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Two hires a day at cost of £60 - councillor says it would be cheaper to buy users their own bikes

What was hailed as a ground-breaking cycle hire scheme for Scotland when it was launched three years ago could be scrapped and expansion plans are being shelved after it emerged each hire of a bike has cost £60 – leading a local politician to say that it would have been cheaper to buy each user their own bicycle.

Similar problems regarding low uptake have been encountered elsewhere such as Nottingham and Blackpool, while even London's Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme faces huge cash shortfalls - but other towns and cities are forging ahead with their own schemes.

Since the Bike2Go scheme – aimed at encouraging people to leave their car at home – was launched in Dumfries in September 2010, its bikes have been hired just 2,270 times, an average of around two rentals a day, reports the Galloway Gazette. Costs to date are £144,170. It was the first such scheme in Scotland.

Following last year’s elections to Dumfries & Galloway Council, Labour replaced the Scottish Conservatives as the largest party. In July this year, Labour councillors demanded a report outlining the scheme’s costs, which is due to be presented to the planning, housing and environment committee next week.

The committee’s chair, Colin Smyth, said: “The Labour Group have been deeply concerned about this scheme for some time because we simply don’t think it was value for money. This report shows we were correct.

“The scheme has worked out at £60 per rental and quite frankly it would have been cheaper for the Scottish Government and the others who provided the £140,000 funding, just to buy everyone who used it a new bike.

“We should be supporting cycling in other ways such as investing in cycle paths. The Bike2Go scheme was an experiment under the previous council administration and frankly it failed. That’s why the new administration will draw a line under it and won’t waste taxpayers’ money on introducing it to other towns.”

The days of the original scheme in Dumfries seem numbered unless someone can be found to take it on, as Councillor Smyth explained: “Once the bikes in Dumfries get to the stage where they need to be replaced we will simply have them removed unless a private company or voluntary group wants to take over running the bikes.

“There were a lot of positives in the Go Smart scheme such as the improvements to bus stops and travel advice, but it’s time to park the Bike2 Go scheme and move on. We will be taking some of those positives forward to other towns using a modest grant of £9,000 from the Scottish Government.”

Dumfries is not alone in rolling out a cycle hire scheme only to see extremely low levels of uptake.

In June this year, the BBC reported that a similar scheme in Nottingham, called Cardcycle, set up in September 2012 at a cost of £350,000, had  attracted an average of just one user a day.

Sue Flack, Nottingham City Council’s director of planning and transport, insisted the scheme would be viable in the long term, however, saying: "We're not doing the same thing they did in London with the Boris bikes.

"We haven't got as many destinations where you can expect a lot of people will want to bike to.

"We'll be building the scheme up over the next couple of years," she added.

Even London’s Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme – which notched up 1 million journeys in its first ten weeks of operation – is failing to cover its costs by a huge margin.

In 2012/13, its operating costs were £24 million, with Barclays sponsorship contributing income of £5 million and membership fees and hiring charges a further £8 million, leaving a loss of £11.1 million, according to Transport Xtra magazine.

Membership fees were doubled at the start of this year, with the price hike forecast to result in additional income of between £4 and £6 million – nowhere near enough to cover the shortfall, and recent analysis of hiring data by the website MayorWatch suggests usage is down during 2013.

A flagship scheme in Blackpool launched with the help of Cycling England in 2009 with plans for 500 bikes at 100 hiring locations in the seaside resort was suspended after the council said last December it was unable to meet the annual cost of nearly £100,000.

Originally operated by Hourbike – which also runs the Dumfries and Nottingham schemes – The Blackpool Gazette reported that it was relaunched under the management of community enterprise Cycles Recycled on 1 July this year.

The revised scheme has seen bikes hired out from locations on the Promenade between 8am and 8pm. The scheme will close for the winter when the Illuminations are switched off this Sunday.

However, other towns and cities have not been put off by the experience of other places and are queuing up to launch their own schemes, with Liverpool, Birmingham, York and Slough among those announcing plans to roll out their own cycle hire initiatives.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

23 comments

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thegibdog [103 posts] 2 years ago
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I can see how these schemes might work in places with very high visitor numbers or where space is at a premium and people can't store bikes, but Dumfries? Slough??

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Ghedebrav [1100 posts] 2 years ago
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There's still worrying talk of Manchester implementing just such a scheme. Let's hope Manchester Councli & GMT are paying attention to this kind of story.

To be honest, I'm amazed anyone thought this would work in a place like Dumfries or Blackpool, or even a medium-sized city like Nottingham. It's a fundamental misunderstanding of what people use bikes for. It works in London because London's centre is very large and walking from e.g Hyde Park Corner to Leadenhall Market just isn't feasible, whereas cycling is. I can't think of an equivalent journey in Nottingham, Manchester, Liverpool...

Spend some money on proper cycling infrastructure instead. Or just fill in the potholes on Palatine Road (and elsewhere)!

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sm [390 posts] 2 years ago
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Dumfries population: 147,930. I think the man with deep pockets might find buying them all a new bike a tad more expensive than the cycle hire scheme.

Interesting though - how many bikes are there? Why aren't people using them? Is the city too small and car parking/public transport too good? Does cycle hire benefit from better weather (sorry Scotland!).

This blog did an interesting piece on comparing cycle hire schemes.

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Gman59c [58 posts] 2 years ago
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The population of Dumfries is actually around 31,000. The population of Dumfries & Galloway is around 150,00. I grew up in Dumfries and running a cycle hire scheme there seems pretty daft to me.

The town centre is very compact and could be walked around in less than an hour. Any tourist attractions that the town has would be situated within a square mile at most.

Like most other towns the town centre itself has also been decimated by out of town developments, which you get to by, you guessed it..... cars.

Waste of money that could have been put to better use.

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bici1977 [42 posts] 2 years ago
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Is it any wonder that people dont use the bikes when politicians do zip for the road safety of cyclists? Not a week goes by where there isnt a cyclist reported being injured or killed and those are usually commuters that know their way around cycling. And then you expect John Doe from Dumfries to take to the bike and 'risk his life'? Unlikely!

First there needs to be a change of attitude towards cycling in this country, supported by legislation and changes to the road network for these kind of schemes to become a success!

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Neil753 [447 posts] 2 years ago
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A far better system, in towns like Dumfries, would be long term hire, where users hire a bike for a week or more, from an empty high street shop for instance. Much lower running costs, far more opportunity to spread the "message" and you could always have a voucher scheme tie in with local bike shops. Run the same outlet as a cycle cafe and it could become financially self supporting.

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Angelfishsolo [134 posts] 2 years ago
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£60 a pop to hire a POS bike. Is it any wonder the scheme is not being used?

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Wolfshade [191 posts] 2 years ago
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It seems to me that cycle hire schemes would abound where the city centre is large enough that walking between points is arduious.
London, I can totally see this, it is highly dense population and there is already a desire and demand not to use one's car in the locale. Look at the number of 'bus routes, underground, light railway, normal railway etc.
Let us be honest no where else is quite as densely populated, even considering West Midlands conurbation, Greater Manchester or West Yorkshire Urban Area, these are still not quite dense enough to justify it I don't think.
Why go though the hassel of hiring a bike when I can walk the distance is only slightly longer.
Of coiurse of great interest would be an understanding into who uses the Boris bikes and why. If they are tourists on novelty trips then that would be a warning sign.

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studentcyclist [4 posts] 2 years ago
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The University of Warwick (a small campus university) was consulting on implementing a bike hire scheme last year.

Thank goodness nothing has been heard of it since

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CameronB [10 posts] 2 years ago
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My opinion is that no one will ride these bikes until they feel it is safe to do so. There is so much bad press over cycling at the moment that people will either walk or stay safe in their cars. I wouldn't imagine Dumfries is the warmest place to cycle either.

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oozaveared [941 posts] 2 years ago
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thegibdog wrote:

I can see how these schemes might work in places with very high visitor numbers or where space is at a premium and people can't store bikes, but Dumfries? Slough??

Exactly. This was just a triumph of politics / ideology over common sense. There was little if any demand. Blimey the website for Bike2go cites Barcelona, Paris, Stockholm and London "....and now Dumfries".

Didn't anyone on the council say "now hang on a minute ...."

Barcelona Pop 1.6 million Loads of tourists and major business centre

Paris Pop 2.2 million Worldwide tourism destination, major business centre

Stockholm Pop 1.3 million Lots of tourists and loads of commuters

London Pop 8.1 million Unbelievable

Dumfries Pop 43,600. Lots of tourism but outside the town. Not a major business centre

Hubris or what?

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crazy-legs [795 posts] 2 years ago
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Angelfishsolo wrote:

£60 a pop to hire a POS bike. Is it any wonder the scheme is not being used?

You've not read it. It doesn't cost the user £60.
The number of hires vs the actual cost to the council to set the system up means that each hire is EFFECTIVELY £60.

It's cost £144,000 to date and it's had a total of 2,270 hires so £144,000 divided by 2270 = £60(ish) pounds that the council has effectively paid. So in other words, massively economically non-viable.

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wildnorthlands [32 posts] 2 years ago
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The level of cyclists casaualties on the roads in the UK is unacceptably high. However, on average 5-6 people die on the roads every *day* - so in relative terms the casualty rate is low. However, road traffic accidents involving deaths rarely get reported other than locally, unless the incident is something like a major pileup on a motorway.

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Chuck [556 posts] 2 years ago
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CameronB wrote:

My opinion is that no one will ride these bikes until they feel it is safe to do so. There is so much bad press over cycling at the moment that people will either walk or stay safe in their cars. I wouldn't imagine Dumfries is the warmest place to cycle either.

I don't think that's the issue. I reckon in London, and places like it, the population, layout, and transport network mean that for a lot of people, a Boris bike is often a better (or at least no worse) option for getting around than the bus, tube, or car, especially when you can hop on to another mode of transport at the other end. It makes sense in that context.

In Dumfries, I'd hazard a guess that none of those things are true. So why would anyone use one?

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jarredscycling [456 posts] 2 years ago
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Cycling infrastructure will make a much larger difference than a bike hire in mid size cities that don't have a huge tourism base

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Joeinpoole [441 posts] 2 years ago
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crazy-legs wrote:
Angelfishsolo wrote:

£60 a pop to hire a POS bike. Is it any wonder the scheme is not being used?

You've not read it. It doesn't cost the user £60.
The number of hires vs the actual cost to the council to set the system up means that each hire is EFFECTIVELY £60.

It's cost £144,000 to date and it's had a total of 2,270 hires so £144,000 divided by 2270 = £60(ish) pounds that the council has effectively paid. So in other words, massively economically non-viable.

With that logic you'd also have to conclude that the railway system is "massively economically non-viable" too being as only about half of the cost is covered by fares ... the other half comes out of our taxes.

The scheme has been going 3 years and the actual cost works out at slightly less than £1 per person per year (when assessed against the population of Dumfries).

To put that into context the Chief Executive of Dumfries & Galloway earns, in salary and pension payments, more than 3x the annual cost of this bike scheme.

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bambergbike [89 posts] 2 years ago
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I have a bike of my own that suffices for ordinary trips into and around town. But I would love to be able to hire more specialist bikes from time to time when I have a use for them. A bakfiets for transporting visiting nieces, say, or a cargo bike for moving heavy loads (preferably one with an electric motor, given that I live on a steep hill.) If the money had been spent on leasing a smaller number of specialist bikes (cargo bikes with electric motors, bikes with kiddy trailers etc) to individuals and families for days, weeks or months at a time, it might have been more useful.

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Some Fella [890 posts] 2 years ago
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Cheaper and easier for local politicians to do a bike hire scheme than provide decent infrastructure and they can then tick the 'Promote Cycling' box in their Transport policy.
Start a scheme that is doomed to fail - then when it does say there is no public interest in cycling and divert money elsewhere.
Aint politics great eh?

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alun [45 posts] 2 years ago
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Angelfishsolo wrote:

£60 a pop to hire a POS bike. Is it any wonder the scheme is not being used?

2 hires for £60, so only £30 each ! BOGOF

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PJ McNally [591 posts] 2 years ago
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Don't forget Oxford, we have one of these ridiculous schemes too.

I actually have mixed feelings about it - on the positive side, it is a very visible advert that the area is trying, at least, to be pro- cycling. And perhaps this might convince a few people to ride who otherwise wouldn't.

But imho, far more people would be swayed by infrastructure than by propaganda.

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monkimark [16 posts] 2 years ago
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TfL are massively subsidised for buses, trains, tubes etc. Why should the bikes be expected to generate a profit?

The Dumfries scheme does seem a bit rubbish though.

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Malaconotus [96 posts] 2 years ago
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Agree with the comment above that we shouldn't expect these schemes to be self-funding any more than we expect rail and bus services to be self-funding. Investments in transport infrastructure are made to accommodate population growth and deliver economic growth. TfL haven't set up the Boris Bike scheme as a money-spinner but because it is impossible to accommodate trip demand from London's growth by road building, and it's a hundred times cheaper than digging more tube tunnels. The tube network is clogged with passengers making short trips of under two miles around central London which could be just as quick by bike, and the 'subsidy' to the bike scheme delivers massive cost savings in the bigger picture.

The drivers for the Dumfries scheme are rather less clear, however. Although £60 per trip is less than the subsidy for some train and bus services, it's hard to see any clear 'bigger picture' justification for this scheme.

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Matt eaton [742 posts] 2 years ago
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bambergbike wrote:

I have a bike of my own that suffices for ordinary trips into and around town. But I would love to be able to hire more specialist bikes from time to time when I have a use for them. A bakfiets for transporting visiting nieces, say, or a cargo bike for moving heavy loads (preferably one with an electric motor, given that I live on a steep hill.) If the money had been spent on leasing a smaller number of specialist bikes (cargo bikes with electric motors, bikes with kiddy trailers etc) to individuals and families for days, weeks or months at a time, it might have been more useful.

Love the idea of this but realistically, in the current UK culture, this sort of scheme would simply go unused as most people would get in the car. Even in highly populated London most people will not feel that a bakfiets or cargo bike is safe on busy roads. Even as a massive fan of all types of cycling I can't imagine that I'd hire a special bike to pick up a sofa or give a friend a lift rather than jumping in my car.

There could be some scope for schems like this to be run by universities in cycle-friendly cities to give car-less students alternative transport opitons but I can't imagine a mass-market appeal in the UK.