Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Time Running Out for Hourbikes?

A comment by Tim on the previous post dealing with Hourbikes drew attention to the declining number of bikes listed as available from the 4 'hubs' in central Bristol, according to Hourbike's own map. At the time of writing only 10 bikes are shown compared to 18 at the launch of Hourbikes in July. Numbers also appeared low at the 4 UWE/Parkway hubs with just 13 shown as available.



I've been keeping an eye on some of the Hourbike stands (yes CCTV people, that shifty looking character hanging around the hubs is me) and there's little evidence of any use. From time to time there's one more bike at one and one less bike at another, but I've never actually seen anybody using the system. Has anyone? Back in the summer we were told use would pick up when the students returned, which may or may not be true out at UWE but hasn't happened in central Bristol.

On the plus side I've been surprised at how little vandalism there's been. A couple of the wire baskets have been crushed but otherwise the bikes seem to have remained unscathed. Theft might explain the diminishing numbers of bikes, but I suspect they are being quietly withdrawn for use elsewhere. Ten bikes is still more than enough to cope with the minimal demand.



So is there any future for Hourbikes in Bristol? Certainly not on the basis of the current minimal coverage, as many people said at the outset. There doesn't seem to be any effort to secure more hubs either, even at Temple Meads station which is the most obvious location. And I can't see Cycling City throwing any more money at Hourbikes on the basis of current performance.

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. The waste of resources on the Hourbike scheme has been as modest as the network coverage but there was, as possibly still is, pressure for a massive public subsidy which would have been at the expense of potentially much more productive infrastructure investment.

22 comments:

jimwormold said...

Why couldn't Bristol have implemented a decent bike hire system such as the one recently installed in Barcelona?

Instead we have a half-arsed implementation which unless your starting point and destination are parkway, temple meads or uwe, you are never going to use.

Why aren't there more hourbike stations all over the city? I cycle every day to UWE and would happily use hourbike (especially as if I could do it under 30mins it's free), but there are no hourbike stations anywhere nearby.

A ridiculous scheme, doomed to failure, unless they roll out vastly more hourbike stations or allow you to drop the bike off anywhere and use GPS to locate it.

Mike said...

You may have seen this already, but a similar proportion of bikes from the Paris scheme appear to be stolen or vandalised:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/31/world/europe/31bikes.html?_r=3&emc=eta1&pagewanted=all

The article puts the figure at 80%, but still seems to call the project a success and says the company behind it (with a subsidy from the city) will still turn a profit. Of course Paris has thousands of these bikes and we have about 25...

MJ Ray said...

jimwormold - there is no hourbike station at Temple Meads. If there was, I might use it, but I'm not travelling to/from Parkway just to get a bike and I can walk halfway to my typical destinations in the time it takes to walk to Wine Street or the Centre.

Paul said...

Maybe the demand for renting bikes by the hour just isnt there in Bristol?

Anonymous said...

This whole project seems to be a waste of time. If you want to bike around Bristol, its easier to invest in the hundred quid or so to get a bike that you can take home or leave at work.

Thinking of Temple Meads though, perhaps they could use some cycling city cash to double the number of bike racks. If you turn up after 9.00am nowadays, there is often no space left. I know this is a good sign, but an absolute pain in the backside if you have a few minutes to get your train and you have to hunt around for space, trying to get a third bike onto a rack made for two.

Chris

Anonymous said...

I thought the hour bike scheme was outside the Cycle City scheme/control.

Slug

Chris Hutt said...

Slug, the Hourbike scheme cannot continue let alone expand without a subsidy from public funds because it does not have a viable business plan.

Hourbike we are told have received £12,000 so far of public money from the Council. Whether this is Cycling City money or not is a moot point, but in any event it is money that could otherwise have been spent on something more useful, including of course cycling infrastructure.

If the Hourbike scheme was greatly expanded it would require a major input of public funds and that could only realistically come from Cycling City.

The Bristol Blogger said...

Chris,

You're being ridiculous. Hourbike assured me in the local paper "it cannot fail".

And mark Bradshaw assured me on Twitter that the business model was perfectly sound.

Anonymous said...

HourBike pre-dates Cycling City by some time. 12k buys very little infrastructure. It was a 'punt' on the part of BCC, and the model looked good at that time. It is unique, in being 'ground up', starting small and planning to use a range of partners and businesses to grow over time. Avoiding the need for an ongoing subsidy, which in this country is rarely acceptable to administrations. This is not France.

Our Council is often accused of being risk averse. Here it tried something genuinely innovative and new. Even if it doesn't turn out to be a success, BCC, UWE and First as the main partners should be applauded for having tried a new approach to cycle hire.

Tim Beadle said...

Anonymous wrote:

"Even if it doesn't turn out to be a success, BCC, UWE and First as the main partners should be applauded for having tried a new approach to cycle hire."

A new approach to cycle hire? Would that be "one so small in scope that it was predictably doomed to failure"?

I posted a link to a video about Paris Velib's first birthday back in the summer.

I quote from the video:

"You have to go big enough to where it's at least 1 bike per 200 residents. I think that's a bare minimum for the good function of the system"

"Cities who made too small an organisation, too small [a] network, don’t have real success"

"When you have not enough stations, not enough bicyles, the people don't choose it"

As to your assertion that this was a demonstration of non-risk-averse behaviour by whoever's in charge - utter nonsense.

Non-risk-averse would have been to learn from the scale of other bike schemes (e.g. the 1 bike per 200 residents example given above) to give a network of about 2800 bikes for Bristol's urban population of 551,066.

By contrast, the way in which Hourbike has been rolled out in such a half-hearted way is entirely risk-averse.

I rest my case.

Anonymous said...

"I rest my case"?! I can't believe you used that phrase.

"Back in the summer..." cha ching. So after Bristol Scheme was up, it was the first in Britain. It's so nice to wait until after the event before forming an opinion.

Bristol Car Club started just like this, with one or two cars, slowly built up, and became a commercial concern, one of the biggest outside London. It is possible. Bristol does not have resources of world cities like Paris or London. But it often does get success through its own methods.

Within the context of the non Cycling City 'business as usual' budget for cycling it was a 'risk'. And one which still could pay big dividends for this city because now there is something to build on.

The opportunity arose and the idea was championed by an individual who in his 20 years working tirelessly for Bristol cycling did a lot more than anybody sniping from the sidelines on the internet.

Tim Beadle said...

"I rest my case"?! I can't believe you used that phrase.

You're right - lazy and cheesy. I take it back.

"Back in the summer..." cha ching. So after Bristol Scheme was up, it was the first in Britain. It's so nice to wait until after the event before forming an opinion.

But what chance of success has it got with such a small scheme? Little or none. If you're not going all out to provide the required scale, wouldn't the money have been better spent elsewhere?

Bristol Car Club started just like this, with one or two cars, slowly built up, and became a commercial concern, one of the biggest outside London. It is possible. Bristol does not have resources of world cities like Paris or London. But it often does get success through its own methods.

I'm not familiar with the logistics of car clubs, but are they comparable with cycle hire schemes?

Within the context of the non Cycling City 'business as usual' budget for cycling it was a 'risk'. And one which still could pay big dividends for this city because now there is something to build on.

I'll believe it when I see it.

The opportunity arose and the idea was championed by an individual who in his 20 years working tirelessly for Bristol cycling did a lot more than anybody sniping from the sidelines on the internet.

At least I snipe using my real name.

Tim Beadle said...

Look Mr/Miss Anonymous,

My argument, in short, is this:

1. Velib in Paris has been a success, because it's had the network scale required. Yes, this has meant massive subsidy by the city of Paris and JC Deceaux.

2. Other cities, in France and elsewhere, have tried cycle share schemes on a smaller scale that haven't succeeded.

3. If Hourbike is being bankrolled by the City of Bristol, why should public money be poured into a scheme that has little chance of success due to its small size?

I genuinely don't want to disparage yours or anyone else's efforts, but Just because someone's been doing this for 20 years doesn't make this automatically a good idea.

I'm a great believer in the phrase "perfect is the enemy of good", but I feel that Hourbike, as currently implemented, is so far short of what's required. We wouldn't be having this argument if Hourbike had 1000 bikes, even though that's still short of 1 per 200 people.

Bristol may "get success by its own methods" but Bristol isn't *that* special that it can't learn from other cities' successes and failures.

Anyway, I apologise for the snarky tone of my previous posts. I genuinely want to see more people cycling, but that doesn't mean I uncritically accept any cycling-related initiative that comes along.

Now, perhaps you'd like to reveal your identity...?

Chris Hutt said...

Anon "Bristol Car Club started just like this, with one or two cars, slowly built up, and became a commercial concern,...."

So are you saying Bristol Car Club doesn't receive public sunsidies? I understood that there was serious money going to it from section 106 contributions from developers. If so it is anything but a commercial concern.

I'm in agreement with Tim on this. How could a scheme that didn't even include Temple Meads have a chance of working? It was the sort of half-arsed effort that usually results from some sort of committee direction where they can't choose between doing it and not doing it, so they half do it and half don't do it.

As for being "championed by an individual who in his 20 years working tirelessly for Bristol cycling ...", I wonder who that might be since I will surely have come across him in my many years of doing the same? Odd that this 'champion' remains unknown to us.

The Bristol Blogger said...

Perhaps anon could tell us what provision he made for public input in to his and his partners' odd plans so we would not have to "snipe from the sidelines on the internet"?

Also, it's not the first scheme in the UK. There was one in Cheltenham that's now closed.

Presumably no lessons were learned from that?

Tim M. said...

Anonymous anonymous: So what's your take on all this then? Do you think the scheme is successful, but just slow to expand, and my/our expectations are unreasonable and comparisons with the Paris or Barcelona schemes are misplaced? Or is the scheme successful but stagnant (but it was still a worthwhile punt on part of the council)?

(Nevermind the £12k 'subsidy' btw, I think it's a distraction to bicker about that here, I'm more interested in what's happening to the scheme itself.)

And since you seem to have some more insight: are additional stations forthcoming? The newsflow is a bit sparse, but maybe I'm just not looking properly.

Anonymous said...

There is no ongoing revenue subsidy for car clubs. Planning obligation money relates to some situations, most commonly where the number of car parking spaces is less than the number of units. Less car parking = more developable floor space, additional parking demand just overflows onto surrounding streets. To manage the impact on the highway developers are asked to contribute
car club bays and cars and perhaps even memberships. Research backs up that Car Clubs remove cars from the street and encourage lower car ownership (whilst allowing the odd handy car trip).

The alternative is, you just let the extra demand splurge onto surrounding streets rather than trying to manage it, or you force developers to provide enough car parking, making it ever so easy for everyone to have a car and encourage them to use it. Car clubs are a tried and tested alternative to these.

Ruth said...

A month or two ago, there were some Bristol City staff doing questionnaires at Temple Meads, about cycling and whether people would use a hire scheme. They were investigating the demand for a wider scheme than the existing, as part of cycling city. They did say how many potential stations there would be (considerable number) but unfortunately I can't remember what they said. I'd find it great if there was a station near where I work, it would be really useful for lunchtime trips out, or going out after work, so long as the bike could be left at a different station.

Martyn said...

I've never seen anyone using the 'hub' at St Augustine's Parade and I usually pass it during the two daily peak periods.

I would prefer to see the council investing in a proper cycle hire scheme such as those in the Netherlands which directly employ people who can offer advice (and enthusiasm) about cycling in the region, as well as maintaining the bikes. I think Mud Dock do bike hire but doubt visitors to Bristol know about how to access this service.

Hour Bike is a very people-less service and I think it is essentially another business jumping on the band wagon of sustainability and growth of cycling in Bristol.

Martyn said...

p.s. If the council were serious about cycling infrastructure in Bristol they would be putting the money we waste on subsidising empty buses to better use!

Anonymous said...

Looks like the EP has picked up the story:

http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/news/Bristol-rent-bike-scheme-failing/article-1537753-detail/article.html

I wonder what the problem is with this:

"Dan Cooper, Hourbike's sole employee in Bristol, said the business was still running, with hopes that permission for a hub at Temple Meads would still be granted."

Who's delaying/blocking/deciding this?

Ross said...

I think I have found what some of Bristols £20m cycling money should be spent on:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRjN6Y7tTV8&feature=player_embedded

Instead of these hourbikes, whose condition cannot be trusted and style may not be appealing, the system shown in the video would allow the use of your own bike. It offers safe storage resulting in the rider no longer needing to carry a lock for every journey. Theft would massively be reduced as no one can get to the bike, especially if the facility was operated by an attendant rather than self service.
The 30 seconds wait to retrieve your bike is faster than it takes cold hands to find keys and unlock your D-lock and put it in your bag. I think this would offer far more to cyclists or commuters consider a bike than any hire scheme.

Perhaps with the addition of each new build within the city, something like this could be contracted in to the planning application. I cannot see why they could not be built as a hole in the ground rather than a tower above ground. Cabbots circus could easily have had one built whilst it was being constructed. As could the planned new stadium, or Tesco or even the new shopping centre at Bradley Stoke. Any opinions?