Wed 25 Jan 2012
Some time back I came up with the idea for a Cargo Bike Club™ along the lines of a City Car Club (read all about it here). Since that time it has been sitting on the back burner and a number of people have been in touch to ask what, if anything, I am doing about it. So I thought it was about time for an update. This post is based on an exchanges of e-mails I have had with interested parties.
Cargo bikes cost about £2K – £4K each and have a high resale value, so security is a bit of an issue. Therefore, having hire stations and security are the key things which are really holding me back. Funding may be less of a problem once I have a clearly laid out business plan ready. There are a range of grants and an increasing number of social enterprise funding models popping up (along the lines of kickstarter.com) which could make it possible to get off the ground.
Most cycle hire schemes use docking stations, where there is no lock on the bike, and you are expected to travel from docking station to docking station, think London, Paris, etc. This model is fine for big city wide schemes, but would be no use for something like the Cargo Bike Club™. Ideally there would be a locking system attached to the bike, which is track-able when the bike is away from its home location. So I have been looking for a suitable locking system, something like the SoBi model. SoBi started out by developing a locking system which would attach to any bike, so that people could start up their own social bike hire schemes. This sounded just the thing I need, sadly they have moved their business model to selling only whole bike systems and won’t just sell me the locking system. Deutsche Bahn have a similar locking system, with their Call a Bike scheme, but I haven’t found out yet if it is possible to buy the locking system (although I have found out how to hack the software to get unlimited free usage).
I did think of trying to get the supermarkets interested, but an earlier attempt to persuade them to provide free bike trailer hire got nowhere. Waitrose has offered this at some stores down south, but showed no interest in Edinburgh, despite a number of customers asking for it. So I thought that having residential hubs might work better, this also makes the bikes available for a wider range of uses, other than just shopping, i.e., the school run, moving flat, etc.
These residential hubs would need parking space, and I am rather hoping the proposed on-street cycle storage scheme which the City of Edinburgh Council is talking of trialling this year will provide a precedent for this. I have also thought of trying to get the Universities interested in hosting hubs near student housing.
Also, given that Edinburgh isn’t exactly flat, I also wondered about getting electric assist for the cargo bikes. There are a number of options available, so it is perfectly possible, and some users would consider it highly desirable. However, there are the obvious downsides of extra cost and the problem of battery charging. So that one requires some more thinking. Having spoken to Neil from Pronto Pedal Power about his Bullitt (my preferred choice of cargo bike, although Dutch models will also be considered), he says the gearing is low enough to manage to get about Edinburgh without electric assist, but then he rides for a living.
One way of dealing with the security issue and electric assist at the same time might be to employ a modified Copenhagen Wheel. I did try contacting MIT about this, they said they would put me on their mailing list for information and updates, and that was the last I heard from them. Well, that is design students for you, just make it look pretty and ignore real world applications.
If all else fails, we could just form a consortium, buy a couple of bikes, cut some keys and set up a Google calendar…