when you use it.
You can rent a bike for the entire day at Baisikeli for 60 kroner.
The City of Copenhagen has invested 40 million kroner ($7.5 million) in the project.
The biggest mistake in Copenhagen is a complete misunderstanding of how people think and of civic pride. The successful bike share systems in Barcelona and Seville, for example, are for locals only. You can’t use them if you don’t live there. They are something for the locals, not the tourists. An important distinction. Locals rarely want to resemble tourists in any city. The Copenhagen GoBikes are just like the Bycykler that Copenhagen launched in 1995 – they are already labelled as a touristy thing.
The goal for the new bikes was that each bike would be used 3 times a day by local commuters.
Since the launch they have been used 0.8 times a day – by tourists.
800 people signed up for a subscription in the summer of 2014.
That number has now fallen to 256.
In the first half of December 2014, only 530 trips were registered.
The plan is that 1860 new bikes should be on the streets in Copenhagen. There are only 426.
There should be 105 docking stations. There are only 27.
One problem is that the German supplier, MIFA (Mitteldeutsche Fahrradwerke), went into recievership last autumn. Which doesn’t say much for this product.
The Lame ExcusesThe damage control spin coming out of City Hall from, among others, Mayor for the Technical and Environmental Administration Morten Kabell as well as people like Nikolaj Bøgh, head of the By- og Pendlercykel Fund is much the same. It’s all “oh, but you see… we haven’t even marketed the system yet!“Seriously? A product that is well-designed, intuitive and that actually serves a practical need will market itself. Failed design won’t.
The Copenhagen bike share system was meant – in the mind of the Danish State Railways – to be so groovy that it would spread to other Danish cities. Turns out that ain’t gonna happen. The second largest city in Denmark, Aarhus, just launched new bikes recently.
We can’t keep pumping money into a system that isn’t working. Who will get us out of this mess?
If we got out now, we’d still have money to implement a Dutch style OV-Fiets system that would work from the first ride.
Welcome to the ‘real world‘. Bicycle Heaven is no fan of BikeShare? Dorothy Rabinowitz appears to have been prescient.
- Bike-Hater Dorothy Rabinowitz Won’t Be Silenced — NYMag (OnLine)
- Colbert Skewers WSJ’s Rabinowitz For Rant Against Citi … (OnLine)
- Bill Cunningham, Dorothy Rabinowitz on Citi Bike — NYMag (OnLine)
Where she went astray in her rant was in placing the blame for the future demise of the BikeShare system in NYC on the shoulders of its ‘novice users‘. They seem to have been able to ‘weather the storm‘ of city riding both there and in Chicago.
The real danger to the citizenry of both cities comes instead from the arrogant private bike owners who ‘look down‘ upon the casual tourists who bother to use the system.
Technology Be Damned?
I have wondered why Danish State Railways didn’t just copy the decade-old OV-Fiets system from Dutch Railways instead of being seduced by useless, overcomplicated technology.
The Pope and His Minions have always had a Luddite Problem. The fact is that while they are beginning to acknowledge that high-tech automobiles are likely to offer a real promise of for Vision Zero they cling to the notion that the simpler a bicycle is the better. Nah!
The Divvy bike is pretty near as basic as they come. But they are a world apart in terms of reliability and usefulness than the sorry little private bikes that folks ride back and forth to work here in Chicago. But you see the Urban Cycling Movement values cardboard mud flaps. The have a very difficult time with newfangled stuff like generator hubs. Why?
Well the simple fact is that bicyclists do not focus on the future possibilities of technology making their steeds really useful and safer. They cannot envision the day when a collision-avoidance system will not only grace the cars that pass around them but save the life of a pedestrian crossing in the walkway up ahead while they amber gamble to save a few seconds.
No these knuckleheads give far more thought to the color of their handlebar tape and whether it matches their paint job. Their focus is more likely to be on the cool new calf tattoo they scored. And Heaven knows nothing beats a bike with a nifty front rack to carry open bottles of beer home from the microbrewery they spend so much time in.
For this crowd the likelihood of getting their bike systematically maintained by a competent mechanic is rare. They love to whine that the politicians have cut funding to this or that youth bicycle worker co-op but they see no connection between where they spend their money and its failure.
Civic-Minded Rather Than Entitled
What most of these sorts lack is a sense of civic-mindedness. In fact the Pope himself is probably too focused on what the state can do for him rather than the other way around. That is the one blindspot that most Socialists develop over time. Big Brother is always to blame for not providing them with enough of this or that. There is precious little civic-mindedness here in the Windy City.
I think the Pope is wrong when he says that failure of BikeShare is rare.
It’s a rare event that a bike share system fails. Only a very few systems around the world have folded.
He clearly has set the bar too high when it comes to detecting failure. As in NYC and here in Chicago when you fail to make a system like BikeShare ‘sustainable‘ and it falls to the local municipality to find a new ‘sugar daddy‘ to prop it up for another year, that my friend is the measure of failure. Continuing to apply makeup to a corpse (which is what is being done in both cities, right now) is the problem.
What is worse however is that Urban Cyclists fail to see that the ‘canary in the mine‘ is signaling a very lackluster embracing of cycling by the very people you will need to help you bring about a transformation of the Urban Transportation System.
There is ‘no urgency‘ where Urban Cyclists are concerned. They do not feel that the collapse has anything to do with them. The stand aloof and smugly look down their noses at the bikes themselves decrying the gearing while totally ignorant of the technology that keeps these bikes virtually theft-less. They spent countless hours wringing their hands about the lack of on-street bike parking when the solution is the Divvy itself. It has conquered in a single genius move the question of where does one park a bike? And you cannot park it improperly and still avoid late fees.
When The Pope Loses His Vision
Perhaps this is a good thing. It is necessary for the Faithful to understand that their catechism has quite a few edits that it should undertake. Someone needs to grab the Pope by the scruff of the back and send him packing or at the very least have him explain why a BikeShare system is not consistent with his idea of Salvation.
And please while you are at it, find out what on earth is so ‘overcomplicated‘ in the ‘technology‘ in BikeShare. If anything these bikes still need a good collision-avoidance technology update as well as an e-assist motor. Oh, and I would add a transponder that would allow red light cameras to properly identify and secure those financial contributions that they often avoid due to like of a visible license plate.
Heck if every bicycle in the city were simply outfitted with such a tool we could cut ‘red light running‘ down to size in a heartbeat. But wait, that would mean making Urban Cyclists conform. And we all know that ain’t cool.