Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Brompton Dock: best bike hire solution yet

For some time Suffolk Bike Aid by its participation in the Halesworth Bicycle Team has been trying to entice an entrepreneur to establish a cycle hire scheme in Halesworth. There are several potential sites on the Millennium Green or just off the pedestrian-friendly Thoroughfare. Ideally we'd like to see this facility at the train station for business and recreational visitors alike.

WIth easy access by train, loads of interesting independent shops, quiet backroads leading to delightful pubs and a variety of nearby attractions inland and on the coast, which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Halesworth is the ideal base for a cycling holiday in Suffolk's gentle expansive landscape.

Halesworth also has a 1.5 km cycle path across its Millennium Green which makes up part of National Cycle Route 1, the 20 km Halesworth Wheel route, guided cycle rides by Sustrans volunteers, cyclist-friendly B&Bs and cafes, Huggy's Bike Shop and not least of all our Bike Aid network.

At a sustainable transport conference in October Bike Aid came across the well spoken Harry Scrope and the Brompton Dock cycle hire concept. 

We've always been a big fan of Bromptons but ride a cheaper Dahon ourselves because of the more accessible price. The price of a new or secondhand Brompton fairly reflects though, in case you don't know, that it is a stupendously well-engineered bit of kit made in England by craftsmen. It folds down to become one of the smallest on the market yet unfolded it barely compromises on any aspect of riding performance.

Folding bikes can be carried in the boot of a car or in a boat and taken on buses and trains as luggage whereas, with Greater Anglia's new cycle policy, full-size bikes and so their own hire bikes cannot. You can fold a Brompton to put it under a desk and keep it safe. A rigid bike needs a lock and racks or shelter. Folding bikes extend Suffolk's sparse public transport into the furthest corners and so encourages ridership on all forms of sustainable transport.

A folding bike also has many advantages as a rental bike because it takes up less room to store them in an enclosed cabinet that protects them from the elements and vandalism. We reckon the visitor to Suffolk that hires a Brompton folding bike would be more likely to use it and retain it for longer as they can carry it and store it wherever they go.
Harry gave a very convincing pitch on how the Brompton Dock beats the 'Boris Bike' model and told us we would need £25,000 to install the solar-powered rental station and stock it with bikes, incidentally about the same cost as an automatic ticket machine at a railway station. Tech blog Bike Radar rode a Brompton Dock in Manchester and was more than positive. It concluded "the Brompton Dock really does the have the revolutionary potential to make cycling integrated with many other forms of transport a realistic option for millions."

Brompton Dock scheme being unveiled in Warrington

A Brompton Dock facility can produce huge savings on staff transport costs for their sponsors and many have returned a profit for borough councils. Even after Barclays cough up £5 million in sponsorship, the Boris Bikes lose £8 million a year. Harry cited the Whittington Hospital as one case study saving a fortune on taxi fares by offering its staff free Bromptons stored at docks across their facilities.

The Brompton Dock costs the hirer a very reasonable £2.50 per day with an annual subscription of £20 or alternatively £5 per day with a £1 subscription. Businesses get discounts for staff schemes too. Harry cited an impressive rate of conversion but many customers sign up straight away at the higher rate, such is the consumers' faith in the product.

By our reckoning hiring a Brompton as needed is competitive with ownership on hire purchase and avoids any storage and maintenance headaches. On that score, we think the Brompton is less trouble to maintain than many others folders and rigid bikes we've ridden, so it can survive hire use perfectly well.

Therefore, against such a useful model, it is disappointing to learn that Greater Anglia's cycle hire scheme rolling out in East Anglia will cost its users £10 per day. 

Suffolk Bike Aid reckons as soon as someone installs a Brompton Dock nearby, Cycle Station hire bikes will have to plummet in cost or will sit unused. That could impact the additional services of the Cycle Point repair schemes Greater Anglia have promised. Unless the parent company Abellio acts soon, this will hurt the reputation of bike hire and cycling as a public transport investment. Bike Aid would like to suggest to Greater Anglia they install Brompton Docks at their rural stations and naturally Halesworth would be the ideal place for a pilot project.

Who would have thought that a British company can go one better than the Dutch on cycling but that's innovation and progress.

Vandalised Velib in Paris Photo: Luc Legay

As far as we know Abellio don't plan to provide cycle hire in Halesworth anytime soon so if someone else wants to put one near a station with 73,000 rail passengers per year, please get in touch and we can discuss what inducements could be available. There would certainly be support from a number of regional and national cycling bodies and organisations in the town.

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