Cardiff’s bike-sharing scheme could be abandoned if vandalism and threats to staff don’t stop, nextbike has warned.
After establishing in Cardiff in 2018 nextbike, which runs the popular OVO Bikes scheme in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan, has been forced to suspend the bikes due to the unsustainable criminal activity aimed at the firm.
While nextbike has pulled in almost 136,000 customers with more than 1.2million trips being provided since launch, the company has had to deal with the theft of more than 300 bikes and a further 260 cases of vandalism resulting in machines being scrapped.
The company said 130 of the stolen bikes have been taken since August this year, while vandalism has included bikes being set on fire, snapped in half, and dumped in rivers.
Nextbike, who have hired a private investigation firm to try to reduce the impact of the thefts and vandalism, said this represents more than half of Cardiff’s 1,030-strong fleet of bikes.
UK managing director, Krysia Solheim, said: “The amount of vandalism and theft that we have seen is simply staggering and not something we’ve experienced to the same extent anywhere else in the UK.”
“Our teams simply cannot keep up with the level of damage and theft being carried out.”
“It’s a very small minority causing most of the damage. We’ve identified the groups responsible and are working with the police and local authorities to engage with them to deter such behaviour in the future. The private investigation firm we recently tasked with monitoring our bike docks in the Cardiff area, successfully recovered 16 lost/stolen bikes over a two-day period. They were shocked by the behaviours they witnessed.”
Aside from the vandalism, some of Nextbike’s 17 local workers have also been subjected to abuse and attacks when trying to recover the bikes, with one employee being urinated on, while another was chased with a shovel when trying to take back a bike.
While the scheme has been temporarily suspended, Solheim said they hope to make the bikes operational again early next year.
Inspector Darren Grady, from South Wales Police, said: “Nextbike is an excellent facility, which allows residents and visitors to travel around Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan in a convenient and environmentally-friendly manner.
“The minority who steal or vandalise these bikes ruin the facility for others and we are committed to working with nextbike and the local authority to continue clamping down on this mindless behaviour.
“Abuse of nextbike employees, theft and vandalism will not be tolerated and our Neighbourhood Policing Teams are extremely proactive in arresting those responsible.
“In the city centre alone, nine people have recently been convicted at court for such offences resulting in prison sentences, fines and community work.
“We look forward to seeing the bikes back on the streets soon and we appeal to the community to help protect the scheme when it returns.”
Solheim added: “While it points to a wider social issue, we cannot let this small minority ruin it for the tens of thousands of loyal OVO Bike customers we have in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. We know the vandalism has affected the service for our customers, especially over the last few months, and we’d like to apologise for this because we know people rely on the scheme to get around.
“We’ve always seen our bike share schemes as belonging to the local community – and when the fleets are relaunched, we’ll need the community’s support more than ever. We need people to be our eyes and ears, and to report damage, abandoned bikes or suspicious activity whenever they see it.
“The bikes will be back on the streets early next year, but if vandalism and theft continue at this rate, we will have no other choice but to pull the scheme permanently or significantly reduce the current network.”
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Councillor Peter King, the cabinet member for neighbourhood services and transport at the Vale of Glamorgan Council, said: “Active travel forms an important part of the Council’s approach to reducing carbon emissions following the climate emergency we declared in 2019.
“The bikes are simple to use and their modest tariffs compare favourably with the cost of travelling by car, bus or train.
“They can help improve the health and wellbeing of visitors and residents so we hope to see them back on the streets soon.”