Finding a new gear: is Edinburgh ready for its new cycle hire scheme?

Following on from an article in The Student about Edinburgh city’s instigation of the new ‘bike hire scheme’, the Features section decided to look into how ready the city is for an influx of cyclists. The launch of Edinburgh’s first cycle hire scheme undoubtedly hails a new way to move around the city. Operated by Serco in partnership with the University of Edinburgh and Transport for Edinburgh, the bikes will be available from fixed docking locations throughout the city as well as virtual ‘geo-fenced’ areas.

The City of Edinburgh Council have set themselves a target of 15 per cent of residents cycling to work by 2020, and with the university planning on being zero-carbon by 2040, the scheme goes hand-in-hand with continuing efforts to make the city more pedestrian and cycle-friendly. The system will bring 500 manual and 100 electric bikes in the first three years, with Serco and Transport for Edinburgh claiming that the city can handle this ambitious aim. Is Edinburgh ready for an influx of bicycles and a shift in the way its citizens move around?

Significant safety concerns exist for cyclists on Edinburgh’s congested streets, particularly with trams. Figures released in 2017 by the Royal Edinburgh Hospital’s Professor Chris Oliver show that there had been 191 cycling injuries connected to tram tracks over the preceding seven years.  In response to this, the City of Edinburgh Council’s Transport Convener, Leslie Hinds, has said that “since the launch of Edinburgh trams, we have gone to every effort to raise awareness of its impact on all road users and have ensured clear signage to guide cyclists along the safest routes throughout the city.”  Despite this, in May 2017, a 24-year-old woman was killed when her wheel became stuck in tracks on Princes Street, causing her to fall in front of an oncoming vehicle. Such incidents highlight the challenging nature of Edinburgh’s road layout, with tight streets struggling to accommodate increasing levels of traffic, cluttered pavements causing pedestrian bottlenecks and an inconsistent approach to cycle lanes and infrastructure. However with the City of Edinburgh Council considering low-emission zones that could see some vehicles banned from selected roads, cycle hire and general bicycle uptake could become more attractive if traffic levels fall and non-essential driving is discouraged.

As Edinburgh grapples with the safety of its cyclists, it also grapples with the safety of bicycles themselves. According to the national cycle database BikeRegister, Edinburgh is the second most-targeted city for bike thefts in the UK, and the Police have said that just 85 bike theft cases in the city were solved out of 2,000 reports between April 2017 and January 2018.  As bike ownership is evidently a risky business, the cycle hire scheme may prove to be a good way to facilitate people who want to ride but are concerned about investing in a bike of their own for fear of it being stolen. Of course, cycle hire bikes are at risk of theft too, especially with the option of virtual docking that leaves them unsecured.  Mobike, the firm behind Manchester’s dock-less cycle hire scheme, announced in September 2018 that they were to pull out of the city after 10% of their bikes were lost each month due to being stolen or vandalised.

While Manchester was the only city out of 200 to lose its Mobike scheme, introducing something similar in the UK’s number-two city for bicycle theft may bring challenges unless the crime is treated more seriously.  Edinburgh should also be mindful of the problems seen in China’s booming bike-sharing sector, where the push to make cycle hire more accessible has caused an oversupply of dock-less bikes that often amass on pavements, causing problems for the surrounding urban environment. To successfully integrate Edinburgh’s bicycle hire system and foster a city of cyclists more generally, the infrastructure needs to be ready for them and more action on bike thefts needs to be taken.  If Edinburgh gets it right, this cycle hire scheme may be the gear change needed to get up the hill to a greener, the healthier road ahead.

Image: William Murphy via Flickr

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The Student Newspaper 2016