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Many of today’ sustainable cities have implemented policies and ways to include sustainable transport, especially diverse modes for the everyday person as mentioned in Alan Wann’s lecture. Cities such as Munich and Copenhagen have refocused from a transport association to a mobility association, taking in new ways of mobility including park and ride, bike and ride, car share and bike rental schemes, we also see this slowly being integrated in UK systems as written by Beatley (2003). However, how sustainable are Public Bike schemes?

Mobikes in Newcastle (Mobike, n.d.)

What seemed like a buzzing new feature in your city a year or two ago has already disappeared, especially in UK cities. Public bike hire schemes have many positives and did look like the future of sustainable transport, and why not? They are smart and sustainable, surely, they can fit into the modern-day city. As Lakhani (2011) writes, this is the cure, what saves lives by increasing physical activity, A study of the Barcelona equivalent of London’s “Boris bikes” found that short, regular cycle rides by users have reduced the number of annual deaths – despite the increased risk from accidents and exposure to air pollution, however, a reduced amount of greenhouse gas emissions. This has also been a feature in many cities across the globe during this decade, tested and tried even in China, as a desire to reduce traffic congestion.

Problems with Public Bike Schemes?

The problem regarding Public Bike Schemes is because the negatives just outweigh the positives. It just seemed like during the 2010s cities in the UK tried following this trend which worked in Asia such as Hong Kong and Singapore (Pidd, 2018), pumping in thousands of millions into these bike schemes, later to find out, most of them do not get used and the other half are vandalised (McIntyre, 2019). Well, this is what it seems like in Newcastle, having many bikes thrown into the River Tyne (Holland, 2019). The main issues that lie with these bikes are theft and vandalism. Mobike had insisted its bikes were theft and vandal-proof but Greater Manchester Police received 17 reports in the first 10 days of the scheme (BBC, 2018) this fact is enough to prove they just don’t belong in UK cities.

Mobikes fished out of the Tyne (Newcastle Chronicle, 2019)

The bikes were obviously an easy target for vandals. The sight of stray bikes dumped by canals, broken or even set on fire was becoming more and more common. This is not just the case in the UK though, Copenhagen is also facing these issues. One of the most liveable cities in Europe, facing vandalism issues with their white city bikes, and the repair workshops cannot keep up with the demand. Vandals are targeting GPS systems in all cities (CPH, 2019).

What has happened?

Now, public bike schemes pull out of cities quicker than a freight train. During the past year, ofo, oBike and Urbo became the third dockless operator to withdraw from Britain (McIntyre, 2019).  Similarly, in Newcastle with Mobike, another scheme that pulled out of the city to move to London (Holland, 2019) now Manchester has decided the same. Mobike has needed to refund all of its customer’s wallet balance. Studies show that these dockless operators just don’t work anymore, rapidly losing popularity in the UK, once covering 617km2 at their peak across the country, now only 136km2. Does this show sustainability? Manchester at one point was losing 10% of its 2,000 Mobikes each month at one point due to vandalism.

Damaged Mobike pulled from Manchester waterway (Canal and River Trust, 2019)



In the future, there could be better tracking devices on the bikes, or bikes could be locked to street furniture or just any way that would make it harder for people to throw them into rivers or canals. Or should we give up on these public bike schemes before it is too late? This is what seems to have happened in China.

China public hire bike scrapyard (Getty Images, n.d.)


BBC (2018). Crime-hit Mobike suspends Manchester sharing scheme. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].

Beatley, T. (2003). “Planning for Sustainability in European Cities: A Review of Practice in Leading Cities”. In: R. LeGates and F. Stout, ed., The City Reader, 5th ed. New York: Routledge, pp.448 – 457.

Canal and River Trust (2019). A damaged Mobike pulled from a Manchester waterway.. [image] Available at: [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].

CPH (2019). Copenhagen city bikes struck by wave of vandalism. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].

Getty Images (n.d.). A crane unloads shared bikes from trucks in Xiamen. [image] Available at: [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].

Holland, D. (2019). Mobike is pulling all of its bikes out of Newcastle and Gateshead. Chronicle Live. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].

Lakhani, N. (2011). Bike rental schemes ‘saving lives in cities’. Independant. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Dec. 2019].

Mobike (n.d.). Mobikes expands across Newcastle. [image] Available at: [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].

Newcastle Chronicle (2019). Mobikes being dragged out of the tyne by the Port of Tyne Clearwater. [image] Available at: [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].

Pidd, H. (2019). Mobike pulls out of Manchester citing thefts and vandalism. The Guardian. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].

2 responses to “Public Bike Schemes do not work…?”

  1. Andrew, an interesting read, thank you.

    However, I disagree with your statement ‘Public Bike Schemes Do Not Work’. I think the vandalism of the bikes described in your post stem from the design and implementation of the schemes themselves, rooted in their lack of integration within the cities in which they are placed combined with the huge amounts of flexibility they offer. These schemes have been introduced into city centres which don’t require any transportation to move around, due to their compact nature causing the service provided to become defunct as its target user group prefer to walk and therefore the system is subject to a higher percentage of vandalism per use.

    With more than 11500 bikes and over 750 docking stations in London [1] Santander cycles offer an easy and convenient method of sustainable transport in a city where owning your own bicycle isn’t always feasible. Figures show that in London the number of Santander Cycle rides per year is on a general trend increase, with nearly 11 million rides for the last year, up from around 7 million rides when the scheme was introduced in 2011, showing that in fact, public bike schemes do work [2].

    I think the issues facing companies such as ofo, oBike etc. are caused by their lack of structure to how they should be used, with rides being able to be terminated in any publicly accessible place. Santander cycles must be returned to their docking station, making them more secure, easier to trace and therefore more sustainable to manage and maintain. Meaning the provider is then able to reduce resource on locating lost bikes and rather improve the service provided to customers. Perhaps being part of Transport for London, and therefore owned by the government also makes so called ‘Boris-Bikes’ a more sustainable model for casual bicycle hire as it is fully integrated within the models for development of the city at an integral, local authority level.

    I agree that private companies offering cheap and extremely flexible bicycle hire through a blanket model which is easily applicable to many cities, do not work. But in larger cities where their presence is more integrated, considered and less transient, they provide a freer and more flexible alternative to often hot, unreliable and overcrowded public transport.


    [1] Transport for London | Every Journey Matters, ‘Find a Docking Station’, Transport for London, accessed 2 January 2020,
    [2] ‘Santander Cycles’, in Wikipedia, 25 December 2019, accessed 2 January 2020,

  2. Thank you, Andrew, for voicing a very frustrating topic.

    As urban designers we always talk about the benefits of cycling and the positive effects it has on the environment, our cities connectivity and our own health. However, when an amazing initiative is implemented in our cities, allowing us to reap all the benefits of cycling without having to fork out the upfront cost of a bike – we, the public are the people to ruin it. It’s a very frustrating situation. However, I still feel positive about the ability of a public bike share scheme and with the correct level of exposure, education and price, I believe we can look forward to an increased amount of cycling in the UK. We also can’t ignore the incredibly positive effects that bike schemes have had, 13% of people began cycling and 37% increased the amount they cycle because of the Bike Plus scheme [1].

    I understand how it can seem almost impossible to believe that public bike schemes can work, but if we give up then how can we ever improve the sustainability of our transport options? If we don’t support these schemes then we face a harsh reality of never moving forward and the abolishment of bike schemes altogether, ruining it for all the people who do rely on them for their daily commute.

    If vandalism is an issue, this anger must be rooted in another issue and merely expressed on these bikes. There must be a deeper problem which must be solved – perhaps by education, reduction in rental price or activities to prevent boredom of criminals. We wouldn’t stop putting up walls because of graffiti so why should we stop our bike schemes?

    It’s useful to look at the cities where public bike share schemes have worked and provided reliable transportation to many people. For example, Portland, Oregon has GPS technology to help reduce theft, their scheme which Nike pledged $10mil in sponsorship has proven extremely successful, allowing this city to keep its sustainability reputation [2]. Or a bit closer to home, Glasgow’s Bikes for All initiative encourages people in disadvantaged communities to access bikes for an annual price of just £3. This scheme offers lessons to increase confidence levels and has proven so successful that it is now available across the entire city [3].

    The fundamental core principles of a bike share scheme, that cycling is for everyone, that anyone is entitled to a healthy, affordable and sustainable mode of transport is a good enough reason not to give up on this initiative. We can tackle transport poverty and become more sustainable, altogether and all at once.


    Andrew, L. (2017). Do public bike hire schemes work?. BBC News. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Jan. 2020]. (2020). Portland Bike Share FAQ | BIKETOWN – Portland Bike Share | The City of Portland, Oregon. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Jan. 2020].
    Renton, D. (2018). Proving bikes are for all thanks to successful cycle-share initiative. The Extra. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Jan. 2020].

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