Opening this month, Edinburgh's Your Bike cycle hire scheme is using innovative 'hybrid lock' technology that supports a network of 'virtual' geo-fenced bike parking stations along with physical stations. It's about bringing a planned and integrated approach with new facilities and solutions for cities so that the private car is no longer first choice, says Matt McNulty, urban mobility director for Serco and Your Bike
The Your Bike scheme in Edinburgh, to be known as ‘Just Eat Cycles’ following the recent announcement of Just Eat as the scheme sponsor, opens on 17 September with 200 manual cycles, and will grow by 80 bikes a week until it reaches its initial target of 1000. Around 100 additional e-bikes will join the scheme during 2019. Your Bike is operated by Serco, which also runs Transport for London’s station-based scheme. Outside of London, Serco hopes to expand the customer-facing Your Bike brand across a network of UK cities, so encouraging sustainable first and last mile journeys through a single membership.
The Your Bike scheme will use 'virtual' geo-fenced bike parking stations alongside physical stations. 'This is not a free-floating scheme,' says Matt McNulty, urban mobility director for Serco and Your Bike. 'The entire system is controlled and station-based, using physical docking points where the world heritage site's busy, pedestrian-friendly streetscape requires a greater degree of bike parking control, and virtual stations outside of busy central zones.' The virtual stations can be quickly set up and added to the app if required, so adding a degree of flexibility and adaptability to the network. The blue Pashley cycles have distinct differences from their London cousins: special updates to help them handle Edinburgh's hills, and innovative 'bike controller' technology, contained within the hybrid lock, detecting where the bikes can officially be hired and returned. 'Users can't end their hire session unless they return the bike to either a physical or virtual parking station,' says McNulty.
With bike hire schemes in the news again recently as dockless operators Ofo and Mobike scale down operations outside of London, and Mobike pulling out of Manchester due to unsustainable levels of cycle vandalism, McNulty is keen to stress that for Your Bike, no city is off limits. ‘We want to work with cities who see the benefit and need for a properly planned high quality customer-led scheme in the same way that Edinburgh has set out. We see Manchester, and similar cities who have not had a great experience with bike share, as a key opportunity for cycle hire and we’re very interested in discussing with the authorities how that could come to fruition. We see vandalism as more of a symptom of the way bike share is deployed and operated than a symptom of the city,' he says.
McNulty believes that cycle hire schemes work best in cities when they're planned and managed as part of wider active travel and cycling infrastructure, rather than simply the provision of a supply of lower quality, perhaps even disposable, bikes that roam freely across a city, Could this be the distinction between Cycle Hire and Bike Share he asks?. 'We are not arrogant enough to think that we know the city inside out, so we have focused the initial Just Eat Cycles network in Edinburgh on key origin and destination points,' he says. 'We are in discussion with planners, developers and advocacy groups in Edinburgh about incorporating cycle hire into wider network plans. Our approach is to get the scheme up and running, and then to work with communities and the city to serve residential areas and other amenities as and when bikes are needed and wanted. We will let customers tell us where the new stations need to be added so that bikes are available right from people's front doors. In this way we hope to support modal shift away from the private car.'
Your Bike's technology partner is Urban Sharing, which also provides tech solutions for schemes in Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim in Norway. The Edinburgh scheme uses the Urban Sharing back office, web, messaging and app technology, along with its unique hybrid lock to enable both physical and virtual docking. This sophisticated package will yield substantial amounts of useful – and anonymous – trip and customer usage data, all of which will be freely shared with both the city and local universities, and will help to manage and optimise the scheme as it grows. Algorithms, data analytics and prediction models will help to maximise bike availability and inform maintenance schedules. ‘The system is built to comply with GDPR, so there is no direct correlation between customer data and operational bike data,' says McNulty. 'Customers don't choose a bike, they are allocated one as they enter the station zone and request one. When e-bikes are deployed in 2019, we will be able to allocate bikes based on needs and requirements, for example battery charge levels. The data will also help us to more effectively manage wear and tear across the fleet.' The bike station data will also be freely available for app developers looking to improve their journey planners, and McNulty doesn't rule out, in theory, the idea of integration with other apps and mobility-as-a-service platforms if thorny issues of control and user registration can be managed effectively.
In developing the Your Bike customer-facing brand, Serco has plans to expand to other UK cities where there is appetite for this approach to planning and quality. 'We hope to create a customer-based network across and between cities, supporting a mobility network that helps customers complete end-to-end journeys,' says McNulty. With Your Bike in Scotland sitting alongside other Serco-operated services, for example the Caledonian Sleeper and NorthLink ferries, the plan is to gradually link modes and evolving city networks and so enable integrated booking and ticketing. Scotland is certainly leading the way with political support and funding for these new forms of mobility. 'The Your Bike platform is not limited to cycle hire schemes, it can also support cargo bikes, e-car hire, even mountain bike hire. It's simply a flexible membership platform that enables personal mobility,' says McNulty.
McNulty is keen to offer some advice to cities looking to procure a cycle hire scheme. First, don't go too small. 'I think we now realise that with any less than 500 bikes, a scheme may not be sustainable. A good scheme needs to be visible, reliable and predictable,' he says.
Second, don't expect something for nothing. 'Edinburgh is a special case for us, as the city is investing heavily in cycling infrastructure, making it a good city for us to work with. This scheme is priced to be commercially sustainable whilst not requiring public funding, and we'll be looking to keep the same level of pricing across the UK. Your Bikes Pashley built cycles are unashamedly good quality and developed on a whole life cost basis, so the scheme is priced accordingly. But cities shouldn't expect a scheme like Edinburgh's without some CapEx contribution or sponsorship. The CapEx output needed is nowhere near as much as it used to be, he adds, with 500-bike schemes now available for the around the same costs as a 100-bike scheme a few years ago; remarkably good value for a complete, viable and sustainable mode of transport.
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