13 September 2009

New communal Bicycle Scheme for Dublin

A new communal Bicycle Scheme has been launched in Dublin today.
Its aim is to encourage more people - Dubliners as well as visitors - to cycle in Ireland's capital city instead of using their cars or public transport.

The initiative is organised by Dublin City Council in co-operation with a French advertising company which is funding the project in return for advertising space.
This copies similar schemes in Paris, Copenhagen and sixteen other cities. But it falls well short of long-established communal bicycle pools one can find in many Dutch cities.

In Dublin a total of 450 silver-coloured unisex bicycles - complete with a wire basket for small items in front of the handle bar - are now available for use by anyone.
They can be hired at 40 city locations, from the Mater Hospital in the North of the city to Grand Canal Street in the South.

A short journey of up to half an hour is free of charge, but for longer use of the bicycles there is a rental fee. The first six hours are covered by a flat fee of € 4.50, and after that € 2 are charged for every half hour.
The target audience for the scheme is therefore the short-distance or casual cyclist who might not have a bicycle but would like to use one now and then. The project could also be attractive for visitors who wish to discover the city on two wheels at an affordable price.

However, there is an obstacle in the system that might prevent quite a lot of people from using the new communal bicycles. To use one of the velocipedes one has to leave a € 150 deposit at the renting station, "in case the bike is not returned", as one of the organisers explains.

This is so typically Irish. We just don't trust anyone any more these days. It is the same attitude that makes us pay for every drink we order in a pub at the moment we receive it.
No one trusts anyone here these days, and - to be fair - there are indeed plenty of scoundrels in Ireland who like to take advantage of others. This begins with the government and ends among the lowest of lowlife in shabby pubs.

In contrast to Ireland, most countries in continental Europe have a culture of general trust and thus a lot less abuse. There drinks are marked on the beermat as long as one is in a tavern, and before one leaves, one pays for what one has consumed.
And in some continental countries, in particular in the Netherlands and parts of Belgium, free communal bicycle pools are a long-established service in many cities. Occasionally it does happen there too that a bicycle is not returned to the pool, but it is very rare. General honesty is much more common there than in Ireland, and as people enjoy the free service, they do not abuse it.

But in post-Tiger Ireland nothing happens without money. So anyone who wants to use one of the 450 new communal bicycles in Dublin has to make a € 150 deposit, either by credit card "or with a bank draft", as a city official suggests.
As credit cards are quite common these days, it should be easy to use them for this purpose. But what about those who do not have a 'flexible friend' made of plastic?
Most of Ireland's poor people, including many who live on social welfare, never had a credit card and would never get one from the banks. A lot of these people do not even have a bank account. So how could they avail of the new bicycle scheme?

No one seems to have thought that through. Without a credit card, people would need a € 150 bank draft! This is a large amount of money for poorer people (almost 75% of a weekly social welfare payment) and I cannot imagine that many would carry a bank draft over this amount around with them, just to be able to cycle around Dublin. It seems that once again a generally good idea is blighted right from the start by focusing too much on money and by not trusting the people.

As it is, the scheme is obviously aimed at environmentally conscious people from the middle classes, and it leaves those of lower social standing out in the cold.
There is also an unanswered question of data protection, since thousands of credit card details will be collected by a private advertising company. So even though I do have a credit card and care for the environment, I will not use the scheme as long as the deposit demand is in place. Too often we hear of data theft and large amounts of financial data that are abused for commercial purposes or simply go missing.
And there is no way that I will walk around with a € 150 bank draft in my pocket at all times...

The Emerald Islander


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