Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bubi rounds up 1,000 guinea pigs in 1 hour

I just got tired of posting pics of Bubi bikes.
The internal testing phase for Bubi is finally over and now begins the public trial.
City transport company BKK has rounded up 1,000 volunteers for testing, and on Thursday, they will start a two-week trial to see how the system performs in real-world conditions with a large base of clients.
After the trial, each volunteer user will be asked to fill out an evaluation questionnaire, with results feeding into a final refinements of the system before it opens to the wider public.
BKK apparently had an easy time identifying volunteers. It posted an announcement promising a free six-month Bubi pass (value of about EUR 30) to anyone who would take part. The requirements were that they use the system at least 10 times during a two-week trial, and follow through with the evaluation.
Electronic registration opened Monday morning at http://molbubi.bkk.hu/ and within one hour BKK had their thousand guinea pigs.
Not surprising, as the bikes have been out on the streets since the first week of April, while usage has been restricted to a small number of handpicked volunteers in an internal test. I've followed the process quite closely and therefore understood that the system hadn't officially opened yet. But I've heard from several friends and acquaintances who had attempted to check out Bubi bikes, and then walked away frustrated thinking they simply didn't correctly interpret the instructions on the Bubi terminals. This goes down to BKK's perplexing policy of not communicating during the trial phase. I can only assume it was because the organisation's leadership was embarrassed about the system's problems.
As was widely reported, Bubi's registration and check-out system had a number of bugs, and the envisioned "brief testing period" stretched out more than three months.
According to the kerekagy blog, T-Systems, the lead partner in the consortium that's implementing Bubi, is liable for a HUF 120 million penalty for the system's tardy launch.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bubi's testing phase testing patience

Everyone's curious about the Bubi bikes.
On its homepage this week, the Budapest Transport Center (BKK) acknowledged serious problems with the testing phase of the MOL Bubi bike-sharing system, now in two months delay past its April 7 launch date.

Bugs in the check-out technology have prevented testers from removing and reconnecting bicycles at the system docking stations, and BKK isn't satisfied with efforts to fix the problems. The company says it may be forced to cancel its contract with the system providers if they don't get Bubi rolling soon.

The telecom company T Systems leads the implementing consortium, with other partners being the Csepel bike maker and the Germany-based Nextbike bike-share firm.

According to reports on Index.hu and the kerekagy blog, the MOL Bubi system is challenged because it brings together a number of advanced technological solutions (e.g. touch-screen dock terminals, on-board computers on the bicycles, a novel on-bike locking mechanism) that have never been combined together in any bike-sharing scheme.

In response, BKK said that it had done a thorough market investigation of system providers and that the T-System consortium's offer was selected from among several competing bids. One reason the offer was chosen was that it was the least expensive, partly due to tax advantages connected to the inclusion of Hungary-based Csepel. BKK said it understood that there were "risks" with the offer due to the need to develop new software solutions from scratch. And because of this, BKK had insisted that its service contract include a rigorous set of deadlines and financial penalties.

BKK said it was clear from February that there would be difficulties with the telecommunications aspect of Bubi, and therefore the planned launch date of April 7 couldn't be set in stone. However, now that the testing phase is going into its third month, BKK is invoking its contractual protections.

It noted that consortium leader T-Systems has already issued a public call for patience as it works with its partners to get Bubi rolling.

According to the BKK communication, the consortium is liable for an HUF 1.798 million penalty for each day of delay past April 7. As of June 4, the accumulated penalty was already HUF 104 million.

According to the contract, the penalty ceiling is HUF 179.8 million and this will be reached on July 16 if Bubi doesn't launch before then. BKK says at that point, it could demand payment of the penalty and terminate the contract. However, BKK says it has 100 staff working on testing and is committed to have the project succeed if at all possible.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Szentendre City Hall takes a stand for cyclists

Incredibly, this awkward underpass is part of the Eurovelo 6 bike touristic route. The public road authority forbids cyclists from crossing the road on the surface. Photo stolen from here.
The Szentendre local government is taking a stand against Hungary's public road authority in order to allow bicycling on the main road through town.

If you want to lend  personal support to this cause, you can sign a petition posted by a Szentendre subgroup of the Hungarian Cyclists Club.

This has a bit of history. Szentendre hasn't been terribly bike friendly over the years, and as someone who works and bikes there on a daily basis, I have ongoing issues with local cycling policy.

However, the local authorities in this case are trying to do something good for cyclists. For many years, the public road manager -- Közútkezelő Kft -- has banned bicycling on Route 11, despite it being the only option for many people to cross the town north to south. On the southern part, there's a shared bike/pedestrian path that cyclists are required to use. It's old and broken up, and not pleasant to ride on. And in order to get from this path to the dedicated bike path leading to Budakalász and Békésmegyer, you have to cross Route 11 through a horrible little underpass. Crossing on the surface is illegal.

From Szentendre's public transport junction (HÉV and Volan bus stop) to the north, there's no designated bikeway at all -- yet you're still banned from riding Route 11. One  local cyclist I've met has been cited by police for riding here -- and he successfully fought the ticket in court. Hungary's traffic code expressly permits cycling on public roads unless there's an adjacent bikeway provided. So Közútkezelő Kft.'s ban on cycling on the northern stretch of  Route 11 doesn't even accord with the law.

For years, Route 11 has not served as a local road at all, only as a high-volume, high-speed highway between Budapest and Visegrad (despite a posted speed limit of 50 km/hr in town). The local authorities are now wondering if maybe they can claim the Szentendre section for their own citizens, so that people can use it and cross it, by car, foot or bike, without cowering in fear of torrential through traffic. Allowing cycling here would be a good first step.

According to my local cycling contacts, the Route 11 initiative is part of a larger plan to prioritise cycling around the town. A couple years ago, a university student from Szentendre who had researched cycling in Denmark drafted a few relevant proposals for Szentendre. Apparently some of his ideas have caught on at City Hall. I think this is great. I have nothing against the use of cars for longer distance journeys between cities. But for local travel, cycling has an important role to play, and in Szentendre, there's huge untapped potential.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cited for biking on the bike path

Some other poor sap. Photo stolen from: http://444.hu/2013/07/17/timar-utcai-tortura-trukkozz-tolj-vagy-tejelj/
I got a HUF 10,000 citation (EUR 33) this morning for riding my bike on the bike path.

If you've ever ridden on the Buda-side Eurovelo route north from Margit hid, you can probably guess where it happened. It's on the pedestrian / bike overpass near the Tímár utca HÉV stop. Despite this being part of the official bike path, it's forbidden to ride your bike here. Signs on both ends of the bridge indicate that you're supposed to dismount and push your bike over the bridge.

Because it's on my work commute, I go over this bridge twice a day everyday. I know the rule and understand the rationale. There are lots of people on foot on this bridge because it connects a huge housing estate to the HEV stop. Even so, I figure if I slow down and refrain from mowing down children and senior citizens, I can stay on the bike and still be within the "spirit" of the law.

There's the principle, as well: Why should I have to get off my bike on a bike path? It's bad enough that they forbid cycling on public streets (as on Route 11 between Budapest and Szentendre or on any other street, come to think of it, where an adjacent, separate bike path is available (bike paths are no longer an option in Hungary, they're compulsory). But to forbid cycling on a bike path -- even a 200-metre section of a bike path --  that's really the final insult.

The officers who ticketed me patiently explained how it's only for a small section, it's for the protection of pedestrians, and how making a separate crossing for cyclists would be a huge investment. Big long load of conventional wisdom. The Hungarian government spends HUF 63 billion  for car infrastructure like the Megyeri hid, but it can't shell out an infinitesimal fraction of that to solve a problem for cyclists.

I was pleased this morning that one passing cyclist (who was canny enough to have gotten off her bike) stopped to make some of these arguments to the patrols. She didn't get anywhere with them but at least made an effort. (In retrospect, I'm a little miffed that none of my fellow cyclists warned me about the coming dragnet before I started climbing the bridge.)

But what can you do? I've crossed this bridge a thousand times without getting ticketed. My number was long overdue. If you read this, though, let it be a warning. Approach this bridge with caution -- it's cycling season, and the Obuda public space patrols have baited their hooks.

According to the kerekagy blog, a more bike-friendly solution to the problem is planned for 2015. We'll see.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Like mother, like daughter

This week, our friend Rachel brought over some toys that her daughter had outgrown, including a carrying rack for a kid's bike. Sequoia loves it. Part of being like her Mom is packing your little ones around when you're going to work and running errands.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Cycling cities -- they're possible!

In Kaunas, Lithuania, the Mobile 2020 bike parade.
For the past three years, I worked on a project called Mobile 2020 promoting everyday cycling in small communities in the region. We concentrated on 11 countries in Eastern Europe stretching from the Baltics to the Balkans.
Final publication of the Mobile 2020 project, available here.
The work has come to a close and our results are satisfying. The main activity was cycling-promotion seminars for municipal transport officers and planners. We educated them on best practices in infrastructure design, integrated transport planning, communications and cycling services (e.g. bike sharing, internet route finding).

Our curriculum reached at least 359 cities (more will be reported in the coming days). Our target at the start of the project was 350 cities, and I remember thinking we'd be lucky to reach half that many. But step by step, we met the target, and then exceeded it. By focussing on small cities, conducting the training in local languages and adapting the curriculum with in-country case studies, we were able to reach hundreds of tranport professionals who had little to no previous acquaintance with state-of-the-art cycling promotion.

In the end, a couple transport officers from each of the 11 project countries were invited to model cycling cities in Germany and the Netherlands. That gave them a first-hand experience of what's possible in city cycling. A Czech transport planner who joined the tour was so bowled over by what he saw that he was texting us throughout his visit expressing gratitude and telling us what an eye-opener it was. It was the first time he'd been to the Netherlands and seen streets with more bicycles than cars. He said he couldn't wait to get back home and set things right in his own town.

I had a similar reaction 10 or so years ago when I visited the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. It was the first time in my life I'd been in a city neighborhood where cyclists ruled the roads. I have to admit it brought tears to my eyes. So I understand exactly how that Czech transport planner felt. And I have to say it was cool being involved in a project that gave the same inspiration to hundreds of people in Central and Eastern Europe -- especially people in a position to influence the transport situation in their communities.

As project evaluator, I wrote a booklet of lessons and recommendations. Of course, I had the help of the project implementers in all the countries, and the technical experts and other partners from Germany and the Netherlands.

The publication is available here.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Parliament Promenade

For the last couple years, the area around Parliament was a dusty construction zone walled off with chip board and fences. The boards came down a couple weeks ago -- in time for the national elections -- to reveal an enormous level space of concrete and cut stone.

Aside from a huge new statue of national hero Lajos Kossuth, it's as flat and open as the Hungarian Great Plain. Some would call it "austere" -- in fact, my wife said exactly that. But it got thumbs up all around for being closed to cars. The tram tracks look to be in the same place. The asphalt street has been replaced by a stone tiled surface with little bicycle pictograms etched in about every 20 metres. They're pretty subtle and the signage is spare, as well. It's basically designed as a shared space where cyclists and pedestrians co-mingle. Except at stops, there's no curb or other barrier to isolate the tram tracks. You have a feeling it'd be really easy for a child to step across the tram tracks at the wrong moment, but trams on Saturday were going quite slowly, probably for this reason.

For cyclists, this square used to be a bit of a hazard. You'd either ride on the narrow bike path near the Parliament -- and on weekends always contend with droves of camera-toting tourists. Or you'd go on the street where you'd be caught between speeding cars and parked tourist buses in front of the Ethnographic Museum. Now you have space galore. It's unregulated, and you have to watch where you're going, but it feels a lot more relaxed and pleasant.