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Bristol’s Big Issue bikeshare suspended due to ‘relentless vandalism’

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Bristol’s new Big Issue bikeshare scheme has been suspended over the weekend due to exceptionally high vandalism rates. 

Big Issue e-bikes was set up as a not-for-profit partnership between Norwegian micromobility firm ShareBike and the Big Issue to deliver ‘biking for good’ in Bristol. The bikeshare provided sustainable and affordable electric cycling in the city while creating job opportunities and training for long-term unemployed people.

The fleet only launched in February with around 150 pedal-assist dockless e-bikes. This ramped up to 400 at its peak but depleted to 200 bikes by August. 

Vandalism issues began back in April, just two months after launching. The operating company ShareBike responded by reducing the operating area, removing areas of low use from the service and introducing smaller parking zones along major transport corridors.  

Despite these measures, around 10% of ShareBike’s fleet was still being vandalised every day and so it has paused operations.

“Since we launched in the city six months ago, we have experienced extensive and relentless levels of vandalism to our e-bikes,” said ShareBike. “We have more e-bikes destroyed in Bristol in one week than in all our facilities combined anywhere else in the world.” 

The suspension stands in contrast to Voi’s shared e-scooter fleet in the city, which is the UK’s largest and one where few problems have been reported. 

In the short-term, ShareBike says it is looking at offering businesses and individuals a long-term hire option for its e-bikes, while existing subscribers will receive pro-rata refunds. 

The planned reassignment of the bikes, and the subscriber refunds, suggests ShareBike does not see a quick fix to the issue. 

While it hopes that this will be a “temporary decision”, it will need the support of the police and the city council to resume the bikeshare. 

A concerning trend

This suspension is just the latest in a long line of bikeshare service pauses and fleet closures in the UK due to vandalism and criminal damage. 

Cardiff’s bikeshare was suspended for several months but was able to restart following community discussions. Derby’s e-bike fleet closed altogether but a replacement may be coming back soon following a recent announcement. Edinburgh’s Just Eat Bikes struggled with vandalism, however its closure was because it was unsustainable financially as a commercially funded fleet. Bristol’s previous dockless bikeshare fleet, YoBike, was also beset by vandalism, although it survived for several years before the company quietly withdrew in 2021. 

Part of the challenge is that the operating margins on e-bikes are lower than for e-scooters, so the operations are more financially sensitive to damage. 

Maintenance costs are also higher due to the more complex mechanism with more things that can go wrong.

Furthermore, it is easier to vandalise an e-bike than it is an e-scooter as e-bikes tend to have more visible moving parts while e-scooters are almost a sealed box.

Some places have made it work however. London’s Lime bikes are going from strength to strength, while Glasgow’s fleet is also doing well, as are several others around the UK.

It is notable that no UK e-scooter fleet has reported significant vandalism so far. While e-scooters and dock-based bikeshare no doubt do suffer from vandalism and malicious damage from time to time, it appears that sustained vandalism, to levels which can cause schemes to close suddenly, is a problem that is predominantly suffered by dockless bicycles here.

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