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“We’re seeing real societal behavioural change”

Bolt Operations Manager John Buckley reveals how his bikeshares in Ireland are seeing some of the firm's highest e-bike utilisation rates globally.

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This is the first interview in a new Market Movers series powered by Zoba.

Name: John Buckley 

Position: Operations Manager for Ireland at Bolt 

Bolt Operations: Bolt entered the Irish market four months ago and now has a fleet of 65 e-bikes in the town of Sligo and 50 e-bikes in the town of Kilkenny. 

Despite only recently launching in Ireland, the Estonian company is already seeing some of the highest utilisation rates of its e-bikes of any market it operates in worldwide. 

Background: Buckley was previously Head of Operations at Bleeper – the first company to win a public bikeshare license in Ireland with Dublin City Council – which has more than 800 bikes and 125,000 customers.

He is now responsible for the management and supervision of all aspects of daily operations in Ireland at Bolt, with ambitious plans to double the firm’s Irish e-bike footprint from Q1 next year. 

Zag Daily: With a fleet expansion on the horizon, things must be going pretty well for your Irish operations? 

JB: “Yes, our two bikeshare schemes in Sligo and Kilkenny are our first entrance into the Irish market for Bolt in terms of micromobility and have experienced promising utilisation rates and growth.

“Sligo riders have clocked up over 65,000km on Bolt e-bikes since the pilot scheme launched in mid-June. That’s over 1,000km pedalled per bike! Now we’re seeing real societal behavioural change in Sligo because of this.” 

Zag Daily: Achieving these utilisation rates can’t have been easy. What’s made the difference to keeping the bikes in operation? 

JB: “What this really boils down to is buying a quality product that’s not going to let you down. Some operators might say ‘well I could buy two vehicles for the cost of this one vehicle’ but then you’ll end up with components that are not as good quality. Then the bike is off the road, so you’re not getting customers on that bike and your revenue is completely cut on that asset. 

“As they are e-bikes this means we have to swap batteries regularly, the benefit of this is that our staff get to carry out an inspection of the bike when swapping the battery. Our mechanics team also carries out a safety check on all bikes every 72 hours. We use our proprietary maintenance app that notifies them that these bikes and specific components need to be inspected so you’re constantly undergoing preventative maintenance to avoid the issues that could come further down the road and to be able to provide the highest quality and safest service to our customers.

“You also have to make choices around, say the tyres. In my previous job, the bikes all had pneumatic tyres and many of the maintenance issues were punctures. We’ve now reduced that completely by using solid tyres for our e-bikes at Bolt.” 

Zag Daily: Are you able to share some of your key insights on running a profitable bikeshare? 

JB: “At Bolt, we are big advocates of using data to make our operations more efficient whilst not compromising the safety of our staff or customers. 

“For example, in our Sligo operations, we have identified parking locations through heatmaps that see the highest utilisation, so have chosen these locations for our innovative charging docks. Besides providing a great parking solution, the docks will greatly improve our operational efficiency by reducing the need for Bolt’s local teams to manually swap e-bike batteries, thereby reducing the number of motor vehicles on the road. 

“Other ways to reduce costs are efficient route planning for on-street staff, and using e-cargo bikes in city centres for both battery swapping and bike rebalancing as this results in lower operating costs and means staff can move around the city more quickly.” 

Zag Daily: What does it take to build a successful partnership with local regulators? 

JB: “Understanding and listening to their concerns. Micromobility is still very much in its infancy and local regulators will naturally be risk-averse when something new is being introduced into the public realm. Having extensive local and industry knowledge as an operator will provide greater comfort and confidence for local regulators.” 

Zag Daily: How do you feel about competition in the space with other operators? 

JB: “Competition is always good provided the market can be commercially viable for all. If not then there is a real risk of it becoming a “race to the bottom” with operators eventually withdrawing from cities and that will ultimately favour no one party, be that the city, the operator, or the customer. Competition enables customers to receive the best value for money in relation to their transport needs. It also keeps operators on their feet, ensuring that they continue to innovate and provide the best service possible in order to gain and retain customers.” 

Zag Daily: What does the future of micromobility look like in your region based on what you’re seeing on the ground? 

JB: “In Ireland, e-scooters are still illegal to use in public spaces which is why we are seeing local authorities actively looking towards e-bike schemes. In the Programme for Government and the Climate Act 2021, Ireland has committed to halving our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and we are seeing this on the ground now. City centres are becoming less car-centric and priority and funding is now being given to walking and cycling infrastructure. There is now an increasing demand for additional transport options for the public, with one of the obvious choices being bike-share.” 

Zag Daily: You must have quite a lot of interaction with your customers, any memorable moments you can share? 

JB: “I must admit we’ve had some pretty demanding characters. One guy wanted a parking location literally outside his front door. When he sent us his location we found he was living down a windy lane surrounded by fields. So we had to explain to him that this is not a ‘private’ but a ‘public’ bike hire.”