Birmingham Cyclist

Cycling in and around Birmingham England

A bike hire scheme will be coming to the West Midlands next year according to reports in local press.

Today Transport for West Midlands are proposing to prevent dockless hire schemes which seems pretty narrow minded to me when other cities are trialling them.

5.12 A number of dockless bikeshare suppliers have approached Local Authorities during the last
year. As this is not the approach to bikeshare TfWM is proposing to take forwards, it is
recommended that across the 7 constituent Local Authorities no agreement or MOU is
entered with any dockless bikeshare supplier. There will be a need to convey and share this
information across all the WMCA and Local Authorities.

https://governance.wmca.org.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?
item 14 5.12

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WMCA are right to note that a free range bike share scheme can deliver chaotic abandonment of bikes, but the concept of 'dockless' does not necessarily require hard installation of physical hardware on the street. This is a lesson learned in 2001 by die Bahn with the first European electronic dockless bike hire system (Call-a-Bike), and they very quickly set out clear rules for hiring and returning bikes from designated locations, with fines for bikes placed off-hire elsewhere.

Modern systems do not require actual docking points but can still have geo-fenced locations (with signage and markings on the street) to define the docking points. 

An MoU is rather weak, and (hint to Levenes/Leigh Day/Slater-Gordon/Shoesmiths/Backhouse-Jones etc?), there is a black hole when it comes to having appropriate legal documentation for concessions (yes you can have more than one operator as in Oxford, Sheffield, Manchester - and most major German cities), or franchises, contracts, or partnerships, and templates are urgently required to set-out the necessary KPI and other regulatory conditions, ideally with an independent regulator (would the Traffic Commissioners perhaps take such detail on board?(along with taxi apps & sub 3.5T vans?)) but failing that the client.

WMCA does already have a 'dockless' bike hire scheme operating at the University of Warwick, and that would benefit immensely from having virtual docking locations at Canley and Coventry stations, and of course there is the Brompton Hire system (which works for multi day-hire) at key sites in Birmingham.

Average hires are 2 weeks for Bromptons, and unlike bike share one locker can have up to 5 bikes out on hire, whilst a circulating bike share scheme needs at least 50% more spaces to park than the total number of bikes on the street, to maintain a sensible level of service, and prevent 'space issues' when tidal flows arise.

WMCA has also won funding to deliver England's first pilot for Mobility as a Service, and Laura Shoaf (TfWM CEO) is an informed enthusiast for this. Essentially MaaS will deliver a single account for anyone wanting to travel in the West Midlands, and would see the Swift Card offering bike hire, as well as tram, bus, and train travel, and - where the user was registered as a driver, there would be access to the car share schemes (Enterprise Car Club/Co-Wheels/Drive Now etc) for a pay as you go car, and very probably a TfWM app which delivers this plus their own version of UBER, connecting accredited (by TfWM) LPH drivers with the MaaS-WM account holders and delivering a seamless connection with a bus/tram/train at the start or finish of a journey.

So the move is in the right direction, and just needs a few bits of fine tuning to deliver bike sharing without tears.

Having studied this since 1995 (Copenhagen City Bikes - dockless with supermarket coin release/return lock to attach to railings in the city - running costs offset by sale of branding - initially Coca Cola - maintenance by worker training scheme with 80% claimed onward employment), I also worked with the EU VIVALDI project in 1996 - the first European examples of automated bike hire in Portsmouth and Rotterdam, closely followed by Adshel(Clear Channel) scheme in Rennes, I'd be keen to work on getting things right on delivery and regulation of the many modal options for MaaS 

A key point - or two

Many of the recent arrivals offer only a restricted access to hire bikes - you need a phone app and use a q/r code or bluetooth connection to unlock the bikes (which are GPS tracked). However the more established systems - notably Nextbike, offer a range of access options, from formal docking stations to bikes locked to any bike stand and released by phone call for code/SMS/QR code reading/phone app/RFID card (eg Swiftcard/Employee or student id card/Concession bus pass.

There would also be the option to release all hire bikes to Police & emergency services in the event of a major emergency, to mobilise staff across the city, with transport almost immune to floodwater, and the need for major roads remaining intact.

The electronic back-office facility also enables an employer or college to offer discounted trips (and save on the cost of campus shuttle buses) or users to take bikes to work for the day, and mitigate the need to balance commuter flows. Some people might even buy an annual unlimited use pass to have a fully serviced bike, which you simply swapped over when puncture happens 

I would need to be convinced that a bike hire scheme would be well used before any investment. If it becomes a white elephant it will seriously harm cycling status across the region. Words like 'revenue neutral' and 'sponsorship' are only relevant if there is a well defined market need -and that the scheme meets these needs. Who uses the Boris Bikes? If it is tourists how many will be needed in (say) Walsall? Andy Street needs to publicise the market research.

This is a valid point.  Boris Bikes are an excellent way to get around central London.  But central Birmingham is much smaller - you can make most journeys within the inner ring road on foot in a reasonable time period - as well as notoriously difficult to navigate by bike.  As soon as you head much further out, you've either got to negotiate some scary roads full of drivers who are far less tolerant of cyclists than their London equivalents, or know the un-obvious routes that avoid them.

A hire scheme may be of use to regular cyclists who for whatever reason happen not to have their own bike with them, and it may prove popular for key journeys on favourable routes (perhaps amongst students, for example), but unless there's an untapped market of people who really want to explore the canals, it's not going to appeal to tourists the way that it does in London.

On the other hand, the existing Brompton dock scheme is an excellent way to try out a Brompton, and is likely useful for visitors from outside the area, but it's no good for getting you from, say, the student areas of Selly Oak to Broad Street or New Street station.  This is the sort of thing that I can see hire bikes being used for.

Interesting that I was in Sheffield recently, meeting the UKTram person heading up the cycles with trams work group, and then an evening with Cycle Sheffield, speaking to their tram reports person, and hearing as presentation by Ofo, the chinese-backed hire bikes, with a pitch to offer a bike share scheme at no cost to the Council, this with Hourbike already operating in the city, albeit almost invisible to a visitor not looking out for them.

I do commend the Bikeplus annual user/operator surveys, now in their 2nd year, and note that in Barcelona, Netherlands, Paris, and other places I've less data on, bike HIRE (by the day/week to tourists) operates side by side with bike SHARING for local utility journeys.

The figures show significant use in conjunction with public transport, borne out by personal observations, especially in the wee hours where shift workers appear to be frequent users to accommodate the lack of 'conventional' public transport when they need to travel.

A well conceived system can break though the silos and deliver bike hire as a further 'free' option to those entitled to concessionary travel (disabled*, pensioners, students, job-seekers). The pensioner deal should be funded as a population health project as it will be possible to offer heath assessments based on the frequency of bike hires, and potnetially see a reduction in illnesses linked to morbid lifestyles.

*Many disabilities prevent the person affected from having a driving licence, and thus dependent on others to provide swift personal transport, and even those who are still eligible for a car allowance, can struggle to fund the car use for frequent travel, not that 80% of those registered as 'blind' can often have the residual vision sufficient to walk or cycle, albeit often limited to clear daylight conditions.

Imagine the potential for unlocking independent personal mobility this offers.

As an aside on 16 September at 10.00 the renewed and doubled in size Glasgow bikes went 'live' - by 11.00 the CEoGB cycle safari encountered dozens of the bikes already on hire (800 hires for 800 bikes on the first day)        

What changed Andy Street's mind? http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/no-boris-bikes-s...

john bennett said:

I would need to be convinced that a bike hire scheme would be well used before any investment. If it becomes a white elephant it will seriously harm cycling status across the region. Words like 'revenue neutral' and 'sponsorship' are only relevant if there is a well defined market need -and that the scheme meets these needs. Who uses the Boris Bikes? If it is tourists how many will be needed in (say) Walsall? Andy Street needs to publicise the market research.

Yes it puts a cart before the horse, however this may encourage the city into a splurge creating short city cycle routes for the bikes so they connect. When we have so little it should be seen as a place to start.

At one of the meetings I attended I learned that a significant proportion of the increase in tram usage was people using it to get across the city centre.   That's one monumental sledgehammer to crack a nut.   And of course we all know what the tram has done for permeability for cycles.

Kim said:

But central Birmingham is much smaller - you can make most journeys within the inner ring road on foot in a reasonable time period - as well as notoriously difficult to navigate by bike.

Hopefully a decent chunk of that will be people transferring between trains at New Street and Snow Hill (the walk from New Street to Moor Street is significant if you're bad at navigation, mobility impaired or carrying significant luggage).  Trams appeal to train users for the same reasons that trains do:  They run on rails and don't rely on secret squirrel local knowledge to know when you've reached your destination.

Robert said:

At one of the meetings I attended I learned that a significant proportion of the increase in tram usage was people using it to get across the city centre.

Apparently dockless systems are causing significant problems in the Netherlands.

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