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Saturday, December 7th, 2019

The politics of pushbikes

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by July 25, 2017 General

Visitors to Adelaide have plenty of transport options. They can jump on buses, taxis, trains and trams, with some offering free rides. Walking is also a joy as the city is airstrip flat, not too windy and this year, seldom wet.

Or, they can hire a bicycle during daylight hours — for no charge.

The South Australian capital claims to be the only city in the country offering this non-commercial service.  It started in 2005, with 20 bikes. Now, it has 400 available from 26 outlets, with most open seven days a week.

The show is run by the non-profit organization BikeSA, which has expanded beyond the city center to nearby suburbs, though not yet to Yorketown.

So, when the five-member Warren family arrived from their hometown 300 kilometers west of Adelaide, they used two wheels to explore while learning lessons about the environment.

The local and state governments — which fund the project — are promoting cycling to reduce pollution from vehicle exhausts, keep citizens fit, eliminate congestion and eventually park the fossil-fueled King Car and throw away the key.

Could it happen in Indonesia?  In smaller cities with committed leadership and a disciplined citizenry, meaning drivers stop at red lights and pedestrian crossings, a version of the Adelaide model could be trialed.

Read also: As congestion worsens, cyclists give up the fight

However, modifications would be necessary to cope with cultural differences, according to Christian Haag, CEO of BikeSA.

BikeSA CEO Christian HaagBikeSA CEO Christian Haag (JP/Erlinawati Graham)

First, a mindset change is needed. People who buy cars as status symbols and sneer at other road users won’t feel comfortable on a saddle until driving becomes more misery than fun through gridlocks and parking problems.

“Bikes in the West are now seen as transport for smart people and not the poor; millennials concerned about the environment are making cycling trendy,” Haag says.

“About a thousand cities worldwide have a point-to-point system, but ours is different.

 “Users have to return the bike to the collection point.  Now our fleet is ageing, we may change the model using new machines with embedded GPS sensors, so we can track movements.”

In a point-to-point system, commuters leave bikes at train or bus stations for others to use. The system has gone spectacularly awry in some Chinese cities, where hundreds of bikes have been dumped because there’s no docking system.

Meanwhile, in cities like Brisbane in the Australian state of Queensland, bikes in sidewalk racks are going unused because the credit and ID card system of unlocking and using is too complex. 

Australian law demands cyclists use helmets — not a requirement in cities like Amsterdam, regarded as a world leader in bike use.

First, a mindset change is needed. People who buy cars as status symbols and sneer at other road users won’t feel comfortable on a saddle until driving becomes more misery than fun through gridlocks and parking problems.

“Bikes in the West are now seen as transport for smart people and not the poor; millennials concerned about the environment are making cycling trendy,” Haag says.

Read also: Ancol provides 1,000 bicycles for visitors to ride for free

“About a thousand cities worldwide have a point-to-point system, but ours is different.

 “Users have to return the bike to the collection point.  Now our fleet is ageing, we may change the model using new machines with embedded GPS sensors, so we can track movements.”

In a point-to-point system, commuters leave bikes at train or bus stations for others to use. The system has gone spectacularly awry in some Chinese cities, where hundreds of bikes have been dumped because there’s no docking system.

Meanwhile, in cities like Brisbane in the Australian state of Queensland, bikes in sidewalk racks are going unused because the credit and ID card system of unlocking and using is too complex. 

Australian law demands cyclists use helmets — not a requirement in cities like Amsterdam, regarded as a world leader in bike use.

Adelaide claims to be the only city in the country offering bicycles for hire during daylight hours — for no charge.Adelaide claims to be the only city in the country offering bicycles for hire during daylight hours — for no charge. (JP/Erlinawati Graham)

Haag has studied systems overseas and forecasts an explosion of bike use as authorities work out the ideal way to get maximum usage with minimal hassle.

The big money and challenging ideas are coming from China, where Ofo bikes are operating an Uber-style app system, which is now also available in Singapore. Users book bikes and are sent a code to unlock the machine.

Read also: 9 taste bud treats and unique destinations near Australia’s Margaret River

“We’ll soon be scrapping our clunky but robust step-through bikes for new models, including pedal-assisted electric bicycles [known as Pedelec E-bikes],” Haag said. “The cost will be up to AU$500 [Rp 5 million] per unit wholesale, so we may have to start allowing advertising.

“We can buy cheaper bikes, around AUD$60 each, but they won’t last.”

Most frames are made in China (35 million a year according to some reports) with European motors, but demand is so strong, manufacturing may start in Australia.

Public transport authorities who think traffic problems will be solved by getting commercial companies to open hire-bike centers will find their dreams punctured if they don’t spend on facilities.

In some parts of Adelaide, there’s already a shortage of kerbside rails where bikes can be chained, so trees and street furniture are being used — much to the annoyance of pedestrians. 

Special cycleways complete with traffic lights just for riders have been installed to make pedaling pleasurable and safe. 

Community awareness programs are also essential. Cyclists can use sidewalks so the idea of shared-space has been promoted.  Motorists must allow a 1.5-meter gap between themselves and cyclists.

Haag is confident future public transport systems will become seamlessly integrated as the public sees benefits and demand action.

BikeSA offers visitors workshops on cycle maintenance, insurance policies and maps to guide their exploration of Adelaide. A tour of religious centers includes a visit to the Adelaide Mosque, built in 1888 and the oldest major city mosque in Australia.

Read also: Indonesia floats joke of Oz wine requiring halal certification

Haag doesn’t think licenses will be imposed by authorities hungry for revenue, though he said Oregon in the United States plans to add a US$15 (Rp 200,000) tax on new bike sales.

“The economics are straight forward,” he said. “The cost of moving people using conventional transport is continually rising. We need to make it easier to ride a bike than drive a car, but we are not there yet.  Change needs leadership.”

Adelaide’s free bikes may soon be history as costs rise — but how will fees be imposed?

Membership (difficult for visitors), credit cards, recharge cards, cash at a counter — these are issues still to be determined.

But Haag is convinced the Age of the Bike has arrived, though not yet in Jakarta.

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