In April 2021, Leicester City Council and Santander launched an e-bike rental project called ‘Santander Cycles Leicester’. In April this year the council put out a press release which included some general figures on how many people had used the scheme in a year.
Since the lifting of lockdown restrictions in April last year, the e-bike share scheme has already been used by more than 20,000 people, with 50,000 trips made on the electric bikes.
I was wondering if the council held a breakdown of journeys per month, to show how the scheme was growing. I sent an FOI request, and got a response.
The number of journeys are not collated and available on a month by month basis.
Surprisingly, they don’t have monthly stats. The FOI team did give overall figures from the beginning of the scheme to 26 June 2022. I asked for data ranging from May 2021 to May 2022, but ‘figures to date’ probably goes back to the specific date the scheme became publicly available - April 14, 2021.
There are (at time of writing) 675 bicycles present on the network.1
It wouldn’t be accurate to count back how often each bicycle has been used on average since the launch, because the vehicle fleet has grown in a year, and usage isn’t distributed evenly across the city. If the purpose was just to get people cycling, then almost 60,000 journeys is impressive enough. It can be counted as a significant reduction in traffic, as those journeys potentially could have been taken by car.
Santander Cycles Leicester allow you to take out a yearly membership of £60 (or a monthly membership of £12) which discounts individual journeys from £1.20 to 60p. This is a pricing structure which rewards regular use.
If you bought a yearly membership and took an e-bike to and from work every day, 5 days a week, for a year, you would end up paying £372 in total. Writing in the Leicester Mercury, Hannah Richardson made the same calculation. The problem with that use case and pricing structure is the alternative to just buy a bicycle. You can get a decent second-hand bicycle for £150-200, or a brand new one for £450. It’s also a significant advantage that once you’ve bought a bicycle, you can keep it and use it whenever you want,2 for free.
Despite the pricing structure encouraging regular use, the council’s figures show the bikes are mainly being used for occasional journeys. With 24,702 people registered that makes on average 2-3 journeys per person. Although, I don’t know how that’s distributed.
The scheme is described as:
A £600,000 project funded by Leicester City Council through the Transforming Cities Fund, following the council’s successful bid to the Department for Transport. It is sponsored by Santander UK, with investment from operator Ride On and their delivery partner Enzen Global.
Funded by the city council, with money from the DfT, sponsored by Santander, with investment from Ride On, who are a subsidiary of Enzen Group. Is the cycle rental scheme intended to run as a profitable business? The financial/organisational setup is not at all clear.
The state of bicycle rental platforms in 2022
Four years ago, I made a series of observations:
- There are too many competing platforms, they are unable to fight the tendency towards monopoly tendency, and will eventually converge.
- The enormous scale of bicycle production in China lends itself to a handful of models which will dominate the market.
- People are increasingly choosing to rent bicycles instead of buying them.
- The bicyle market in Britain will soon become overwhelmed with the huge quantity of rental bicycles arriving from China.
- Because of this, the viability of small bicycle shops is under threat.
- Bikes are becoming disposable.
- The quantity of badly-parked rental bikes makes bicycle parking a problem in a way it wasn’t before.
In 2022 the future of ubiquitous bicycle rental hasn’t happened; most of the previous operators have wound up their British operations. It’s been a while since the last time I saw a bicycle from oBike, Lime, Mobike, Ofo, Pony, Jump, Urbo, or Yobike in any major city. A lot of companies tried to make this model work and found it impossible. Another scheme I’m familiar with, Oxonbike, had a difficult history - launched in Oxford in 2013, failed within several months, re-launched in 2014, failed again in 2018, re-launched again in 2019 as a ‘social bike marketplace’ startup with some relation to the university.
In Manchester, Mobike was replaced by a municipally-owned ‘bee bikes’ scheme.
I was wrong, the rental bicycle sector did not expand, it collapsed.
So here are some more observations to review in another four years.
- The second wave of bicycle rental initiatives are local, led by municipal governments, and built around docking stations.
- Bicycle owners and their associated infrastructure of bicycle shops have not been replaced by rental apps.
- E-bikes are increasingly fashionable, and are beginning to compete with mopeds as the vehicle of choice for delivery drivers.
- The petrol shortage in 2021 and subsequent fuel crises in 2022 haven’t caused a major shift to active and sustainable transport, but maybe the effects are yet to be seen.