Should public health advocates be lobbying for bike share schemes in Australia?
Yes, suggests Dr Melissa Stoneham of the Public Health Advocacy Institute WA (PHAIWA). In the latest edition of JournalWatch, she reviews a recent study investigating the impact of such a scheme in Montreal.
On your bike!! Why we need more bike share schemes
Melissa Stoneham writes:
Brisbane has one….Melbourne has one…Barcelona has one…..London has one…New York is getting one….
Bike share schemes are popping up all around the globe. In fact, if you visit this site you can actually locate any bike share scheme in the world.
Bike ownership is increasing in Australia, with half (50%) of all Australian households having at least one working bicycle kept at their home. With this in mind, it is timely to consider how to better advocate for more bike share schemes in Australia.
The health benefits of riding a bike are obvious, and they seem to outweigh the risks of other metropolitan hazards such as collisions, pollution and road rage.
Recent data models on cycling in the Netherlands and Barcelona concluded that the benefits from the physical activity of cycling outweigh the combined hazards of traffic accidents and inhaling toxins.
Bike share schemes not only reduce congestion, but make it easier to access a bike in the city.
Interestingly the City of Melbourne is currently trialling free helmets with their bikes to overcome the barrier of “bringing your own helmet” or “hiring one at a local shop”.
To get a better handle on the potential public health benefits of bike-share systems, a group of Canadian researchers led by Daniel Fuller recently evaluated the ridership effects of Montreal’s bike share program, BIXI.
In the March 2013 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, Fuller and colleagues report that if you build a scheme, the riders will come.
BIXI is an acronym that stands for BIcycle-taXI. The scheme was launched in May 2009 and by 2011, it was the largest bike share scheme in North America.
Fuller and colleagues state the scheme increases accessibility to cycling by making available at low cost, 5050 bicycles throughout 450 bicycle docking stations located in Montreal’s central and more urbanised neighbourhoods. Bicycles are available for hire hourly (the first 30 mins are free), daily, monthly and for an entire season.
The authors tracked rates of cycling in the city at three points in the BIXI timeline. These included at the launch in May-June 2009, after its first season in late 2009, and after its second season in late 2010. A self-report phone survey of approximately 700 inner city residents was conducted seeking information about their cycling activity. Data were collected on total bike riding (commute-related and recreational) in the previous week, noting whether or not a person had cycled for at least 10 minutes.
The authors controlled for seasonality and found that exposure to a BIXI station was associated with a significant increase in the likelihood of bike riding.
After the first season of BIXI there was a slight positive trend, but nothing measurable. However, by the end of the second season, Montreal’s residents who lived near a bike-share docking station were much more likely to be users of the scheme and and more likely to report using BIXI for recreational cycling than for utilitarian (eg getting to work) cycling.
A number of limitations were acknowledged, including the inability to include mobile phones in the self report survey, potentially excluding larger number of younger respondents, media campaigns promoting cycling and physical activity and some minor infrastructure additions and expansions to the city’s bike scheme.
Despite all these factors, this study still indicated that the BIXI public bicycle share program in Montreal was associated with greater likelihood of cycling after the second season of implementation for respondents exposed to the BIXI program. The study adds to the growing consensus that built environment interventions can result in population-level behaviour change.
Around the world, share bike schemes bring convenience and less congestion to city streets, while introducing people to the joys and health benefits of cycling.
We have the right to the same opportunities in Australia, and should continue to advocate for such schemes – but the question for us here in Australia is: should bike scheme riders be exempt from wearing helmets?
I will just push those worms back into the can and leave that discussion for another day.
• Dr Melissa Stoneham is Deputy Director, Public Health Advocacy Institute WA
• Impact Evaluation of a Public Bicycle Share Program on Cycling: A Case Example of BIXI in Montreal, Quebec. Daniel Fuller, Lise Gauvin, Yan Kestens, Mark Daniel, Michel Fournier, Patrick Morency and Louis Drouin. American Journal of Public Health. Vol 103; Issue 3; Pages e85-e92.
The Public Health Advocacy Institute WA (PHAIWA) JournalWatch service reviews 10 key public health journals on a monthly basis, providing a précis of articles that highlight key public health and advocacy related findings, with an emphasis on findings that can be readily translated into policy or practice.
The Journals reviewed include:
- Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health (ANZJPH)
- Journal of Public Health Policy (JPHP)
- Health Promotion Journal of Australia (HPJA)
- Medical Journal of Australia (MJA)
- The Lancet
- Journal for Water Sanitation and Hygiene Development
- Tobacco Control (TC)
- American Journal of Public Health (AMJPH)
- Health Promotion International (HPI)
- American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM).
These reviews are then emailed to all JournalWatch subscribers and are placed on the PHAIWA website. To subscribe to Journal Watch go to http://www.phaiwa.org.au/index.php/other-projects-mainmenu-146/journalwatch
PHAIWA is an independent public health voice based within Curtin University, with a range of funding partners. The Institute aims to raise the public profile and understanding of public health, develop local networks and create a statewide umbrella organisation capable of influencing public health policy and political agendas. Visit our website at www.phaiwa.org.au
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