It’s been a whole year since the ebike hire scheme was rolled out to the streets of Aberdeen, but has it worked out in the end after a wobbly start?
The shiny new red and white Big Issue Ebikes became available to start renting from November 9, 2022.
Uptake was slow at the beginning, probably because of the cold, wet, wintry months that followed.
The initiative was also targeted by vandals, who ruthlessly took to trashing the new fleet — with bikes being damaged or dumped around the city.
It’s no real surprise there was skepticism about whether the scheme would really take off.
But despite a rocky beginning, there’s now around 10,000 people actively use the ebikes in Aberdeen, and the operators reckon they’re now “part of the city”.
Scott Goodall, operations coordinator of the Big Issue eBikes, believes there’s a “lot more respect” for the bikes now and the initiative is “clearly” serving the community.
We caught up with Scott to find out more about how the ebike scheme has been going in Aberdeen, and what’s changed over the first year.
How many people are using Aberdeen ebike rentals a year on?
The initiative first launched with a 231-strong fleet of ebikes and 33 parking stations.
But over the last year, parking stations have doubled to 66 across the city and there are now 259 bikes on the streets every day.
Up-to-date figures show 11,004 people have registered on the Big Issue eBikes app, meanwhile, there are 10,655 active users.
In April, we reported there had been more than 18,300 rentals. This has soared to 55,039 over the rest of this year.
Over the first year the bikes:
- Were rented for 10,159,550 minutes in total, which is 169,325 hours, or 7,055 days
- Covered a total distance of 156,287 miles — which is like a trip from Aberdeen to London almost every day
- Saved 35 tons of CO2 — the equivalent of 100 return flights to London Heathrow from Aberdeen
The city centre is still one of the busiest places for the ebikes, especially the Castlegate and King Street area.
However, the team has noticed “little pockets” forming, including Aberdeen Sports Village as one of the busiest drop-off points and a lot of activity in Garthdee.
Are ebikes only used in summer?
Scott explained that summer was “absolutely crazy” because the bikes were so popular, which comes as no real surprise because of the better weather.
Although it trickled out, the students brought back a buzz when they came to the city early in September and started renting out the bikes again.
Even as recently as Bonfire Night, the ebikes were in high demand.
The team knew it would be a busy night as people made their way down to the beach to watch the fireworks. So, they put more bikes on to Castlegate and King Street, leaving only two bikes at the Aberdeen Science Centre.
But, when Scott passed by later he counted around 30 parked up outside the centre.
“People are definitely using them,” he said. “Even if it’s just a one-off, it’s really nice to see.”
Ebike scheme serves communities
As we’re sat in a nearby coffee shop talking about the scheme, Scott points out one of the bikes gliding past the window with a proud grin.
Although he has only been part of the team for a little over a month, it’s clear to see how passionate he is about the work they do.
For Scott, it’s all about serving communities and “really making a difference”, as well as the work to make the city that bit more sustainable.
When someone rents one of the bikes, they are helping raise awareness of the work the Big Issue does. It also helps the charity provide opportunities for marginalised people to get into employment.
Ebikes cost hundreds of pounds, and pushbikes can also be quite expensive.
Not only is it the cost, but people living in the city centre then have to find somewhere to store it and pay to maintain the bike.
An alternative to public transport?
And while buses and taxis might be too expensive an option for some, the ebikes come in at only £1 for seven minutes.
There are little pockets where the bikes are used frequently, such as the Garthdee area where people use the bikes to get to the shops, RGU, town or even Cults.
The team has also found people from Cults and Bieldside seem to use them late at night or early in the morning when there might not be buses running.
He said: “We’re quite happy to serve the community, the fee we charge is to deal with all the stuff you don’t have to deal with — and it’s pretty reasonable I would say.
Scott went on to say: “I know a lot of people had reservations about if the bikes will be worth it, if the scheme will support the city and serve the underserved communities, and help people.
“Clearly it has, which is awesome to see.”
And what about the issue of vandalism?
According to Scott, vandalism has been dropping since the start and he believes there’s a “lot more respect” for the ebikes.
This is partly down to a partnership with the police, which helped curb the mischief makers from targeting the fleet.
“At the beginning, it’s like a new toy for them to play with,” Scott explained, “but now it’s sort of ingrained in the city.
“You expect to see the bikes now, and it’s not nearly as big a problem as it used to be.”
And although vandalism has slowed (but not completely stopped), the scheme is still not open to under-18s.
The bikes being taken in for repairs now are mostly due to weather-related damages or connectivity issues.
Scott explained that each of the Aberdeen ebikes is named after someone the Big Issue works with.
Leon is the bike with the most rides, totaling 280 miles. Because of this “he” has been in and out of the workshop for repairs quite a few times.
Two drivers look after the fleet, replacing and charging batteries, picking them up when the wind knocks them down, and moving the bikes around the city.
Scott said: “There’s more involved than people realise. We have circa 250 bikes and an entire city, so the guys do an incredible job.
“Through the app, people can report damage and the guys will go out.
“If it’s something they can’t fix they will bring it to our mechanic, and most get fixed within 24 hours and are straight back out.”
What next for Aberdeen’s ebikes?
For Scott, the first year was a chance for the team to find their feet and get into their “groove”.
But now they are “part of the city” he hopes they can start to work with community groups and partner organisations more.
And with more stations in the “pipeline” he’s hopeful there will be an opportunity to move more ebikes into areas like Northfield, Mastrick and Sheddocksley.
“We’re getting better, we’re trying to improve,” Scott said.
“There’s more to come — we’re improving and expanding is probably the best way to put it.”
He finished: “Who knows, maybe next year I’ll be telling you our bikes were rented for two million minutes?”