I have been a vocal supporter of CityCycle, forgiving their many errors and tardiness as teething problems, but still doggedly showering love on the program. But are those who say CityCycle will fail actually correct? All that I see cite the helmet laws as the nail in the coffin for CityCycle, but I think CityCycle’s greatest challenge is CityCycle themselves.
Looking back, the signs were all there.
I remember the day before CityCycle went live, I called their Call Centre to confirm that my location stations would be open on the 1st of October, and that their use wouldn’t be delayed until after Senor CanDo had done his official (and I suggest only) ride. I was reassured that my stations would be opened at 5am. At 5.15am I went to hire a bike, no bikes. Infact, only one of the two stations opened (with no bikes until 2.30pm) and the second station still hasn’t opened. A third station (and my closest) still isn’t finished, though I do see workers every few days. I should say, station building isn’t JCD’s fault, it is done by the council.
It is now 3 weeks in. Stations are slowly (read very!) opening, but problems remain with existing stations and areas.
An ongoing issue in my area (Teneriffe/Powerhouse/Merthyr/New Farm) is either a lack of bikes or a lack of spaces, and given that not all stations are live, it can be a bit of a walk to the next station. I spoke about this a week ago, and if anything, the problem has become worse as the weather improves and more people start using the program.
On Sunday, I decided to ride to my favourite Chai hangout to do some word dumping, then take a long and leisurely ride home taking some shots. Firstly, at Merthyr Village, there was only 3 racks free when I arrived at 8am. Secondly, after a ride down to Sydney Street and then a cycle back to the Powerhouse there were no spaces available. This is 10am Sunday morning. New Farm Park/Powerhouse is one of the few places you actually can ride to (other than the Botanical Gardens) and hang out on the grass on a beautiful day and at 10am it was already full. I decided to just ride on, and reset my bike at Macquarie St so I didn’t’ get charged extra. However, when two friends rode to New Farm later that day – there were no spaces at all in the area of Powerhouse and New Farm. Late afternoon, two more friends went to the Powerhouse, only to again find no spaces to rack their bikes. They ended up using a station quite some distance from the Powerhouse and then walked back (I hope they made their show in time). My friend called the Call Centre to get an idea of what was going on. He was informed that during the week (read business days) teams are dispatched within the hour of a rack being full or empty to move the bikes around, though on weekends they were trying to work out how to do it. Read most likely, no staff moving bikes on the weekend. I decided to put it to the test yesterday (Wednesday).
You might say it was entrapment, but I did not provide the shovel for them to dig themselves into this hole.
I know that the busiest station in my area is Merthyr Village – so I monitored it throughout the afternoon. 2 spaces at 1pm. 1 space at 2pm. 1 space at 3pm. 1 space at 4pm. 0 spaces at 4.30pm. 0 spaces at 5.00pm. 0 spaces at 5.30pm. 0 spaces at 6pm. 0 spaces at 7pm.
I got home at 4.30pm and decided to ride down to Merthyr (I needed a baguette, really). I called CityCycle to confirm that the station was actually working – you may remember that this station was allowing people to rack bikes but not to borrow when CityCycle went live (read when the station finally opened in the afternoon of the 2nd). I explained that I was riding to Merthyr. Angela (yes, name and shame) informed me that the station was working fine (more on that later) and that I could borrow a bike no problems. I explained again that I was riding to Merthyr but there were no spaces. She helpfully told me it was full. I told Angela that I had been monitoring the station all afternoon, and I was curious why no team had been sent to Merthyr to shift the bikes and make room as it was such a high volume destination (I have never ridden to Merthyr without seeing another person doing the same or walking around the complex with their yellow eyesore). I said that I was under the impression that CityCycle had a team that moved bikes within the hour of no bikes or no spaces being flagged on their system. She put me on hold. When she came back about 3 mins later, she told me, with what I can only describe as lacking in grace, that they don’t have enough technicians to move the bikes – they may be able to get some moved at 6am tomorrow. No apologies for inconvenience. No explaining on how the system works if you ride to a station and it is full. She didn’t even offer me the location of the closest available station.
Knowing full well there were no spaces available, I decided to put their reswipe system to the test. For those not in the know, if you arrive at a station and there are no spaces, you swipe, it extends your hire for an extra 15mins at no charge and displays the closest alternative locations and rack availability.
So I ride to Merthyr. I wasn’t sure I was going to go through with it, because I just knew it would be a balls up. I even tweeted that I was going for a ride and most likely have to drive back to go buy my baguette.
I arrive at Merthyr. 0 spaces available – however there are three racks with the red plastic guards on them (faulty/non-operational). I ride up onto the pavement and swipe. It helpfully tells me that there are actually 3 racks available. I helpfully inform the machine that actually I can’t use those three, so please rethink this answer.
I swipe again. Same result. I swear those stations don’t listen. The station does tell me that if I am having problems, to call CityCycle – they are actually set to a speed dial I call so often (again that should be a sign). I get a guy, Nick I think. I explain to him that there are no spaces at Merthyr, but that it won’t approve a swipe to extend to cycle to the next stop. He doesn’t know what to do or say. We decided to take it one step at a time. I explain where I am, the station number, and that the station won’t allow me to extend my ride.
He has NO idea what to do. I mean it, absolutely nothing. I tell him that the station thinks there are three available racks, yet the app (AllBikesNow) says there are none, and that I can see that there are three racks vacant but that they are blocked with the red plastic guards. Still no idea what to do. Now I know that I rode here pretty fast, didn’t take the leisurely route I normally take – I so I have a good 10 mins before it becomes a problem and I get fined (and I half wanted this to happen to see how they would go with it). He doesn’t ask for my membership number to make a note incase I get charged. He doesn’t suggest the closet stations (which won’t display because this station thinks there are three spaces), only confusion. He doesn’t even apologise for the inconvenience. Just as I hear him get to a whole new level of flustered and nervous laughing, a user comes up who wants to take out a bike. I say goodbye to Nick, who is thanking Mary McKillop, that someone showed up.
All does not go smoothly however. The rack won’t release. She swipes, picks a bike and it won’t release. You can hear the click but the bike won’t budge. We try three times on different bikes and finally get one out. One user had this happen recently, but the station thought that they HAD taken the bike even though they couldn’t remove it. Naturally, there was noone at the Call Centre, so they left a message and faced a 12 hour charge on their account. The next day, the problem was solved, but no ride for that user as planned. At least this time, I can lock my bike in.
I go buy my baguette and naturally run into an ex workmate while I have helmet hair, but that is ok… really.
As I am walking back towards the pavement, I see a woman on a CityCycle pushing her bike along the pavement to get back onto the road. Obviously she has just tried to rack her bike (still no spaces) and swipe her card. She jumps back onto the bike on the road and heads off at speed to New Farm CityCat Terminal (the closet operational station). I get my bike back out (I do have a favourite bike, though it isn’t at my local station anymore as I stupidly rode it on a one way trip last night after my shopping adventures – #881 best bike of all I have used – I have at least 10+ trips on her too #sadpanda) and headed back. I pass another CityCycler heading towards Merthyr (I assume) just around the corner. I wish them a silent “good luck” and ride home.
Shortly after I get home, I check again – it is now 6pm and still 0 spaces. At 6.45pm I head out again. As I mentioned, I went out again last night via CityCycle to a pizza place on Merthyr right by a station. As I was riding there, I saw a lady get onto a CityCycle with shopping bags at Macquarie St. When I got to Vespa I checked the app – 7pm and still no spaces. Her shopping trip won’t end as well as mine did I imagine.
So my question is, CityCycle, when are you going to pull your finger out and fix the busted stations? When are you going to train your call centre staff so they have information required by users? When are you going to have the staff numbers to service the program as promised so that people who are using can actually use it? And finally, what are you doing to compensate the people who subscribed but their stations still aren’t live almost a month in – and let’s not forget those who are waiting for stations that are are at the “hopefully by the end of the year.”
When it works it is great, but right now we are still sitting at just under a pass over all.
My rating for yesterday afternoon is: