New Edinburgh cycle hire scheme would need to be subsidised, council officials warn

A new cycle hire scheme for Edinburgh will have to be subsidised, council officials have warned.

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The last scheme, which provided almost half a million trips in its three-year term, ended in September when operators Serco said they would not agree to an extension of the original contract.

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It had been designed to be self-financing, with sponsorship from Just Eat and the hire charges intended to cover the costs, but major problems with theft and vandalism meant extra expense.

Just Eat bikes disappeared from the city's streets in September Picture: Greg Macvean

A report to next week’s transport committee says: "The main lesson learned from the three years of operation is that a scheme cannot operate with financial sustainability without some form of subsidy.

"By way of comparison, to continue with the former scheme would have required a subsidy of approximately £500,000 per annum and this assumes over £1m of income per annum, through ridership fees and sponsorship, would be generated.

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"Further, one-off investment of £1.172m was required to upgrade security for the fleet.”

The cycle hire scheme, launched in 2018 and operated by Serco for Transport for Edinburgh, attracted over 70,000 users. In 2020, during Covid, it was the fastest growing scheme in Britain and a total of 234,500 trips were made.

Riders took nearly half a million trips on the Just Eat bikes during the three-year scheme

But at the end of the three-year contract, when the potential for a four-year extension came up, Serco said it could not continue under the existing arrangements and talks with the council failed to produce any agreement.

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The scheme subsequently closed on September 17 and the fleet of 600 bikes and 150 ebikes were taken off the Capital’s streets.

The report says: “The main advantage of the former scheme was that it helped ‘normalise’ the use of bicycles as an effective mode of travel and provided an opportunity for returning and new users.”

The report proposes establishing a project team to explore options for introducing a new scheme and highlights the need to minimise opportunities for vandalism of bikes and infrastructure.

The report says any new scheme should be adaptive and accessible, involve communities in the proposals and seek to increase use by low-participation groups, particularly those who are economically or socially disadvantaged, and be integrated with buses and trams.

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In the meantime, it says the All Ability Cycling project offering bikes to people with disabilities should continue, along with an expansion of Break the Cycle, which supports offenders to repair and restore donated bikes for reuse.

And in the medium term it recommends exploring a city bike club in partnership with retailers and other relevant organisations.

Transport convener Lesley Macinnes said: “The Edinburgh Cycle Hire Scheme was an extremely welcome addition in Edinburgh, judging by the many people who made use of it, and opened up cycling as a convenient, accessible mode of transport to a whole new audience.

“It was really disappointing that we weren’t able to find a way forward with the previous contract, despite our best efforts, but as we look to a future scheme, I’m confident we can deliver an even better replacement suited to the needs of the city.”

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Edinburgh cycle hire scheme ends tonight with no replacement likely anytime soon

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