Bike share schemes drive lockdown cycling rise in Scotland

Thousands of people across Scotland’s two largest cities took up cycling during lockdown as a result of coordinated bike-sharing initiatives, funded by the Scottish Government, a new report has found.

Shared transport charity Collaborative Mobility UK (CoMoUK) said promotions in Glasgow and Edinburgh, which allowed users free time on a bicycle, sparked a ‘massive’ upturn in interest.

The scheme attracted more than 18,000 new users, resulting in a 38% increase in cycling trips recorded across the cities between June and September last year. CoMoUK’s report, A free ride to a green recovery, also hailed the impact of bike-sharing initiatives on those who took part.

Almost three-quarters experienced an improvement in their physical wellbeing, while 47% said their mental health improved. One in 10 users said they enjoyed the scheme so much they went on to buy their own bicycle.

The Glasgow and Edinburgh schemes offered the first 30 minutes of use for free, and a range of subsequent discounts to get people cycling. The initiative was funded through Paths for All’s behaviour change programme Smarter Choices, Smarter Places (SCSP) which is grant funded by Transport Scotland.

It was operated in partnership with Glasgow City Council, City of Edinburgh Council, Transport for Edinburgh and bike-share operators Nextbike and Serco. CoMoUK has now recommended bike-sharing is recognised as “an essential part of our public transport system” and urged future investment in promotions to sign more people up. It also suggested expanding bike-sharing initiatives into areas of multiple deprivation to increase connectivity and reduce inequalities.

The report added: “Bike share supports numerous key public policies, including helping to cut transport emissions, improving public health and providing lower-cost options for getting around. It removes some of the barriers to cycling including the cost of buying and maintaining a bike, and having somewhere to store one.

“It is a carbon-free way to get around, mainly used for short trips, and provides an accessible means for physical activity for many. As a result, bike share can play a crucial role in our green recovery from COVID-19.”

Lorna Finlayson, Scotland director for CoMoUK, said: “This report shows that when bike-sharing is made available and attractive, people want to take part. Thousands signed up as a result of these schemes, and the difference it made to their lives and the environment was clear.

Not only will users save money and reduce their own carbon footprint, they are also likely to experience improvements to their own physical and mental health. The benefits that await governments and councils from promoting shared transport options like this are huge – and go well beyond simply hitting environmental targets.

“Now that we have these results, it’s important to build on this evidence and ensure more people have the opportunity to use these fantastic initiatives.”

City of Edinburgh Council’s transport and environment convener, councillor Lesley Macinnes, added: “We’re delighted that so many people participated in the cycle hire scheme last year – it’s clear that these initiatives to promote the scheme opened it up to a whole new audience. During lockdown, we saw a real surge in people taking up cycling for the first time, and it’s fantastic that those who don’t own their own bike could also feel the health, social and environmental benefits of cycling during this time.

“As we look toward the end of the pandemic, we want to continue encouraging people to try out and enjoy cycling, whether that’s through hiring or buying a bike, so we remain committed to improving and investing in cycling infrastructure to make this as easy and attractive as possible.”

Stuart Douglas, Paths for All’s SCSP manager, said: “This initiative is an excellent example of our funding being used to provide local solutions for local priorities and it’s fantastic to see that thousands of people in Glasgow and Edinburgh took advantage of it. This new report highlights that providing more opportunities that give people an alternative to the car for short journeys is not only important for the environment but also for our physical, social and mental wellbeing.

“We believe that active travel has an important part to play in a green recovery from Covid-19, and we’ll continue to work with our partners and Transport Scotland to make Scotland an active nation.”

George Lowder, chief executive of Transport for Edinburgh, the company behind the Edinburgh hire scheme, said: “Cycling using a bike share scheme is a healthy, sustainable and affordable way to travel and as demonstrated in today’s report, behavioural change is possible when there is access to bikes.

“We’ve seen this phenomenal growth continue in Edinburgh through 2020 and into 2021. We’re going to build on this momentum by improving our infrastructure and growing the network to meet this increasing demand, supporting Edinburgh in their commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030.”

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