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Recovery plan for Greater Manchester’s Bee Network hire scheme gets more bikes on the streets

Scheme has been plagued by bicycle theft and vandalism and is “victim of its own success” according to Mayor Andy Burnham

A recovery plan for the Greater Manchester’s Bee Network Cycle Hire scheme, launched in November 2021 and which has been plagued by “higher than expected levels of bicycle theft and vandalism” since spring this year appears to be working, with a near-threefold increase in the number bikes available for hire and levels of anti-social behaviour said to have stabilised.

Operated by bike share firm Beryl, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham believes that the scheme has been “a victim of its own success.”

According to a report presented to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s scrutiny committee, by Easter this year more than 1,000 bikes – 20 per cent of them electric – had been deployed across 200 docking stations with capacity for 1,500 bikes and a catchment area of 200,000 people.

More than 60,000 users have signed up to use the service, with 460,000 rides undertaken and more than 1.1 kilometres ridden.

Despite bikes being secured to the stands through a front lock and also being equipped with a rear lock, by the end of July more than 550 bikes were missing, in excess of 700 needed repairs, and just 200 were available for hire.

Since then, Beryl, Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) and Greater Manchester Police have developed a recovery plan “designed to bring levels of bike availability back in line with the contracted service level agreement of 95 per cent of commissioned bikes.”

As part of the plan, it was agreed that some 102 docking stations, including those with low usage or high levels of theft and vandalism would be suspended, while Beryl would commit greater resources to deal with the backlog of repairs as well as increasing its on-street teams.

Other aspects of the recovery plan include improved bike security and tracking as well as penalties for improper use such as failing to lock a bike after hire, or taking one out of the scheme’s area.

By 13 October 2023, 580 bikes were available for hire with trends in vandalism said to have “stabilised” and it is envisaged that the docking stations that have been closed will reopen once the number of bikes on the street reaches 750.

The report added that “throughout the recovery period usage and users has remained relatively high but usage and users joining the scheme dropped over the summer, following a similar trend to the previous year.

“This points to high numbers of students using the scheme and the Recovery Plan not significantly impacting usage. September 2023 saw an increase of 47 per cent more rides and 71 per cent more active users compared to August 2023.”

Appearing this week before the scrutiny committee, Burnham, quoted in the Bury Times, said that “the scheme hit difficulties in late spring. It was a victim of its own success as it was heavily used.

“There were a number of big events and the levels of damage were out of control. I don’t think we had the system in place or the focus to get those bikes back.

“We’ve still got a success story on our hands given the level of utilisation. This scheme has got to be integrated into [the Bee Network] as a multimodal approach.

“I think we are in a stronger position than we were but there are significant ongoing issues to address. We know it works but the key is to bear down on the loss of bikes due to damage.”

In June, TfGM said that it was introducing “targeted enforcement” in response to what it described as a “significant rise” in vandalism to Bee Network bikes.

> “Targeted enforcement” to tackle significant rise in hire bike vandalism, Transport for Greater Manchester warns

Subsequently, Greater Manchester Police launched an initiative called Operation Avro in partnership with Beryl, which led to the recovery of a number of bikes.

> Police recover several stolen and vandalised hire bikes within hours of transport safety operation

In 2018, an earlier dockless bike hire scheme in Greater Manchester was scrapped when operator Mobike pulled out of the city-region, saying its decision was due to the high level of vandalism and theft of its bikes.

> One Mobike incident a day was reported to Manchester police during bike-share firm’s time in the city

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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