I want to ride my bicycle…

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I want to ride my bicycle...

Recent Council discussion shows that bike share scheme could soon be coming to Leeds. 

Like many people, I have taken advantage of bike share schemes to cycle around cities a diverse as Brussels, Washington, Dublin, Aarhus (solid-wheeled bicycles that are “released” by inserting a coin in a slot a bit like a shopping trolley!) and of course London, but up until now it has not been possible for me to do this in my home city.  There are currently around 20 schemes operating within the UK – from Edinburgh to Exeter.  With Manchester recently dipping its toe into the shared bike world, and the West Midlands preparing the ground for such a scheme, Leeds will soon be the largest city in the UK without bike share in operation.

This may be about to change.  I attended a meeting organised by “bikeplus”, (the umbrella organisation for share bike providers ironically based in Leeds) to discuss the potential for a scheme in Leeds.  It became clear that there is now a head of steam (and the political will) to see a scheme introduced in Leeds  – potentially in a matter of months. 

Councillor Keith Wakefield (who chairs the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Transport Committee), himself a keen cyclist talked about the authority’s aim to triple cycling patronage by 2027, and informed us that “cycling spend” had increased from £1.30 per head six years ago to £8 now.  He sees bike share schemes as being particularly important in opening up cycling for those who cannot afford a bike.

Antonia Roberts from bikeplus spoke about the advantages of bike share schemes.  A survey of 800 bike share scheme users across the UK undertaken by academics in the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds (carried out in 2016) found that:

  • 50% of people using bike share schemes are either new cyclists or are increasing the amount they cycle (13% of bike share users were new to cycling, 37% increasing the amount of cycling undertaken)
  • Bike share attracts more women to cycling (new cyclists are predominantly women)
  • Bike share encourages modal shift (22% had previously travelled by car or taxi, 22% had previously used the bus, and 15% had not made the journey at all previously – suggesting that bike share schemes promote “freedom to go”)
  • People cite convenience (52%) and health benefits (59%) as the main reasons for cycling
Washington's Bikeshare

It seems that as technology improves, the traditional publicly-subsidised, privately-sponsored schemes (such as the one in London), are giving way to models that are largely or even fully resourced and managed by the bicycle operators.  With the older schemes cycles have to be returned to docking station, but GPS tracking technology “dockless” bicycles  - allowing people to leave the bicycles where they wish (though financial incentives can be built in to encourage people to return bicycles to convenient locations), are now a reality.  There are teething problems with such schemes (witness people leaving the bicycles in their back gardens in Manchester!), but dockless systems are very much seen as the future.

The workshop finished with small group discussions about the potential scope of a bike share scheme in Leeds.  In terms of geography, the city centre was an obvious starting point but then we considered the A660 “higher education” axis, the potential for cycling provision at park and ride locations as priority areas.  Avoiding a north Leeds bias was also considered to be important.  Ownership and governance is also a key consideration.  Schemes that do not have any public subsidy risk a “free for all” – with multiple schemes located only in areas of high patronage where they are profitable.  Public subsidy and management enables better planning and coverage.   Of course, all of this presupposes that people will use bike share in Leeds where there is not a big tradition of cycling (outside of leisure use), where the topography may be off-putting for some (although electric bicycles have been introduced in Exeter and may be desirable in Leeds) and where decent cycling infrastructure is in its infancy.

We were told that four operators have approached the Council expressing an interest in starting a scheme in Leeds, and that proposals would be worked up for consideration by senior officers and politicians over the summer, with a view to working up a scheme over the autumn. As they say, watch this space!

Martin

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