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Six months on, is anyone using the Aberdeen ebike hire?

We catch up with the boss of the Aberdeen ebike hire project to see how the scheme is going since it launched on a miserable, rainy day in November last year

Jan Tore Endresen, CEO of Big Issue eBikes. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson
Jan Tore Endresen, CEO of Big Issue eBikes. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson

The Aberdeen ebike hire project launched in perhaps the worst month possible.

The long-delayed scheme was first put forward in 2018, but it wasn’t until last year it was finally rolled out to the public… at the start of November.

One of the coldest, darkest, wettest periods of the year.

So it was little surprise that very few people gave the Big Issue Ebikes a chance in the first few miserable weeks of the project.

Except vandals, of course, who happily took to trashing some of the 200 new red and white bikes which popped up across Aberdeen overnight.

Damaged Big Issue ebikes
A number of the big issue eBikes were vandalised and smashed up in Duthie Park soon after the launch. Image: Fubar News

But, as the weather has warmed and the days have grown longer, more and more people have been out and about riding the Aberdeen ebikes.

And with (hopefully) even better weather on the way in summer, the boss of the scheme believes we’ll soon see even more riders scooting about the city on “micro-mobility” journeys.

How many people are actually using the Aberdeen ebikes?

Mr Endresen on one of the bikes, at the project’s headquarters in Aberdeen. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson

We caught up with Jan Tore Endresen, the CEO of the Big Issue Ebike project in Aberdeen, to find out more about how the scheme has been going in Aberdeen.

Here’s some headline figures:

  • More than 4,700 unique users have signed up so far
  • There have been more than 18,300 rentals

In April, there were:

  • 3,790 total rides
  • 1,319 active users
  • 1,328 hours of rentals in total
  • The average ride duration was 21 minutes, 30 seconds
  • The average distance travelled was 1.8 miles
  • The total distance travelled by all bikers is 6,554 miles

This GPS heatmap shows where the ebikes were most commonly used over the month of April.

The map uses GPS data from the ebikes to show where people have been riding. Red areas indicate high use. Image: Big Issue Ebikes

It’s clear the city centre is the most popular region, as is the beachfront — both areas have plentiful rental/return points.

But by using the data on where people want to go, the scheme’s operators can decide where to introduce new pick-up and drop-off zones.

The project’s CEO Mr Endresen said in response to this rider data, Big Issue Ebikes is looking to introduce 20 further rental points, in the north and south of the city, as well as more along the Deeside Way

‘We had no choice but to launch in November’

Looking back, Mr Endresen doesn’t regret launching the initiative in November.

“No, we had no choice,” he said.

Mr Endresen taking one of the ebikes for a spin at the scheme’s headquarters in Altens last November. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson

Big Issue Ebikes was revealed as the operator of the city’s hire scheme in March 2021, and the initial plan was a spring 2022 roll-out.

But due to problems in sourcing enough bikes for it, caused by in part by Covid and lockdown measures creating increased interest in cycling, the go-live date kept being pushed further and further back.

By the time they had enough bikes to start renting them out, spring 2022 was a distant memory.

ebikes ready to be used in aberdeen
More than 200 bikes were made available at the launch. Here they are in storage prior to the roll-out. Image: Wullie Marr / DC Thomson

Mr Endresen said: “It just made no sense to have the bikes stored, when we could just launch them.

“So even though it was a bad month, it was better to launch than to not.

“What I’m most sorry about is we couldn’t get the bikes out to give people a sustainable transport alternative last summer.

“But hopefully 2023 will be a lot different.”

Ebikes boss hopes summer weather could increase bike use fivefold

Mr Endresen said “biking is seasonal, and depends on the weather”.

“If it’s cold, rainy, snowy and icy, people just don’t like to bike”.

He says the data from the Aberdeen ebike hire has shown a big increase in usage as winter has turned to spring.

Aberdeen beach busy with people enjoying the sunshine last summer. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Compared to January, he said, last month’s usage was “approximately 180% higher”.

From his years of experience with bike and ebike hire schemes across the world, Mr Endresen believes there is a roughly five times as many users in warmer seasons compared to colder ones.

“So if you have 100 bikes out on a cold Monday in December,” he said, “we could have 500 in a warm Saturday in June.”

How much are people paying to use the ebikes?

When the project launched in November, it only had one payment option.

This was £0.60 to unlock an ebike, then a free minute, and £0.20 a minute afterwards.

Using this model, a 10-minute journey costs £2.40, and a 20-minute hire has a price tag of £4.40.

It’s capped at £12 a day.

You need to use the official phone app in order to set up your payment methods and rent the ebikes. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

But in the months since it rolled out, new payment options have been made available.

This includes a simple seven minutes for £1 deal, which Mr Endresen says has been far and away the most popular.

A subscription plan was also rolled out, but this hasn’t proven an attractive option for a lot of people.

This model costs £19.95 a month, but doesn’t give free rides.

Instead, it reduces the per-minute cost from £0.20 to £0.12, the unlock fee down from £0.60 to £0.36, and riders get their first three minutes free.

Meaning you need to use it a lot in order to make it worthwhile.

You use the app to both locate and rent the bikes out. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Mr Endresen said: “The seven for £1 has been a tremendous success, I think almost everybody is on that now.

“We still have some ways to go.

“We have very, very few subscriptions.

“So we might need to find a model that is better when it comes to long-term, frequent users.”

Other ebike schemes have been plagued with vandalism, but will Aberdeen’s succeed?

Although Mr Endresen says things are looking up for the Aberdeen ebike project, similar rental schemes in Scotland and the rest of the UK have faced serious problems.

In February, Dundee’s ebike rental scheme was placed into liquidation, and all 200 bikes in the fleet were put up for sale. 

The move came after the bikes were put in storage for winter, with a promise that they would be back with a bang this spring.

But the company has officially ceased trading, and the scheme’s docks now lie empty around the city.

The Just Eat-sponsored cycle hire scheme in Edinburgh came to an end in September 2021, after launching three years previously.

The project faced serious vandalism and theft issues.

Big Issue Ebikes itself also experienced problems with “relentless” vandalism with its other bike rental project in Bristol.

It initially launched in the English city with 400 bikes early last year, but within just six months, there were just 200 left.

As a result, it went on “pause”, and moved to a private, long-term rental model instead.

But Mr Endresen says “Bristol and Aberdeen cannot in any way be compared”.

He says that he has faith in the people of the Granite City and its visitors to treat the ebikes well, and described the reception of the bikes in Aberdeen as overall “very positive and nice”.

Although there has been vandalism issues in Aberdeen, the Big Issue Ebikes CEO says that thanks to cooperation with the police and the council, this has been drastically reduced.

Earlier this year, we revealed how police have been able to use the GPS technology in each bike to track missing ones down inside thieves’ flats and catch culprits red-handed.

Mr Endresen, from Norway, has every faith in the initiative. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson

We asked Mr Endresen if he’s confident Aberdeen’s ebike hire scheme will be around for the long-term.

“Yes, I am,” he said.

He will certainly be keeping his fingers crossed for clear skies and sunshine this summer in Aberdeen.

Read our step-by-step guide to using Aberdeen’s ebike scheme here.