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Aberdeen’s E-Bikes Battle On

After a troubled start, Big Issue eBikes hope that stronger locks and new pricing model mark a turnaround

photo courtesy of Fergus Doogan


By Fergus Doogan


Until the recent launch of Big Issue eBikes, Aberdeen was the only of Scotland’s major cities never to have had a city-wide bicycle hire scheme. A joint venture between Aberdeen City Council and Big Issue Group, November’s launch saw 200 bikes rolled out in around 40 locations around the city. This was Big Issue Group’s second scheme to launch, after their first in Bristol last February.

The service sees battery assisted bikes, capable of speeds of 15.5 mph on battery power, hired out from locations across Aberdeen.

Unlike schemes in other cities, Aberdeen’s e-bikes have no fixed ‘docking stations’, with bikes instead being parked in one of the designated ‘geofenced’ parking spots. Indeed, the scheme involves no physical installations at all, with the hiring of bikes being carried out entirely within the Big Issue eBikes app. This lack of physical infrastructure was intended to make the scheme more cost-effective and flexible, with users able to propose new parking areas.


Accordingly, though the bike’s wheels lock when not hired, the bikes are essentially loose on the pavement, a fact which allowed the early launch to be plagued by vandalism. Bikes were found disposed of in locations such as Duthie Park and Torry, with more than 20 bikes damaged by the end of the scheme’s first week. This is far from a phenomenon unique to Aberdeen, with Edinburgh’s Just Eat cycles pulled amid a spate of vandalism and theft. Big Issue eBikes’ other scheme in Bristol is currently ‘paused’, having lost half of their 400 e-bikes in the same manner.

Somewhat uniquely, the launch of Aberdeen’s e-bike scheme received no public funding. While this does mean that, should the scheme fail to turn a profit, the council’s coffers won't take a hit, prices for users are far higher in Aberdeen than in other cities.

After a £3 refundable deposit, users are charged an unlock fee of 60p and 20p per minute of their ride, up to a per-ride cap of £12. To take an hour's ride as an example, a cyclist in Aberdeen would pay around twice (£12) what she would pay for an hour on either Glasgow’s OVO E-Bikes (£6) or Dundee’s Embark (£6.20), and more than three times what she would pay to ride with Inverness and Fort William’s HIBIKE (£3.50).

There have also been concerns that the council is not supporting the scheme in other ways. Grampian Cycling Partnership, an organisation set up with the aim of making cycling in the North East safer and easier, questioned whether ‘any other city [would] implement such a scheme without having ANY permanent on-road segregated infrastructure for cyclists, on ANY of the approximately 3000 streets’.

However, it is far from all bad news for Aberdeen’s e-bikes. The installation of stronger locks in late November — it was hoped — would hamper efforts to vandalise the bikes, while, on the value front, December saw the introduction of a subscription package — something which Dundee and Inverness’ schemes both already have. For a monthly fee of £19.95, this package will reduce the per-minute price of hiring a bike from 20p to 12p. Even though Aberdeen’s subscription cost is notably higher than Dundee (£10) and Inverness’ (£12), the reduced per-minute charge it brings (12p) is still higher than the charge in Glasgow, Dundee or Inverness without a subscription.


Despite this stark contrast, it is hoped that Aberdonians and visitors alike will find this new pricing model more affordable. In addition, Aberdeen City Council is set to look again at rejected plans to introduce segregated cycle lanes to central Union Street — the city’s first.

Despite a bumpy start, Aberdeen’s Big Issue eBikes seem determined to make a success of themselves, and, with positive changes afoot early on in their operation, they'll hope to have their way.


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