Dublinbikes scheme, 10 years on: ‘It has sort of reached a plateau’
‘A dodgy deal to get free bicycles,’ said Ciarán Cuffe in 2008. What does he think of it now?
When the service began, there were just 450 bicycles at 40 stations. Photograph: Dave Meehan for The Irish Times
“It might not work. It might be a disaster or it might be a stirring success,” was how Owen Keegan, then Dublin City Council’s director of traffic, regarded the idea of putting low-cost bikes on the streets of the capital in 2001. “It’s worth giving it a try,” he added.
It was another eight years before the council actually did it – the Dublinbikes scheme was launched in September 2009.
More than 66,000 longterm members and 27.3 million journeys later, the council says it has been “a remarkable success”.
When the service began, just 450 bicycles at 40 stations were available to Dubliners. Extra bikes, additional stations as well as extensions to existing ones have grown those figures to 1,600 bicycles at 116 stations.
“I think there was always a concern there might be a very high degree of vandalism or people just wouldn’t use these bikes,” says Keegan, now chief executive of the council.
'Minister for Transport Shane Ross should be bending over backwards to increase the amount of cycling in the city'
“There was a degree of uncertainty at the time. It turned out that none of those concerns were justified, the scheme has been, from its very beginning, very well embraced by the Dublin public.”
Bicycles were provided by JC Decaux in exchange for outdoor advertising space in the capital, estimated to be worth €1 million annually at the time. Advertising panels were erected around the city in the summer of 2008, even though the scheme did not begin until a year later.
“The advertising has gone up, but we’ve had no bicycles,” said Ciarán Cuffe in August 2008, then a Green Party TD. “It’s a dodgy deal between the city council and this advertising firm to get free bicycles,” he added.
Keegan says JC Decaux continues to operate and manage the Dublinbikes scheme on the council’s behalf, adding the agreement has worked “reasonably well”. For its part, the international advertising company also says it is happy with the contract with the council which is reviewed “as required”.
However, Cuffe, now a Green Party MEP for Dublin, says: “If we had complete control over the scheme, we might be doing things differently.”
He points to the Dublinbikes Strategic Planning Framework 2011-2016, which set out an “ambitious but realistic vision” for the future expansion of the scheme, extending it as far as Whitehall, Crumlin and Clonskeagh “subject to securing adequate levels of funding”.
“We’ve only delivered a fraction of what that plan proposed and I think there’s a need to provide the funding to roll out the scheme further,” Cuffe says.
“The rollout of the scheme has stalled and my view is that the NTA [National Transport Authority] and Minister [for Transport] Shane Ross should be bending over backwards to increase the amount of cycling in the city.”
'There is probably a need for further innovation . . .Very little has happened with the scheme in 10 years'
The council says the Dublinbikes Strategic Planning Framework document is under review with regard to the recent “technological advances in public bikeshare and the possible different configurations and options that can now be considered in any future expansion”.
“This review will also have regard to the regulated introduction of dockless public bikeshare in the city [schemes which do not require bike stations] and is therefore expected to be complete [in] early 2020,” a council spokeswoman says.
A report from the council published last year said Dublinbikes membership levels “are no longer in a growth phase and may decline over time”.
Its reasoning was the opening of the Luas Cross City and the roll-out of new, private stationless bike-hire schemes, in the past year. Two such operators have been licensed in Dublin so far, Bleeperbike and Urbo.
“The Dublinbikes scheme has sort of reached a plateau,” says Keegan. “There is probably a need for further innovation . . .Very little has happened with the scheme in 10 years.”
He believes innovation may come in the form of electric bikes (ebikes) being offered under the Dublinbikes scheme or the possibility of booking a bike or docking space in advance.
A number of councillors have said growth has slowed because stations have stopped being added. The council says expansion of the scheme to other areas is “undetermined at this time”.
'This is critical - national infrastructure that gets people out of cars and let’s people make trips using active travel. It should be the Government funding any shortfall'
“If the stationless model proves effective, that may be the way we would go. We’re not ruling out further expansion but there are significant capital costs associated with expansions,” Keegan adds.
“They’re not going to be met by additional advertising revenue, so it may be that licensing private operators with public-hire stationless bike systems will achieve the same thing at a considerably lower cost and we’ll evaluate the two operators in due course and then decide.”
Grant funding for capital works has been provided by the NTA, enabling the last two Dublinbikes expansions to take place. Dublin City Council meets operational costs which are offset by membership and journey fees as well as brand sponsorship and advertising. The scheme is currently sponsored by takeaway service, Just Eat.
An annual subscription to DublinBikes costs €25 and riders can use a bike for up to 30 minutes for no additional cost. The next half an hour is 50 cent, which increases with every hour.
Dr Mike McKillen of the Dublin Cycling Campaign says the scheme is reducing car-based trips and should therefore receive more Government funding.
“This is critical - national infrastructure that gets people out of cars and let’s people make trips using active travel. It should be the Government funding any shortfall; it shouldn’t be relying on a sponsor.”