We’ve had whitewash; we’ve had greenwash; now – courtesy of Bristol’s Cycling Demonstration City initiative – is it time for bikewash?

One of the few actual promises we’ve had to accompany the Cycling Demonstration City money the city’s just got – if we ignore ‘Bristol’s Cycling Champion’ Terry Cook’s latest plans to close down the road network on a regular basis to run family-friendly cycling days on the ‘Bristol’s Biggest Bike Ride’ model, which will improve the cycling stats and meet the targets while missing the point entirely – has been the promise of “the UK’s first major bicycle rental network, modelled on a scheme in Paris”.

Run by a company called Hourbike, a subsidary of a civil engineering multinational Vipre, the proposal is to set up around 20 bike hire stands across the centre of the city and run a fully automated bike rental system on a pay as you go basis.

“For a joining fee of just £10,” they say, “the first half hour of each rental is free with subsequent time charged at £1 per hour.”

Which has had a few of us scratching our heads and wondering how they intend to actually make any money. Leaving aside the fact that the vast majority of people who wish to cycle in the city tend to make the effort to own a bike and don’t need to rent one, how will the company get any income if all the proposed stands are centrally based and less than a half hour’s ride apart?

Are Hourbike some sort of charity? They must be when you consider that they’ll be needing a few thousand paying journeys a week to make the scheme financially viable and they’re simply not going to get them.

But wait! What’s this on the Hourbike website?

Fantastic Advertising Packages Available

Align your brand with this innovative, green and healthy transport option for Bristol. There are various opportunities to advertise – on docking stations across the City and train stations, on membership cards and on our website.

Surely the real plan isn’t to shove 20 large, unsightly advertising hoardings (surely docking stations? Ed.) up in prime city centre locations with a few hire bikes locked on to them for effect … Is it?

And if that is the plan, let’s hope someone’s had the foresight to talk to Adshel, that charming little subsidary of that charming US communication empire Clear Channel, who have maintained a lucrative monopoly on Bristol’s city centre street furniture advertising for many years now under the guise of the Legible City Scheme.

The deal always was that Asdshel hand over their crappy street furniture free of charge to the council while the council, in return, prosecute the hell out of fly posters and hand over the multi-million pound advertising rights on the furniture for free.

Let’s hope Councillor Cook, his Cycling Demonstration City boys and Hourbike have thought this through properly then, or they might find themselves engaged in a hugely entertaining battle with one of the most aggressive corporations on the planet.

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14 Responses to Bikewash

  1. Chris Hutt says:

    I’ve nothing against private entrepreneurs setting up bike hire schemes in Bristol – good luck to them, they’ll probably need it. As far as I’m aware there hasn’t yet been a commercially successful bike hire operation in Bristol.

    But when local authorities get involved with commercial enterprises the whole thing gets rather messy (see South West One on this blog for example). Public accountability and commercial confidentiality are difficult to reconcile.

    In Paris the scheme has been sold to the public as not requiring any public expenditure, but in reality the city has lost a large chunk of revenue from street advertising to pay for it. Are we about to be hoodwinked in a similar way?

    Because cycling has become “a good thing” it will tend to be used as a cover for “bad things” in the same way as other “good things” always have been used, hence Greenwash, etc. That’s the way of the world.

    But even those of us who wish to see cycling flourish should not accept everything that’s presented to us with that label. If we do cycling’s image will soon become tarnished and the public rightly cynical.

  2. Lee Griffin says:

    Bike rental just seems like one of those things that *sounds* like a good plan without actually ending up being any real use to the city whatsoever. I’m still waiting to hear about real developments in the city for cycle lanes and provisions.

  3. Dave says:

    I agree with Lee. What’s the point in Bike rental? You can buy a brand-new perfectly servicable bike from Asda for £70. You can pick up a perfectly good second-hand bike for around £30.

    As someone who now cycles to work I’m all for investment in cycling but I can’t help but feel their priorities are in the wrong place.

  4. Gary Hopkins says:

    Tell me if I am wrong but I get one of the biggest gripes as being “you cannot find anywhere to park the bike easily and safely” . This seems to be recurring with adults at work and parents of children who would otherwise have their kids cycling to school.

  5. John Courage says:

    Nice to read well thought out articulate postings like the one from Chris Nuts!

  6. mapreader says:

    It would work if the bikes were stationed on the cities outskirts, especially on tops of the hills like Southmead, Hartcliffe, Knowle West, or anywhere where large populations were dumped and forgotten with few services. I’m pretty sure most able people could cycle into the town centre in half an hour. The cycles could be shipped back up the hills (which, let’s face it, exclude large parts of the city’s people from ‘nipping into town’). You don’t want to carry your shopping back on the bike so you’d need to us our private-transport buses, but it would reduce reliance on First and their thievery, always a good thing.

    The current model looks like it’s just for the tourists.

  7. Dona Qixota says:

    Gary Hopkins writes that, one of the biggest gripes is that “you cannot find anywhere to park the bike easily and safely”.

    This is so true Gary. I gave up cycling when my last bike had the back wheel stolen in the City centre.

    There is a straighforward solution to crime: to catch and punish the criminals with punishments that actually deter them from committing crime again. Until we, as a society, re-learn this simple, basic fact, we condemn not just ourselves, but more especially the most vulnerable members of our community to the constant bullying that criminals are allowed to get away with on a daily basis these days.

  8. Cycle Path User says:

    …and on the subject of “bikewash” (I like that term), there is also, once again, the issue of the cycle path – if George Ferguson and Squarepeg get their way at any rate.

    No sooner do we manage to stop the mad plan of turning the path into a bus route than some genius comes up with the idea of “cycle houses” – there’s a term I DON’T like!

    The plan is to have housing facing onto the cycle path… can you imagine the chaos at rush hour with users coming on out of their front doors while the cycle commuters from Bath are peddling like fury?

    Furthermore, they actually want to develop further along the path, in addition to the old chocolate factory site, thus nicking even more of the increasingly rare green space around Easton. Not only that, but going by the artist’s impression of the houses they are going to be bloody ugly to boot.

    The reply from the developers and their minions is that there will be CONsultation. What this means in translation is that we, the public, will have to keep going to all their meetings, shouting all the way if we don’t like their proposals, rather than have them come up with a sensible plan in the first place… it’s the old blag of putting the onus on us, rather than them behaving in a sane and considerate manner to start with…

    …but then again, maybe it’s unreasonable of me to expect sane and considerate behaviour from a developer – even if they do try to promote themselves as “sustainable”.

  9. Chris Hutt says:

    Since you’ve raised the Greenbank issue, Cycle Path User, I think there’s a conflict of interest here too with the City Council owning most the the Railway Path and therefore set to gain from any the sale of any of the land for development while at the same time being the planning control authority who are supposed to safeguard public open space like the Railway Path from inappropriate development.

    I suppose that strengthens the argument for vesting control of the Railway Path in some sort of independent trust, but that too could turn out to be a means of evading public accountability if not constituted in a way that gives ordinary users and local residents a fair measure of control.

  10. Al Shaw says:

    I’m actually quite positive about the scheme.

    There are several reasons why I don’t cycle at present – most are expressed by other contributors above.

    The possibility of taking a bike, riding it somewhere and leaving it, without the hassle of securing it or getting it home is quite appealing.

    I do wonder, though, whether the Paris model is necessarily the best one to think about, as it targets large numbers of tourists as well as locals. The Bristol scheme has to think carefully about who it is for. If it is current non bike using residents, then I agree that a few stations outside of the central area would make sense.

  11. I’m concerned! If an outside company needs to employ gimmicky B2B revenue-raising strategies I can’t see this scheme working, not long-term anyway. Besides, I think there are enough people within this city with great initiatives and the right passion – they just need the funding. Let’s keep the development of cycling in this city local and retain a sense of pride 😉 Besides, what’s all that £20m for?

  12. Spectator says:

    Martyn Whitelock at 12:09 said…
    “… Besides, what’s all that £20m for?”

    It’s to provide jobs for overpaid council tossers Martyn.

  13. Tim M. says:

    I’d love to see a decent bike rental scheme in Bristol. Sadly, however, the proposed hourbike scheme is just not very good from the looks of it.

    20-something stations around the centre is just not enough. There need to be a LOT more stations, at least 50, and spread out a bit further as well (e.g. Bedminster East Street, Victoria Park, Southville, Totterdown, Hotwells, Prince’s Wharf, etc.; in the centre there should be a station at least within 500m wherever you are). And not just at what are essentially tourist locations.

    Secondly, the pricing just doesn’t seem right. 30 minutes for free is nice. However, a pound for each additional hour started is just too steep (unless I misread and it’s actually charged on a per-minute basis). 10p per 10 minutes or so, that’d be more like it. I’d probably even ditch my own bike if there was sufficient coverage of hourbike stands nearby where I live and in the centre.

    If better coverage is not an option, this could at least have been achieved by a slightly different system similar to that used in Munich (where the bikes have code-locks and you can leave your bike anywhere in the city as long as it’s on the corner of two streets, and you get a code to unlock your bike via mobile phone, and also tell the system where you’ve dropped it off by mobile phone; there’s no free period, but charges are in pence per minute, so rather low).

  14. paul smith says:

    I remember that Bristol had a green bike scheme once. A number (I cant remember how many) of green painted bikes were left around the centre for people to borrow. It wasnt long before they had all been borrowed permanently

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