Edinburgh could see reborn cycle hire scheme without council subsidy as companies Lime and Dott show interest

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Electric bikes could be offered for hire to public in revival of cycle scheme

A cycle hire scheme could be revived in Edinburgh after two companies approached the council about bringing back bike rental to the Capital.

Rival electric bike hire firms Lime and Dott, who both run schemes in other UK cities and abroad, are due to have talks with the council soon about operating a bike hire scheme as a concession, without the need for a council subsidy.

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Edinburgh’s previous cycle hire scheme, sponsored by Just Eat and run by Serco, was meant to be self-financing, but problems with thefts and vandalism undermined the operation and it came to an end in September 2021. All parties on the council said they wanted a bike hire scheme in the Capital. But the cost of launching a new scheme was estimated at around £20m and with council finances under pressure it looked unlikely to happen.

E-bike companies Lime and Dott have both expressed interest in running a cycle hire scheme for Edinburgh.E-bike companies Lime and Dott have both expressed interest in running a cycle hire scheme for Edinburgh.
E-bike companies Lime and Dott have both expressed interest in running a cycle hire scheme for Edinburgh.

However, it now seems there is a chance that residents and visitors could once again be able to hire a bike to get around the city. San Francisco company Lime, which started in 2017 and spread rapidly across the US and parts of Europe, is due to bring demonstrator bikes to the Capital and hold talks with the council before the end of the year. Dott has also asked for a meeting.

Edinburgh’s transport committee agreed in January to look at the concession model for providing cycle hire, which would mean the scheme being run by a private company rather than the council. It is thought unlikely any company would pay the council for the right to operate the scheme, but the council would not be expected to provide a subsidy, although it may help with setting up the new scheme.

Any revived bike rental scheme would have to be put out to tender, but the fact two companies have already expressed interest bodes well. Bids would be assessed against concil policies such as encouraging people to switch away from using their cars and connecting with people in lower-income communities.

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Lime has been criticised in some places for allowing users to leave the bikes anywhere rather than having to return them to a docking station. Residents have complained about bikes abandoned on pavements creating “an obstacle course” for people. Dott also uses dockless bikes. But Lime has said users are required to send an “end-trip photo” of how they park and there photos are reviewed, with users warned and fined for mis-parking. And Dott advises users to park bikes in designated bays.

Transport convener Scott Arthur said: "Edinburgh’s history with the bike hire scheme hasn’t been a good one, but nonetheless it was popular with the people who used it, so as an administration we’re keen to see if some sort of scheme can be run without putting demands on council resources.”

And he addressed the concern about dockless bikes creating unwanted street clutter. “My intention would be that we designate parking bays for the bikes to be located and we would expect the companies to take steps to ensure any bikes not in use are kept in those bays.”