Bath's 'Bladud' Bikes - a hire scheme before its time?

[I started this post back in March]

News reaches me via @katie_monk on Twitter that “Word on the street is that the bike scheme might be getting scrapped because the bikes are getting vandalised. Boo hiss!

It would indeed be a shame for the scheme to close… or would it?

It was funded with EU Civitas money, implemented by Bicincitta (an Italian company), and launched last year with no little amusement at the (initially) badly-translated web site and frustration at (and, in one case, concern at the security of) the sign-up process, which was said to be extremely awkward, and lacking the casual-use flexibility of the much-larger “Boris Bikes” scheme in London; a scheme that, although better technically than the Bladud Bikes, still work out as the most expensive bikes in the world.

The relative paucity of hire locations and their limited geographical spread is also a problem. Hire stations just outside the centre of the city (Widcombe, Oldfield Park, Westmoreland, Julian Road etc.) would have provided more opportunities for people to make use of the bikes for simple utility trips.

Now, in late May, the bikes are now gone from outside the Holburne Museum. This is for one of two three reasons: 1. there’s been a sudden and unexpected increase in the attractiveness for cycling of Bath’s streets; or 2. the project, as predicted, has been canned; or 3. The bikes were moved for yesterday’s Olympic Torch Relay.

It is no great surprise if the project has been canned but it seems a shame not to extend the trial through the peak tourist months of summer, especially as the scheme was launched late.

Ultimately, though, this would just be life-support for a zombie scheme that failed because, as David Hembrow wrote about London’s Boris Bikes, lack of bikes isn’t the problem:

The problem is not a lack of bikes, but that Londoners in the main don’t cycle because conditions for cycling in London, as with the rest of the UK, are terrible when you compare them with Dutch cities. Londoners are scared to cycle, and it’s quite obvious why. This problem cannot be resolved by making fractionally more bikes available. – http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2010/08/most-expensive-bikes-in-world.html

People do cycle in Bath, but many more would if conditions were made better by providing more protected, prioritised cycle tracks and other means of segregation without segregation (e.g. selective/filtered permeability). Providing a cycle hire scheme before the road conditions are tackled is stupid at best and criminally irresponsible at worst.

We may thank the lack of ease-of-use of the Bladud Bikes for the low take-up; who would wish to cycle in an unfamiliar city where the roads are so clogged with cars? The two enjoyable, motor-free facilities that we do have (the Kennet and Avon canal path and the Railway Path) are off-limits to the hire bikes due to restrictions put into the terms of use.

The Riverside Path only goes to the Railway Path so it’s not much use on its own, and the path near Spring Gardens in Widcombe is technically not a shared use facility.

The sad thing is that, with the right road conditions, bike hire like the Bladud Bikes can be a useful thing to have in a small, compact city like Bath. I fear that, due to the cart-before-horse nature of this particular scheme, we will never see another, better scheme in the future.