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Hourbike offers flexible fees in Brighton bike hire scheme

Andrew Forster
17 February 2017

A new bike hire scheme in Brighton and Hove will feature differential pricing rates depending on whether users leave their bikes at designated docking stations or in ordinary bike parking.

Brighton & Hove City Council has awarded Hourbike the contract to operate the scheme,   which will be launched this summer and feature 430 bikes based at 50 hubs (LTT 11 Dec 15). 

Hourbike has subcontracted US firm Social Bicycle to provide the bikes and docking stations. This is Social Bicycle’s first venture into the UK market.

Tim Caswell, managing director of Hourbike, told LTT that the flexible pricing strategy was possible because the bicycles themselves were fitted with the electronics such as the locking mechanism to activate and end a hire, as well as GPS/GSM. This allows journeys to be tracked.

The system differs from that in  London, where the technology is installed in the docking stations. 

“We will still have docking stations but they’re just bike parking stations, basically,” said Caswell.

Users will be able to end their  hire period by locking the bike at a docking station, or at traditional bike parking, or to other objects. 

“We would like people to leave the bikes at docking stations but there is flexibility to leave them elsewhere, but they’ll pay more for doing so,” said Caswell. 

The location of bikes available for hire will be displayed on the system’s smartphone app. 

People who hire a bike from a location other than an official docking station will receive bonus credits on their account. Caswell said this would help ensure the bikes are ultimately returned to docking stations, helping with the redistribution of bicycles. 

“Redistribution is a cost for all bike sharing schemes,” he said.  

He pointed out that the Brighton scheme was not as flexible as the scheme that Chinese firm Ofo is planning to launch in Cambridge – it will have no   docking stations (see story below).  

Caswell said bike docking stations were vital for Brighton’s scheme. They gave people more certainty about where they could find a bike, he said, and meant people wouldn’t have to try and locate a bike with their smartphone app. 

Having the system’s technology on the bike allows other flexible pricing strategies to be considered. Hourbike is looking at the possibility of having lower charges for bike hire trips that go uphill from the seafront. This could help with redistributing bicycles. “You don’t have to go far from the seafront to go uphill,” said Caswell. “The potential problem is we end up with lots of bikes at the bottom.” 

 Hourbike’s contract will run for three years, with the option for two further two-year extensions. Infrastructure and start-up costs are estimated at £1.45m, funded from the area’s Local Growth Fund (£1.16m) and the city council’s local transport plan capital programme (£290,000). 

Hire costs will start from £2 per trip or £8 per day, with users having the option to pay as they go on a 3p per minute tariff (minimum £2 charge), or purchase an annual membership at £72, which includes 30 minutes free use every day. 

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