When Brisbane City Council’s CityCycle scheme was first introduced, we all thought it was a pretty silly idea. “Paris and Melbourne has it!” was a common way of explaining the logic behind a bike-sharing system, but not too many of us were convinced.
Brisbane is a very hilly city, its always hot here and there is a river in the way of most journeys. The bikes all carried adverts for iced tea and came in a fairly unflattering shade of yellow.
But a few weeks ago I was on a train, on my way to class, and saw a sign explaining that one could link a CityCycle account to an existing GoCard account, and that they were offering a student discount to use the system. Reducing barriers to entry for a system like this is, I think, very important. For me, a regular public transport user, having an additional option for getting around the city and inner suburbs cannot be a bad thing.
So I went to investigate this extra option. Not because I love riding bikes, not because I need another option, but because I don’t like to ignore something because of a previously-held bias or simple naivety. CityCycle has a student registration programme that is $40 for a year’s subscription to the service. $40 is not nothing, but it well within ‘impulse purchase’ distance for a year’s access. So I signed up, paid with my credit card, and linked the CityCycle account with my GoCard account.
The next day, when I set off for the city, I made sure to have my helmet on hand. My log-in to the system was a bit fiddly, with having to enter some authorisation numbers and such, but wasn’t too difficult. Then, I grabbed a bike and headed off across the Goodwill Bridge. This trip is not usually too long or inconvenient, but it did surprise me that the CityCycle system logged my bike hire time at slightly under two minutes. The journey is usually 8-10, so this seemed like a good time-saver. And with hire stations immediately next to both ends of the bridge, an easy choice.
Because I like to measure things, I decided to have a race. So I enlisted my friend Russell Johnson, known to be the fastest walker around, to meet me at QUT one afternoon, and then set off for the pub for dinner and a scientifically-earned beer. We we’re sure from the start that riding a bike would be quicker, but what I really wanted to measure was how much quicker it was. I was also interested to see the difference in routes chosen.
1. We are travelling from QUT to The Elephant Arms hotel, in Fortitude Valley.
2. We both must stay on roads or pedestrian access pathways (so no jumping fences or short-cutting through shopping centres).
3. We must both obey all road rules and traffic signals. 4. We were both responsible for our own timekeeping, but this is supposed to be accurate, not impressive.
5. Time is measured from the time we say go, until we touch the taps at the bar in the beer garden. (I had ‘checked out’ a bike before saying go, but would have to check it back in before entering the bar).
6. It was my shout for beers at the end.
So we met at the B-Block CityCycle station and set off.
Russell walked through the botanic gardens, along the Brisbane Riverside until he arrived at Howard Smith Wharves, and then up the horribly steep hill at Ivory st. Then, under the motorway and into The Valley, down the Brunswick Street Mall and into the pub. Google Maps predicts this 2.6km journey should take 34 minutes.
My journey, on the bike, was more complex than Russell’s, as most of Brisbane’s CBD streets are one-way – and rule 3 means I am not allowed to ride the wrong way down these streets. Also, the one thing that really hurts cycling in Brisbane is the number and size of hills – Anything I could do to make the trip flatter, the better it would be for me. The resulting trip was longer than it could have been – Google Maps plots this trip out at 3.0km, slightly longer than the more direct walk. It also predicts that I would take 19 minutes.
Doing some quick maths, the bike trip should only take 55% of the time that walking would take.
AND THE RESULTS ARE IN:
Russell’s walk took him 23 minutes and 49 seconds. My ride took me 13 minutes and 19 seconds. Which is 57% of the walking time. Saving me 10 minutes from the journey. I believe I could go ever quicker, but traffic cost me quite a few stops, and interrupted my momentum, where gains can be great.
Extrapolated out, if I make one similar journey each week for a year, it will save me 8 hours of travel time. This doesnt sound like much, but I’d say that this 8 hours is probably worth the $40 the CityCycle subscription cost.
Ultimately, though, as I’ve thought about this over the last few weeks, CityCycle’s greatest utility comes during short trips. I’m not going to do more tests, but a 4ish minute trip from QUT to the conservatorium is easily better than the 15-20 minutes that it would take to walk. The benefit is not in the time saved, but the time gained, meaning I can arrive earlier to music practice and set up, or can stay later but still arrive at a lecture with time to spare.