It's been a rocky road at times, but the first year of public cycle scheme Nextbike has been a pretty successful one (as evidenced by the emerging business award it was handed by the Sustainable Business Network last night) and, to celebrate, it is extending its Auckland network to include the North Shore, an area that Nextbike's marketing and sales manager Glenn Shaw says is not particularly well-endowed with outdoor advertising opportunities.
The Nextbike scheme fell foul of city transport committee chairman Ken Baguley earlier this year, because he believed the bikes were rarely used and their main purpose was for advertising.
“[Nextbike] is a nice idea – but these things need to be off the footpath, and it’s a pretty cheap way of just getting a whole lot of advertising on to the footpath,” Baguley told the Herald.
Cyclists had apparently complained about how the Nextbikes were dominating the city's rather limited number of bikeracks, so Nextbike owner Julian Hulls agreed to remove 69 of the 170 bikes around the city in April. Understandably, he then asked the council to allocate $149,000 to build 149 more bike racks in the city, but that idea has since fallen into the Super City quagmire.
Shaw says it hasn't culled its fleet, but to tow Baguley's line, 40 of the Nextbikes in Auckland will now be spread across 15 on-street rental locations (from Akoranga Bus Station to Smales Farm Business Park and bus station and central Takapuna) on the North Shore as part of a six month trial. And the major difference, Shaw says, is that the North Shore council are totally supportive of the scheme and hope to carry it on in the future.
Public bike initiatives are already well established overseas and there are many supporters of the scheme here, primarily because it is seen as promoting a healthy and environmentally friendly form of public transport. To date Shaw says 135 major cities around the world have public bike infrastructure, the largest being ‘Velib’ in Paris with 20,000 public bikes. London has just launched 6000 bikes in time for the Olympics, Montreal has 3000, Brisbane is installing 2000 bikes and Melbourne has 600.
Of course, unlike many of these cities, the three speed cruiser style bikes have to negotiate a few hills in Auckland, but Shaw says the riding figures have been very good so far and much higher than what both Baguley and many others would imagine. At the peak of summer, there were 650 rides a month across the fleet, which equates to an average of over two-and-a-half hours per bike per day. During winter, there were 200 rides a month and the average time was down to 45 minutes per bike per day.
"The average time in Europe is two hours. So we were pretty happy with those numbers in its first year," Shaw says.
The membership base in Auckland is also on the rise, up from 900 at the end of last year to 2200, an increase of over 150 percent in the last year. The first 30 minutes of riding everyday is free, then it costs $4 per hour up to a maximum of $16 per 24 hours. There is no cost to join and once riders have registered their phone number and credit card at the website, they can rent a bike by calling to get the code for the lock.
Not surprisingly, Shaw says the company is looking forward to the Rugby World Cup, and it plans to have 250 bikes on the streets during the tournament. He says the company is also close to cementing a deal to set up the scheme in Wellington, but after the quake, plans for Christchurch have obviously been pushed back.
Over 50 percent of all public rentals are provided for free, something made available to the public thanks to the on-bike marketing partners. Brands that got on board last season included Hubbards, Monteith's, Open Polytechnic, Resene, Contact Energy, New World, Yealands and ARTA, Ecostore, Auckland City Hotel. And many of them leveraged their advertising with the promotional riding credits to give to their customers for rewards, use Nextbikes for events and public promotional activities, such as a vehicle for mobile sampling activity, or for transport or brand exposure at public events.