The public bicycle hire scheme in Brisbane is doing poorly yet the politicians keep assuring us (themselves) that everything is fine and that it is in fact growing. Of course if you add more bikes it will technically ‘grow’, that is true, but it is the usage rate which is of importance and we all know that is flatlining. This is not a good image for bicycle use in Queensland and may have implications for future funding.

One of the most common publicly raised concerns about the bike hire bikes (CityCycle in Brisbane & Melbourne Bike Share) is the requirement to wear a bicycle helmet. In an effort to address this issue the Queensland Government commissioned a study in early September 2011, undertaken by CARRS-Q.

CARRS-Q is an organisation that was formed as a joint effort between the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the Motor Accident Insurance Commission (MAIC), a branch of the Queensland Government responsible for Compulsory Third Party (CTP) Insurance for motor vehicle drivers.

‘Behind-the-scenes’ documents obtained by a large Bicycle User Group in Brisbane (via an RTI request) show that this study was only commenced in early September, that CARRS-Q were only given 13 days to produce the document and that they were paid almost $35,000 to do the ‘research’. It was solely commissioned to counter the paper published by Prof Rissel in 2010, which has since been withdrawn due to errors, and to silence the groundswell of opposition to the bicycle helmet law as applied to CityCycle.

The study itself is rather poor and does not address two key questions:

  • Have mandatory bicycle helmet laws in Australia made cycling safer?, and
  • Would an exemption for public bike hire bikes be a reasonable suggestion (even if for a trial period)?

The first question has not been addressed because there is no evidence that the law has made cycling safer.

The second question was completely ignored, as if the bicycle hire scheme was not even topical. Meanwhile other ‘segmented exemptions’ were discussed & dismissed in Chapter 7 with very poor evidence indeed.

There are many interesting statements made throughout the document but also some concerning dialogue behind-the-scenes:

From page 10:

“Pucher, Dill and Handy (2010) conclude that “the combined evidence presented in these studies [from countries without universal helmet legislation] indicates that the health benefits of bicycling far exceed the health risks from traffic injuries, contradicting the widespread misperception that bicycling is a dangerous activity” (p.S106). Our conclusion differs somewhat: cycling does have significant health benefits and therefore should be encouraged in ways that reduce the risk of the most serious of injuries.”

You can’t eat your cake and have it too.

It is clear from Pucher (2010) that the health benefits of cycling far exceed the health risks without mandatory helmets, yet CARRS-Q just decide to completely ignore this information and come to their own conclusion! There is also an interesting email from Damian Mellifont (Transport & Main Roads – ie. Queensland Government) to Narelle Haworth (CARRS-Q Lead Researcher) on 21 September 2010.

Damian Mellifont States (his emphasis):

“…I assume that the cited quote from Pucher et al assumes the benefits of cycling outweigh the risk of injury, given the current requirements to wear a helmet and not if the requirement was repealed? If so, it might be a good idea to mention that or at lest (sic) clarify whether or not that was assumed by the authors?”

The origin of the nonsensical sentence where their ‘…conclusion differs somewhat…’ now becomes clear.

Another interesting email is contained on page 46 from Vicky Wilson (TMR Principal Policy Advisor) to Robyn Davies (TMR Program Manager for Pedestrians & Cyclists). In it Ben Wilson of Bicycle Queensland (an independent advocacy group for cyclists in Queensland) is reported to be giving the State Government a ‘heads-up’ that a member of the public is requesting a copy of this report and its findings.

That member of the public is me and I’m not too thrilled with this representation by Bicycle Queensland.

Another ridiculous paragraph in the final report is this one (my emphasis):

“While there is evidence that helmets reduced cycling rates 20 years ago, it isn’t the case today. For most people the reason they don’t cycle is because it doesn’t fit in with their lifestyle.

This is patronising to the good people of Australia. They are simply making up these unqualified opinions. We know why people don’t cycle thanks to the good folk at the Cycling Promotion Fund who thought to actually ask them (Table 5):

Reasons for not riding a bike for transport more frequently

  • Unsafe road conditions – 67.1%
  • Speed/Volume of traffic – 52.5%
  • Lack of bicycle lanes/trails – 48.1%
  • Don’t like wearing a helmet – 16.5%

What is interesting is that people don’t feel safe despite being told that a helmet will make you safe. I don’t think people are as stupid as some would have us believe. It is also interesting to note that despite it being illegal to not wear a helmet, 16.5% of people thought this was a significant impediment to transport riding.

CARRS-Q was asked in numerous letters to comment on the content of the report but we have not received any replies. We welcome comments here from them or anyone else.

If you are disappointed with this behaviour – and the way your taxes are being spent – write a letter to the Transport Minister in Queensland about an exemption for bike share bikes and add your complaint.