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Cardiff bike sharing scheme shows signs of struggle

MORE than two weeks since Nextbike announced it will be leaving Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan for good cyclists have urged the council to act as quickly as it can to bring in a replacement scheme.

Nextbike brought its bike-share scheme back to the Cardiff in January 2022 after a two-month hiatus.

The Cardiff and Vale scheme, which more recently offered Ovo bikes for hire, turned out to be the most successful one in the UK in terms of patronage with more than two million rentals across the area during its lifespan.

However issues with vandalism and thefts were all too clear.

Since the scheme started operating in Cardiff and the Vale, from 2018 and 2020 respectively, 3,000 bikes were stolen or vandalised leaving just one third of the fleet available for use.

Before Nextbike made its announcement one local councillor called the current situation with the bike-share scheme “frustrating”.

Cllr Stephen Cunnah, who is also the policy and external affairs manager for Wales at Sustrans, said: ”I have seen it myself in Canton and other places where there are often docks completely empty and if they are not empty there might be one or two and obviously there is space for eight so they appear empty.”

Cllr Stephen Cunnah who is also the Welsh policy and external affairs manager at Sustrans (Pic: Stephen Cunnah)

The councillor added that on occasion there is a bike at the dock but “for whatever reason it can’t be taken out”.

A check of the availability of Ovo bikes across the whole of Cardiff at 12pm on Monday, November 20, found there were 22 stations that had no bikes available.

There were never fewer than six stations without available bikes after a check was made every day between Sunday, November 19, and Friday, November 24.

The checks over the same period also showed that there were only 15 instances when there were four or more bikes available for use at a station.

OVO bike stations in Cardiff can regularly be found with only a single bike available at them (Pic: Ted Peskett)

Cllr Cunnah said: “I think there is a problem. That is what I am hearing, that is what I am seeing.

A pile of Nextbikes was left outside Cardiff Castle after the operator announced that it was temporarily pulling the scheme from the city in November 2021.

It was reported at the time that more than 300 bikes had been stolen from the share scheme and 260 had to be thrown away due to damage caused by vandalism.

The scheme will cease to operate from January 2024 but work to introduce a new and improved service is under way.

Speaking in his role as a policy adviser for Sustrans Cllr Cunnah said it was “obviously disappointing” that Nextbike has decided to pull out of Cardiff.

He added: “It was obviously much-loved and well-used. It was useful on a regular basis for people commuting to work, to college, and to school.

“It was useful for people who needed a one-off trip and for tourists.

“In that context it was disappointing that some people in our community didn’t respect the nice things that we have got and vandalised it.”

The councillor and avid cyclist said an updated, secure, and more modern scheme was needed.

Cllr Cunnah said: “It will need to be done quite urgently really because all of those people who are making use of it. What we wouldn’t want to see is them making different travel choices especially, for example, using their cars.”

Cardiff council’s contract with Nextbike was due to end in early 2025 and the local authority said it has already started work on what a new scheme might look like.

The council’s cabinet member for transport and strategic planning, Cllr Dan De’Ath, said the local authority was optimistic about finding a new partner and they now need to find the latest technology which will “make it harder for people intent on vandalising or stealing bikes to get away with their actions”.

A feasibility study is currently under way which will provide answers on the best way forward for both Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan councils.

This study will look at schemes across the globe, understand improvements in security and the latest technology, while reviewing a variety of suppliers and different operating and sponsorship models.

On the council’s commitment to bringing in a new scheme Cardiff Cycle City chair Chris Roberts said: “I really hope that they will do it as quickly as possible because if the scheme disappears for a long period of time there might be a problem in restarting it.

“Part of the idea of the scheme was to tie in with the metro… As we improve public transport between Cardiff and the Valleys having a scheme that allows people to do the last mile of their commute or their journey to go shopping from the railway station to their destination is really important.

“As the metro develops and we start to get quarter-hourly services from all across the Valleys, more people coming into the city, that combination of easy-to-use bike hire and public transport would make a big difference in producing the modal shift we desperately need.”

Nextbike is leaving Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan for good after thousands of its bikes were vandalised or stolen (Pic: Ted Peskett)

Bikes from the Ovo bike-sharing scheme are not the only ones that are being targeted by thieves.

Police data focusing on 71 streets in and around Cardiff city centre shows there were 140 reports of bicycle theft in the eight months from January 2023 to August 2023.

Mr Roberts said an attitude shift will also play an important part in making the next bike-share scheme in Cardiff more successful.

He added: “It is not just the council who are involved. The police, I think, have to take bike theft much more seriously.

“It is not just Nextbikes that are getting stolen. It is peoples’ own bikes. Cardiff has a really poor record.

“We need a partnership between the police and the council to take this whole issue of bike theft – Nextbike and peoples’ own bikes – much more seriously and take more action to stop it happening.”

Inspector Darren Grady, from South Wales Police, said: “Ovo Bikes allows residents and visitors to travel around Cardiff in a convenient and environmentally friendly manner.

“The minority who steal or vandalise these bikes ruin the facility for others and we are committed to working with Nextbike and the local authority to continue clamping down on this mindless behaviour.

“We need the community to be an extra pair of eyes and to please report suspicious activity, vandalism, and theft.”