Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Our Digital World invades the Bicycle!

The Dublin bike scheme is a welcome addition to our city.  It will be great for toursists and locals alike.  Dublin is a relatively flat city and if you can brave the wind and the rain then cycling is a great way to get about.

I had seen the new stands being constructed and looked forward to the inauguration of this new service for many months now.  How practical!  How green! How good of our city and government to, at last, offer something for ordinary people to use and to enjoy.

So you can imagine my enthusium to read the practical details as they were published in the newspapers this weekend.  Then I saw something that made me slightly uneasy:
Users, who must register online at www.dublinbikes.ie, pay a €10 annual membership fee and leave a €150 security deposit through a credit card or bank draft.
Mmm...  I've been around long enough to realise that you can't just leave bikes lying around and expect people to use and return with honour.  No - the need for a deposit did not bother me - nor the €10 annual membership.  Even the charges per hour are reasonable and it is understandable that we should be charged for such a service.  No - none of these aspects would cause me to take to a blog and have a rant - no it's this:
Users, who must register online...
Are you joking! Our government, our city will offer this service to some citizens - the digitally literate and broadband connected privileged majority.  Tough on you if you don't use the Internet, tough on you if you haven't a credit card or if you are reluctant to set up a new direct debit on your bank account.

By the way, I went through this process on-line and it is one of the least user friendly experiences you could imagine - you will even need you IBAN number and an address with a compulsory post code (we don't use post codes in Ireland).  The company operating the service is JCDecaux (an advertising company) and although the front page of the website clearly displays the Dublin City Council logo when you go through the payment process you are actually dealing with a private company.

Now I don't want to appear to whinge - for me the new service is of great value.  But whatever happened to our notions of an egalitarian society - if we offer a service to people of the city then it should be available to all.  Consider groups such as retired people (the older you are the less likely you are to be an Internet user), people who are currently having trouble with credit, perhaps unemployed, all of whom could reasonably be expected to be prime users of this service and yet even with cash in hand they cannot use the service.

Likely the explanation centres on creating an effective service with low administration costs.  The irony should not be lost - the humble bicycle is simple and efficient but in order to use these city bikes you need the Internet and a bank account. 

There is nothing worse than feeling left out - those who struggle with the Internet, fear it, or just havn't figured it out are the forgotten many in our society.  We are all citizens of this land and we should have a reasonable expectation to be treated equally.
 
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