An ebike rental scheme is finally being rolled out across Aberdeen city centre this week, following years of delays.
Big Issue eBikes has partnered up with Aberdeen City Council to bring hundreds of rentable electric bicycles to the Granite City.
The scheme, which launches tomorrow, will include an initial 200 ebikes at about 40 parking spots around the city centre.
People will be able to rent the bikes on a pay-as-you-go basis, but as the initiative expands in the future, subscriptions will become available.
The project is being delivered by the same organisation behind the Big Issue publication sold by people on the street, and is designed to create new employment opportunities for vulnerable or marginalised individuals.
How does the Aberdeen ebike scheme work?
Unlike bike rental schemes in cities like London where there are physical docking stations for rented bicycles, the Aberdeen big Issue eBikes will not have any solid infrastructure in place.
Instead, it will be entirely virtual.
Users wanting to ride an ebike will need to install an app on their phone, turn on their location services, and travel to a location marked out around Aberdeen that has an ebike present.
After scanning a bike they want, users pay a fee which unlocks it.
Cyclists using the ebikes will be charged £0.60 to unlock, then be given a free minute (in case of any errors), and £0.20 a minute afterwards.
A 10-minute journey will cost £2.40, and it will put you back £4.40 for a 20-minute hire.
The rental cost per bicycle is capped at £12 for up to £12 hours, and there is a £3 deposit which is returned once the rent is finished.
The operators have hired a “balancing team”, who will go around swapping out depleted ebike batteries with fully charged ones, and ensuring no one area has too many, or too few, ebikes in place.
Where will the Aberdeen ebike pickup/drop-off points be located in the city?
Anyone can freely download the Big Issue eBikes app, which is available on iOS and the Google Play Store, and see exactly where the locations for starting or finishing your rental are around Aberdeen.
Jan Tore Endresen, CEO of Big Issue eBikes, said the locations that have been selected so far have been chosen with consideration to their proximity to public transport options like buses and the train station, and have been spaced as evenly apart as possible.
There are parking spots on the map all throughout the city centre, in places like Broad Street, Schoolhill, Union Street and Holburn Street.
There are also a handful of other locations a bit further away from the middle of Aberdeen, including Fittie and St Machar’s Cathedral.
Some places you may expect to find the rental areas to be present are conspicuously absent from the map right now, including the Robert Gordon University campus in Garthdee.
But Mr Endresen, who has flown to Aberdeen from Norway to oversee the launch of the scheme this week, said the system has been designed to be adaptable, making it quick and easy to add or take away hiring zones as and when required.
“We have proposed 80 parking zones, and approximately 40 to 45 have been approved so far.
“It’s going to be a running process, there will be more and more.
“We’ve looked at all kinds of things like commuting patterns to decide on the parking zones, and we will also invite users to suggest places they would like the bikes to be.”
Just how fast do these Aberdeen ebikes go, and do you need to wear a helmet?
The around 200 ebikes being introduced to parking zones across the city centre tomorrow all have a range of around 35 miles when fully charged, and weigh just over 20 kilogrammes (44lbs).
They come with an adjustable seat, phone holder, a small basket and bell — and each individual bicycle even comes with its own name.
Unlike traditional bikes, they don’t have any manual gears.
The electric power for the bikes kicks in soon after you start pedalling, and is more than enough to help you get up hills.
Mr Endresen explained this ability to get up steeper inclines helps to ensure that not too many of the bikes end up at the bottom of slopes across Aberdeen.
The electric motor assists riders in getting up to a speed of 15.5 miles per hour.
Big Issue eBikes on its website encourages all users to “put their health and safety first and wear a helmet when renting”.
What’s this all costing, and how much will subscriptions be?
The project is being run with no cost to the Aberdeen taxpayer according to Mr Endresen.
“Aberdeen council taxpayer pays nothing, nobody pays anything except the renters through the app.”
It is being operated entirely by Big Issue eBikes, with the city council only contributing assistance with factors like rental zone placement.
Mr Endresen would not confirm exactly how much money has been spent on the purchase of the bikes and other costs so far, but did confirm they cost around £1,500 each.
If the scheme does not turn a profit, the council will not be liable to cover any costs, he said.
Although the cost of the subscription model which is planned for the future has not yet been confirmed, Mr Endresen said the price tag they select will take into consideration how people in Aberdeen use the scheme initially.
He said: “For users who use the bikes typically 15 to 20 times per month or more, they will have a cheaper fee per ride.
“But it will be, for example, a monthly fee.
“The good thing is we can change the prices with this system very easily, so we want to see a little bit of the response to the pay-as-you-go model first.”
‘We like to give people the chance to get a job’
So far, the project in Aberdeen has created jobs for three people on the “balancing team” who will go around the city swapping bike batteries, ensuring the bikes are being used and parked responsibly, and spread out evenly across rental zones for all users.
It has also resulted in the hiring of a mechanic, and two new roles in customer care.
The project has come about thanks to a partnership between the Big Issue and bicycle rental scheme company ShareBike, which was created after the impact of Covid on The Big Issue’s ability to have its sellers distribute its publication.
The initiative is designed to hire people who were previously unemployed, and support them back into work, and moving forwards. Mr Endresen said he hopes the Aberdeen scheme will create even more opportunities.
He said: “We want to try to build additional possibilities for who Big Issue usually calls marginalised and vulnerable people.
“We like to give people a chance to get a job, and improve the city by making it more sustainable.
“Our slogan is ‘Biking for Good’, and it’s something that’s really in our backbone, it’s the way we want to run out business.”
Paul Cheal, CEO of the Big Issue Group, added: “We are very excited to have worked in collaboration with Aberdeen City Council on the launch of the Big Issue eBikes in the city.
“Renting an eBike from Big Issue Group is not only good for the environment, but it also creates opportunities for marginalised people.”
The history of the so-called ‘Barney bikes’ in Aberdeen
Plans to bring a bike rental scheme to Aberdeen have been rolling around the city council since 2018, but numerous setbacks left efforts to introduce one in low gear for a very long time.
Initially, some thought a clever nickname for an Aberdeen bike hire project could be “Barney Bikes”, named after the former Lord Provost Barney Crockett.
This would have mimicked the nickname for the London bike rental scheme, Boris Bikes, as Boris Johnson was Mayor of London when that initiative first launched.
Back in 2018, Mr Crockett said: “I imagine the scheme will be given lots of names when it is implemented, I think it is wonderful a few have started calling them Barney Bikes — maybe Crockett cycles next”.
However, times have changed in the Town House since then, and Mr Crockett no longer holds the golden chains of Lord Provost.
It was hoped last September that the project would have been launched in spring 2022, but it is understood there were problems in sourcing enough bikes for it, partly driven by Covid and lockdown measures creating new interest in cycling.
Although it would have obviously more ideal to launch the scheme during the warmer months, Mr Endresen said he’s happy to finally see it rolling out this week.
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