The Irish capital’s own bike hire scheme – dublinbikes – has just reached its second anniversary. Pre-dating London’s Barclays Cycle Hire, dublinbikes’ genesis was down to a number of people, not least of all Andrew Montague – councillor at the time of dublinbikes’ proposal in 2004 and inauguration in 2009 – and now, two years on, the Lord Mayor of Dublin.
BikeBiz caught up with the man himself on the day after dublinbikes celebrated its two year anniversary and trip milestone...
It’s two years since dublinbikes was launched. What are the latest numbers for the scheme?
We’ve had two and a half million trips in the first two years.
Is that as many as you’d hoped for?
It’s way ahead of expectations. As far as I know we’re the most successful bike [hire] scheme in the world in terms of usage.
And you’ve recently had the Dublin Skyride as well? Was it successful?
Yes, it’s our first time of doing it and we didn’t know how many to expect. Counting people is always difficult, but we do know that eight and a half thousand Sky Ride bibs were given out. We’re pretty sure there were more people cycling – maybe 11 or 12 thousand. The official figures are saying 10,000.
Going back to dublinbikes – were there any particular city cycle hire schemes that served as inspiration?
The thing that got me interested was the Copenhagen scheme. I think they were the first to really crack it.
They first introduced their bikes scheme in 1995. My memory of reading about it was that they had 1,000 bikes for free in the city and they were stolen very quickly. It was insurance companies that paid for it and they figured that half of the thefts were on-the-spot spur-of-the-moment – someone needed to get somewhere and there was a handy bike. They stuck with it and were prepared to pay for it again the following year.
In 1996 they started to introduce some security measures, like making the bikes very distinctive looking and making the parts non-standard so they couldn’t be stripped for parts. That year they only lost around 25 per cent of the bikes to thieves. And they knew they were onto something so they progressed and improved it. By the time we got the system we were using the JC Decaux system. It was computerised, automated and just a very secure system.
And was a fear of congestion and growing obesity a driver behind introducing the scheme to Dublin?
No, it’s more a positive thing about cycling and there are a huge number of benefits. It’s just a great way to get around the city – the fastest way for short trips. It’s a very important mode of transport that is hugely successful in other cities and hasn’t been so successful in Dublin; one of many ideas I was bringing in to try and encourage people to cycle. A spin-off benefit is of course that people are fitter but really it’s about public transport – making it easy for people to get around our city. It’s about mobility.
Why has it been so successful? Or is it simply that cycling is the best way to get around Dublin?
I think there are a few factors. Firstly, we designed it very well, I think. We put our stations in two areas – where people are living and where people were working. We connected proper journeys. Other people would have thought instinctively that you put them in tourist locations, but we didn’t do that. We concentrated on connecting residential and work areas. Other things too – where we’d improved the safety of cycling in the years leading up to it – in 2007 we brought in a ban on HGVs in the city centre, so it became a lot more cycle friendly and people were more open to the idea of cycling in the city.
The other thing we did was to make it very cheap. It’s only €10 a year to join the dublinbikes scheme – I think the London scheme is £40 or so for a year. You’d be mad not to join dublinbikes.
You've just released an impressive set of statistics on the second anniversary of the scheme, but have you now got any specific target in mind for dublinbikes?
We started off with 450 bikes and after the first year we added 100 bikes so we currently have 550 bikes.
My target is far more ambitious. My ambition would be to get 5,000 bikes to cover the city. Because it’s been so successful I think there’s now ‘buy-in’. When I first made the proposal there was huge cynicism. Thankfully that has now died away and there’s huge support for the scheme. It’s easier to get politicians to stump up the money.
How many more stations will you need to accommodate those bikes?
I’d say about 300 stations.
That’s a massive upgrade – have you got a timeline for your plans?
I think it will take about five years. By the end of June next year, I’d like to see an extra 1,000 bikes to bring us up to 1,500 bikes.
Have you seen a fall in congestion with the rise in dublinbikes users?
We actually have seen a fall in congestion this year, but whether that’s because our economy hasn’t done too well… As it happens we have had a fall in congestion.
London’s hire scheme has a headline sponsor in Barclays – is that something you’d consider for dublinbikes?
Well the scheme is paid through advertising. We have put up 70 new advertising structures that have rotating ads in them – they paid for the bikes.
Now because of the success of it the Government wants to put money into it so we get some funding from them. We also get some extra funding from businesses that want to have a station near them and are prepared to pay for one. So that’s a new source of funding. We’ll also have to put more advertising in to get the quantity of bikes that we want.
And I think we’ll probably look at the idea of sponsorship now too. We’d be looking for lots of streams of revenue to get from 500 to 5,000 bikes.
Any more general aims aside from making dublinbikes bigger?
An important part of the bikes is integration with public transport. Interestingly, when we created the scheme the public transport companies hadn’t thought much about bikes but now they’ve seen a huge benefit to the bikes that they weren’t expecting. It facilitates public transport – people can come on a train or tram and that doesn’t have the flexibility to get you door-to-door whereas the bikes will finish off the last mile of the journey. That’s a huge benefit for them. Now they’re very keen to have dublinbikes stations associated with their stations, whereas before they didn’t give a damn. No one was expecting it to be such a success. But now that it is a success they’re keen to get it integrated with their infrastructure – to have bike stations near their stations.
With the scheme being so successful, do you think other cities will follow your lead and model?
Well, I would think other similar sized cities, for sure. Does Manchester, Liverpool or Birmingham have one? If not, then they want to get on with it. What’s stopping them?
For us in Ireland Dublin is so much bigger than all the rest of the cities in the country. The Government is looking at funding schemes in smaller cities – basically large towns in populations of 50,000 or 100,000. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes in those cities. I hope it does work. There was huge scepticism about Dublin so we’ve got to try it and see if it works. I’d love it if you were a member of dublinbikes you’d automatically be a member of galwaybikes, or corkbikes. So you can cycle to a train in Dublin, get the train to Cork. Get off the train and get on a bike – without having to become a member of another scheme.