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Future of Bristol's bike hire scheme comes under spotlight

Low take-up rate and too few bikes raise questions over Hourbike's viability...

The future of a bike hire scheme in Bristol, England’s first Cycling City, is being questioned, with concerns raised about the limited number of bicycles available, its restricted network and very-low take-up rate.

Called Hourbike, the initiative was launched last January when hire stations were set up at Parkway Station and three University of the West of England campuses. In July, four more were set up in the city centre, but a further one at the busy Temple Meads station has yet to be built.

According to local newspaper the Evening Post, a number of bikes have vanished, leaving just ten shared between the four city-centre locations and eight more at the UWE and Temple Meads locations.

It added that the scheme has so far managed to sign up 240 users. That equates to less than one member per 2,000 residents of the wider Bristol urban area, or 0.05%. Each pays £10 to register, and bicycles are free to hire for the first hour, and £1 an hour thereafter.

The scheme is operate by the Surrey-based Vipre Group of Companies, which specialises in sustainable travel, and which was recently awarded a contract to run Blackpool’s bike hire scheme, as reported on road.cc.

But that scheme is set to be on a much bigger scale than the one in Bristol, with bike numbers due to expand from an initial 60 to 500 by May 2010.

The Evening Post says that Hourbike has initially been supported through a £4,000 grant from Bristol City Council, with a further £4,000 to be given once the scheme was fully in place and the same amount 12 months later.

The council was reportedly waiting to see how it fared before deciding whether or not to commit cash from the £22 million investment that Bristol is receiving through its Cycling City status, but that now appears unlikely to happen.

Local environmental campaigner Chris Hutt recently wrote on his Green Bristol Blog that he had never seen anyone use one of the bikes, adding that “the failure of the Hourbike venture should be an object lesson for us all in the need for these things to be based on sound market economics and not just wishful thinking.”

But the Evening Post said that Hourbike’s only Bristol-based employeee, Dan Cooper, still hoped that the go-ahead would be given for a hire station at Temple Meads. He added: "At the moment we have only got the tourist and leisure users and not the business market. That's what we need to make Hourbike a success, which I know it will be."

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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