Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Hourbike Launched with a Whimper

A report in today's Evening Post tells us that Hourbike has been officially launched in Bristol with four hubs, each with about 4 bikes, in central Bristol to complement the four pilot sites at Bristol Parkway and UWE (map here). The story includes a quote from my previous blogpost on Hourbike where I gave a predictably downbeat verdict. But it seems I'm not the only one with doubts about the viability of the scheme.

The Cycling City project seem to be disowning the project, claiming that the funding of £12,000 from Bristol City Council isn't Cycling City money and that Hourbike is not part of Cycling City. This is quite remarkable since all the evidence is that this was envisaged as being an integral part of Cycling City. The media certainly gave that impression at the launch of Cycling City last year and nothing was said to disabuse them of that idea.

The Post report says nothing about any official launch ceremony and so we might conclude that Cycling City don't want it to have a high profile. Even the inevitable Jon Rogers quote is quite guarded.
"Anything that encourages people to leave the car behind and find a healthy, sustainable way of getting about the city has to be welcomed. This pilot scheme will give us the opportunity to see what kind of demand there might be for a more widespread network in Bristol. We certainly wish Hourbike all the best."

Damned by faint praise? But it seems that the promoters of Hourbike have more than enough chutzpah to compensate for the fainthearts elsewhere. Dan Cooper, 28, Hourbike's sole employee in Bristol and nephew of Hourbike boss Tim Caswell (now, now, let's not hear the N word), said
"This can definitely work in Bristol. It cannot fail as an idea."

Mr Cooper goes on to say that there could one day be 2,000 of their bikes on the streets of Bristol (and will it endure for a thousand years too?). But he neglects to mention that the best known automated bike hire schemes, in Paris and Barcelona, were actually launched with thousands of bikes available from hundreds of locations, not just eight hubs that don't as yet even include the central railway station (a minor detail overlooked by the promotional video below).

According to Mr Cooper there are plans to open new hubs, subject to planning permission, in Temple Meads and Temple Quay. One wonders why they need planning permission at these locations but not elsewhere, and why have they been so tardy about progressing a hub at such a key location as Temple Meads. Are First Great Western perhaps lukewarm about encouraging cycling or getting cold feet about their involvement?

If Mr Cooper and family are so confident about the future success of the Hourbike project why have they come cap in hand for public funds to support it instead of raising the funds privately? Surely if it "cannot fail" then it can only succeed and prove a profitable venture? Or is it that no private investor will touch it with a barge pole?

Video summary. Desperation (How to get to the train station in 5 minutes?), Pacification (Ah, an Hourbike Hub), Expectation (This is quick, I'll soon be there), Acclamation (Ah, Temple Meads at last), Realisation (There's no fucking Hub here to deposit the bike!).


Graham Spiller said...

Blimey, is the soundtrack to the promo vid supposed to be quite so sinister and threatening? Nice touch.

woodsy said...

"This can definitely work in Bristol. It cannot fail as an idea."

Refresh my failing memory: wasn't something similar said a few decades ago by tram promoters Advanced Transport for Avon?

Wonder what happened to them?

Kirk said...


What a waste of money. Bikes are cheap to buy and own and lots of people have them tucked away in their sheds... We don't need more bikes, we need better routes to ride them on and better places to lock them up.

Chris Hutt said...

They come and they go, Woodsy, adding yet another footnote in Bristol's litany of failed transport projects. Brabazon syndrome?

woodsy said...


The Brabazon was only one episode of Bristol's litany of failed transport projects, which is now well into its 3rd century from what I can see.

Some time in the 19th century general run-of-the-mill shipping exceeded the weight of 300 tons, the maximum size of vessel that could safely navigate the 8 miles of the tidal River Avon to reach Bristol Docks. Nevertheless, it still took Bristol over 50 years to move the docks down the river to Avonmouth.

Chris Hutt said...

50 years behind the times? Plus ça change ....

Chris Hutt said...

I've added a bit to the post after the video by way of a brief summary. Witty or what?

Anonymous said...

Eighteen bikes? in four hubs? four? In Stuttgart we have three hubs by the railway station alone, each with a capacity of about ten bikes.

It could and should work, but the promoters really need to get real and actually have some real numbers of bikes and hubs. Why is the UK (My native land, before someone gets upset) so bad at this sort of thing?

Adam said...

How long before reports of bags being snatched from the rear baskets at traffic lights? Did that guy put his laptop in the basket? And where were the riot Police to welcome him at the station?

Chris Hutt said...

Yes Adam, I was horified to see people putting their valuables in an open rear basket like that. So easy for someone to nick, even another cyclist or motorist could easily do it. Or things might just bounce ought if you hit a bump. The baskets ought to be on the front where you can keep an eye on things.

Bristol Dave said...

yeah, but baskets on the front don't exactly conjour up the best image do they?

Martyn Whitelock said...

Chris- Well done for maintaining some continuity on the hype surrounding the Hour Bike scheme. I wish them luck and am sure it could work for certain audiences, namely communters, tourists and hopefully visitors on business.

However, I can't see local people needing to rent a bike. For me, bike ownership goes hand-in-hand with freedom of travel and sanity of mind, which only bike ownership can provide. It's the best way to avoid all the bullshit and hassle of costly public transport which never provides the right service.

Colibri said...

From a usability point of view, that's kind of strange than the 'Français' language is the first choice on the LCD display...

Anonymous said...

So cycling campaigners are now criticising cycling initiatives as well?

Is there no end to their whingeing?

Chris Hutt said...

Anon, do you think anything calling itself a 'cycling initiative' should be beyond criticism?

The business plan is not available to the public, despite it being public money that's funding it, so we have no way of knowing what this Hourbike thing really is.

Once we start funding this from taxes there's no end to it, since a further injection of cash will always be touted as the remedy for any ills. We become hostages to Hourbike (unless someone is brave enough to kill it off). Perhaps that is their business plan. Who knows.

But if you had your way, Anon, we would greet every 'cycling initiative' with a smile and a blank cheque.

Bigwok said...

Why do they have a warehouse with 50 bikes waiting to be built?

Clearly they need some spare bikes but do they really need 50? Are they expecting them to get trashed or are they not planning on any repairs?

I like the hourbike concept, but can't help but thinking that if its ever to succeed then you have to be able to go somewhere!

Hourbike needs to decide who it is for, Commuter, Leisure user or Tourist. The current hub arrangement basically provides for students on the north fringe and leisure users in the city centre.

The card registration system does not encourage tourist use and until there is a hub at Temple Meads then I can't see how it provides anything for commuters!

1) Easier way for tourists to use it and more tourist/leisure/commuter related hubs in the city centre. e.g SS Great Britain, bus station, broadmead/Cabot, Triangle, Redcliffe

2) Suburban hubs at local centres (with retail, points of interest) within 2 miles e.g. North Street, East Street, Totterdown Square, Sandy Park, Church Road, St Marks Road, Gloucester Road Arches, Clifton Down, Clifton Village.

Most of these could relate to on street improvements planned or off road cycleways currently in existence.

Anonymous said...


I really want this to work, but it doesn't look like it's been set up properly: You need a lot of bikes and hubs for something like this to be effective. For Example, Stuttgart started in June 2007 with 400 bikes in 64 hubs, three of which are in the railway station.

It'S a great idea and can definitely work in Bristol, because your Geography is very similar to ours, but there needs to be a sensible number of bikes an hubs.

Chris Hutt said...

Interesting to check the Hourbike map (link in post) from time to time. There's rarely any evidence of the movement of bicycles (i.e. numbers at each hub remain unchanged).

But oddly over half the bikes are shown as being at Bristol Parkway (18 in total, when there are only 6 locks in the hub there. That would mean that there would be no free locks to deposit a bike at Parkway. Anyone know what's going on there?

David Hembrow said...

The numbers really are quite remarkably silly. Are there really only 18 bikes ? I did some calculations a while back to show how even the thousands in Paris can only account for a tiny fraction of journeys there.

Bristol's 18 bikes so far are enough for, what, about one in 7000 journeys in the city, provided each is used ten times a day. About 0.01% of the total. That's really not much. Even if there were eventually 2000 bikes, they'd still only be enough for about 3% of all journeys in the city, and then only if every one of them was used ten times a day. Somewhat optimistic.

Cycling infrastructure money over here is not used to pay for bike hire schemes.

Chris Hutt said...

Hi David,

On present performance I doubt if bikes are being used more than once a week, if that. Very little evidence of use that I can see.

In general I think these sorts of bike hire schemes are being adopted as symbolic gestures rather than practical transport projects. Symbolic gestures have a role but if they can be combined with useful projects all the better.

Tim said...

Does anyone know what's happening with the Hourbike scheme? Is anything happening at all? Have new stations/locations come online? Have bikes been added? A cursory glance at the map suggests that either fewer bikes are available now than there were before or more are in use, but we're still talking about 1-3 bikes per station, with ca 8 stations, so only ca. 20 bikes altogether. Is that sad or what? Love to be proven wrong.

laura said...

I think some of the comments here are a bit harsh - this is such a brilliant concept, and presumably they don't have funding for more bikes and hubs yet? There should definitely be one at Temple Meads though rather than or as well as Parkway - but this is obvious really so they must have a reason for not doing so yet.

I'm looking forward to this scheme taking off, especially if there's a hub near the beginning of the Bristol-Bath cycle track and one at the end. That would be perfect for people who don't want to go on the roads, which is the only thing that puts me off bike-riding.

I don't see why people are saying Hourbike need to decide whether this should be for commuter, leisure user or tourist - can't it be for all three?