Guide to cycle share schemes

The Santander Cycles bike share scheme in London is one of the best known, as well as one of the biggest in Europe
Rebecca Armstrong's picture

Guide to cycle share schemes

Cycle share schemes are popping up all over the UK, allowing users to hire bikes for short journeys and – hopefully – leave the car at home. Cycling UK digital officer Rebecca Armstrong provides a guide to what’s on offer

Reducing car dependency is necessary if we are to cut carbon emissions and air pollution. But for this to happen, viable alternatives need to be provided. Cycling is clearly one such alternative, but not everyone has access to a bike, or wants to take a cycle with them. This is where public cycle share schemes come in.

These schemes can be described as any service in which cycles are provided for multiple users. The idea is that anyone can hire a cycle to make short trips rather than use the car or bus. An example might maybe travelling to the office or a tourist destination by making the final part of your journey by hire bike after having travelled into town on the train.

The benefits are obvious. Fewer vehicles on the road means less congestion, fewer fatal collisions, reduced emissions and cleaner air. Cycling improves physical health and psychological wellbeing. It saves people money on fuel costs and also helps to normalise cycling for short journeys.

Types of schemes

There are essentially two types of cycle share schemes: docked and dockless. The most well-known example of the former is in London. Launched in 2010, this is now one of the biggest public cycle share schemes in Europe, with more than 12,000 cycles at around 800 docking stations.

Docking stations are placed at key locations around a town or city and at regular intervals in between. Cycles can be hired via an app or credit or debit card and can be picked up and dropped off at any docking station.

Benefits of docked bikes include better security, while the cycles are kept off the pavement. Drawbacks are that the stations are costly to build, require street space and are often far apart or full – although some schemes allow you to leave the cycles close to the docking station if it’s full.

A more recent addition, and addressing some of the limitations of docked bikes, are dockless schemes. These can either be located in virtual geo-fenced hubs with markings on the ground indicating where to pick up and leave the bikes, or ‘free-floating’ schemes using smart bikes which allow the cycles to be dropped off at any location within the scheme’s boundaries.

These schemes require users to download the relevant app to their smartphones. You find the hubs or individual bikes using the app and ‘unlock’ it to use the bike.

Drawbacks

Many schemes are starting to use e-cycles, allowing for longer journeys in shorter journey times and opening up the service to more people, while some schemes are offering e-cargo bikes allowing people to transport goods. However, one major criticism of all schemes is that they currently only provide two-wheeled bicycles.

The schemes are also only in larger towns and cities. Arguably, they would be just as useful for people living in more rural areas – or even more so.

Diversifying both the cycles on offer and the locations covered would make these schemes more accessible for many more people.


A man carrying a small boy in a hired e-cargo bike in Manchester
Cargoroo offers e-cargo bikes for hire in Manchester

What’s on offer

There is a variety of these schemes around the UK, run by many different operators. Below we round up what’s currently available. Prices and how to access the bikes vary according to the scheme, so do check the websites for each.

Belfast Bikes

What

An app-based scheme provided by nextbike. The bikes are picked up from and returned to any of the docking stations in the city. There are pay-as-you-ride or casual or annual membership options.

Where

Belfast.

Beryl

What

This dockless scheme has 2,474 bikes, e-cycles and e-scooters at various locations in England. Users access the bikes via an app and there’s a three-tier pricing system: one-off trip, day pass, or minutes bundle to use as needed.

Where

Beryl runs in Bournemouth, Bovington, Christchurch, Poole and Wool, Dorset; Greater Manchester; Hereford; Cowes, East Cowes, Newport, Ryde, Sandown and Shanklin on the Isle of Wight; Norwich, Norfolk; Watford, Hertfordshire; and Birmingham, Coventry, Sandwell, Stourbridge, Solihull, Sutton Coldfield, Walsall and Wolverhampton in the West Midlands.

It also runs an e-cargo bike hire scheme at three locations in Hackney, east London.

Big Issue eBikes

What

A dockless e-cycle scheme which allows you to leave the bike anywhere within the operating city – so long as you park sensibly. It’s run jointly by The Big Issue and ShareBike. Payment is by a monthly subscription.

Where

Bristol, but the company has plans to roll out across the UK. The next planned location is Aberdeen, but roll-out was postponed at time of writing due to a lack of cycles.

Brompton Bike Hire

What

Hire a Brompton from a locker at locations across the UK, many at train stations, and return it to any locker. The scheme is accessed via an app and unlike other schemes mentioned here, you keep the bike for 24 hours or longer.

Where

More than 70 docks across the UK, from Exeter to Elgin, and even one on Jersey.

BTN BikeShare

What

This docked scheme can be accessed via web or app. You can pay and locate the stations using either, meaning you don’t need a smartphone. Simply enter your account details on your pre-booked bike to unlock it. Currently the only pricing option is pay as you go, although there are plans to offer an annual membership. The app is provided by Social Bicycles.

Where

Brighton and Hove.

Cargoroo

What

This Netherlands-based outfit is trialling e-cargo bike sharing in Manchester. The scheme is currently available in Chorlton, Whalley Range and Ancoats, initially with 25 bikes. It is accessed via an app and it’s pay as you ride only. The bike has to be returned to the same dock it was picked up from.

Where

Manchester.


A man returning a folded up Brompton to a share hub at a train station
Brompton has hubs at key locations across the UK where users can hire a bike

citybike

What

Another docked service that is both web and app based. If offers around 1,000 pedal bikes and 100 e-cycles. Payment can either be on a pay-as-you-ride basis or yearly.

Where

Liverpool.

Co Bikes

What

A not-for-profit social enterprise offering e-cycle hire. This docked scheme is operated via an app and pricing is either pay as you go for one-off shorter trips or minutes bundles. For summer only, there is the option of a day pass.

Where

Exeter, Devon.

Hirebike

What

Dockless cycles and e-cycles accessed via an app. You can either register as a casual member, with no annual subscription fee, or as an annual member.

Where

Lincoln.

HumanForest

What

Dockless e-cycles accessed via an app. Use the app to locate the nearest bike to you – within the City of London and Camden, Islington and Kensington and Chelsea boroughs. There are designated ‘green bays’ within this area (known as the Forest) where you can pick up and park your bike. Parking outside these bays incurs a fee; parking outside the Forest gets you a penalty fine.

Where

The City of London and the boroughs of Camden, Islington and Kensington and Chelsea.

Lime

What

One of the world’s largest providers of shared e-cycles and e-scooters, Lime claims to have replaced an estimated 60,000,000 car trips since 2017 worldwide. It’s dockless and again requires an app. Pricing depends on which city you’re in.

Where

In the UK, Lime operates in London (e-scooters only), Manchester and Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.

OVO Bikes

What

Part of worldwide bike-sharing provider nextbikes, this app-based scheme offers both cycles and e-cycles. The bikes are picked up and dropped off at docking stations and an app is required. You can pay as you ride, monthly or annually.

Where

Glasgow, Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan.

Santander Cycles

What

This docked scheme is offered by different providers depending on location. This means you need to ensure you have the right app for whichever city you’re in. Pricing also depends on provider and location. The scheme’s first e-cycle offering is in Leicester and Santander Cycles is aiming for it to be the biggest in the UK, with 500 e-cycles across 50 locations.

Where

As well as the London scheme (provided by Transport for London), Santander Cycles is in Milton Keynes (nextbike), Leicester (Ride On), Stirling (nextbike), Swansea (nextbike) and Uxbridge (nextbike).

Tier

What

Mostly known for its e-scooter share schemes, Tier also offers e-bikes for hire from docking stations. It’s accessed via an app, and again you can either pay per ride or purchase daily or monthly passes.

Where

As well as its e-scooters in Basildon, Chelmsford and Colchester, there are e-cycle schemes in Islington, north London, and York.

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