Edinburgh bike hire: Work to bring back bike scheme should be scrapped, council officials recommend

The old bike rental system was supposed to be self-financing, but thefts and vandalism brought additional costs. Photo: Scott Louden

Hopes of reviving a cycle hire scheme for the capital could be dashed by the huge cuts the council are due to make in next year’s budget. Officials recommended scrapping plans to investigate options to bring back a bike program after the previous one collapsed and reallocating money that had been set aside.

However, it will be up to councilors to decide and costed options for the reintroduction of a cycle hire system should be made available to different parties for consideration as part of the budget process. But all political groups are acutely aware that the council will have to save almost £80m from next year’s spending plans.

Edinburgh’s bike hire scheme was launched in 2018. Sponsored by Just Eat and operated by Serco, it was designed to be self-funding and has attracted over 70,000 users. During Covid it became the fastest growing scheme in Britain with a total of 234,500 trips made. But at the end of the contract in 2021, when the possibility of a four-year extension emerged, Serco said it could not continue under existing agreements. Major problems with theft and vandalism had significantly increased the running costs of the system. The board promised to pursue options for a new plan.

Dropping any further investigation into a possible relaunch of the scheme would save £500,000 in 2023/24 and 2024/25 and a further £200,000 in 2025/26.

“Significant private sponsorship will be necessary”

Scott Arthur, Labor Transport Manager, said: “Since becoming Transport and Environment Manager in May, I have spent some time thinking about why the bike rental program of ‘Edinburgh has failed so catastrophically and what makes it such a success elsewhere. I want to reintroduce a program to Edinburgh and that we use it to get residents more active and connect tourists to businesses and attractions. The challenge we face, however, is that each of the options I have considered would require significant levels of public subsidy.

“In the coming weeks I will publish costed proposals and hope to work with all of Edinburgh’s political parties to agree a way forward. Given the cuts imposed by the SNP/Green Government in Edinburgh, it is clear to me that substantial private sponsorship will be necessary to ensure the success of any program.

Green finance spokeswoman Alys Mumford said she was surprised officers were recommending further cuts to work on a bike rental scheme. “It’s something we hear all the time that the people of Edinburgh want. It’s embarrassing that we don’t have a bike rental system, as a big city and a city that says it aspires to be a bike friendly city.

She said when it came to the budget, the Greens would look to invest in active travel. “Investing in cycling is going to be a key part of what we do and we have long been calling for there to be a replacement for the cycle hire system. Last time it was hoped it would be self-funded, but now we are faced with the board having to invest money. I think that’s a very worthwhile thing for the board to do.

“The government is cutting the council’s budget by tens of millions”

SNP leader Adam McVey said his group had not yet taken a position on the budget, but pointed out that the last SNP-led administration had earmarked funds for a new bike hire scheme. “The last program was delivered at virtually no cost and we allocated some money in the hope that we could build an infrastructure of these bikes which could then run on a wash down basis.” He said he hoped a model could be found where rental income would cover routine maintenance.

Lib Dem leader Kevin Lang said his group wants to see the return of a bike rental program as an important part of the city’s decision to encourage active travel. “We were incredibly frustrated when the previous arrangement fell through because we felt it was well used, very popular and growing. But there is still a question mark as to how you deliver a sustainable program and what the cost to the council would be. The advantage of the previous program was that it was delivered without any additional investment by the council. It is quite clear now that we will need additional investment and this challenge arises when the government cut the council’s budget by tens of millions of pounds.

Tory group leader Iain Whyte said most major cities now have a cycle hire scheme but suggested the chances of reviving a scheme in Edinburgh were ‘probably destroyed’ by not finding one money to maintain the original system. “Everyone suggests that it would cost a lot more to start a new program than to maintain one. So even the money that has been set aside is probably not enough. If there is no scheme in sight and there is money that has been set aside I think it will be considered a saving as there is no real prospect of doing anything else thing.

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