Future of Bristol's bike hire scheme comes under spotlight

Low take-up rate and too few bikes raise questions over Hourbike's viability

by Simon_MacMichael   November 24, 2009  

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The future of a bike hire scheme in Bristol, England’s first Cycling City, is being questioned, with concerns raised about the limited number of bicycles available, its restricted network and very-low take-up rate.

Called Hourbike, the initiative was launched last January when hire stations were set up at Parkway Station and three University of the West of England campuses. In July, four more were set up in the city centre, but a further one at the busy Temple Meads station has yet to be built.

According to local newspaper the Evening Post, a number of bikes have vanished, leaving just ten shared between the four city-centre locations and eight more at the UWE and Temple Meads locations.

It added that the scheme has so far managed to sign up 240 users. That equates to less than one member per 2,000 residents of the wider Bristol urban area, or 0.05%. Each pays £10 to register, and bicycles are free to hire for the first hour, and £1 an hour thereafter.

The scheme is operate by the Surrey-based Vipre Group of Companies, which specialises in sustainable travel, and which was recently awarded a contract to run Blackpool’s bike hire scheme, as reported on road.cc.

But that scheme is set to be on a much bigger scale than the one in Bristol, with bike numbers due to expand from an initial 60 to 500 by May 2010.

The Evening Post says that Hourbike has initially been supported through a £4,000 grant from Bristol City Council, with a further £4,000 to be given once the scheme was fully in place and the same amount 12 months later.

The council was reportedly waiting to see how it fared before deciding whether or not to commit cash from the £22 million investment that Bristol is receiving through its Cycling City status, but that now appears unlikely to happen.

Local environmental campaigner Chris Hutt recently wrote on his Green Bristol Blog that he had never seen anyone use one of the bikes, adding that “the failure of the Hourbike venture should be an object lesson for us all in the need for these things to be based on sound market economics and not just wishful thinking.”

But the Evening Post said that Hourbike’s only Bristol-based employeee, Dan Cooper, still hoped that the go-ahead would be given for a hire station at Temple Meads. He added: "At the moment we have only got the tourist and leisure users and not the business market. That's what we need to make Hourbike a success, which I know it will be."

3 user comments

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it's so frustrating to see that no-one in bristol council has appreciated the fundamental requirement for this to work - there have to be lots of stations, all over the city, and lots of bikes.

if you have so few stations then it's of no interest to the majority whose journeys don't coincide with the half-dozen locations available.

look at all the places where it works. how many of them are on such a poxy scale?

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posted by jezzzer [339 posts]
24th November 2009 - 14:09

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eight hire stations and eighteen bikes for how many people? two million or something in the area, 400,000 in the city itself. and it's not a success? go figure. i wonder how many of those people have even seen one of the bikes? not exactly a lot of awareness-raising going on, is there?

and the council have really been backing it, haven't they? £16k in total. Woo hoo. that's about one traffic light's worth then. meanwhile they're frittering away their cycling millions on what? meetings, it would seem. cause i don't see any glowing reports of new facilities.

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posted by cactuscat [301 posts]
24th November 2009 - 14:36

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Has to be said, I've seen more bikes on a single Velib' hire station in Paris than they have in the whole of Bristol.

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7887 posts]
24th November 2009 - 15:05

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