Think city hire bikes and chances are that London's now Santander-sponsored scheme comes to mind, but Dublin got their first, in 2009.

‘Hire scheme has been key to making Dublin bike friendly’

In April, city bike hire scheme dublinbikes hit a ten million journeys milestone, which is not just an impressive statistic by itself, but also sign of how it’s popularity continues to climb as it expands over the years – it took a year for it to hit one million journeys.

Even having said that, dublinbikes (officially Coca-Cola Zero dublinbikes) actually exceeded expectations and a mini-expansion was immediately required to meet demand soon after it launched. Now there are 101 docking stations and 1,500 bikes in action in the popular scheme.

“In global terms the scheme is relatively small but it is also an extremely busy scheme that has now become an additional public transport option that people rely on,” Dublin City Council’s Michael Rossiter tells BikeBiz.

“The main challenges are managing the daily demand for service and meeting expectations for future expansion. There is a continuing demand to expand the catchment of the scheme to cover a wider geographical area. There has been a significant level of interest from individuals, residents associations and businesses located in various parts of the city requesting that the bike scheme be expanded to serve their particular locality.

“A big challenge is to develop a sustainable long term funding model that will facilitate the expansion and continued growth of the scheme into the future, in particular bearing in mind that to date this civically focused scheme has been provided by Dublin City Council at a cost neutral basis to the city for use by its citizens.”

Few in the cycle industry would deny more people on bikes is a good thing, even if they aren’t using bikes bought from their store or from their brand, but there’s a school of thought that city hire bikes bring about a culture change and result in more people on bikes in general, not just on hire bikes.

Rossiter subscribes to that view: “Anecdotally I feel a lot of people have come back to cycling after years of absence after becoming members of the scheme. They can see the benefits of cycling for quick and efficient travel around the city. Since the introduction of the scheme in 2009 and due in part to the high visibility of Coca-Cola Zero dublinbikes, it has become normal to cycle in Dublin once again.

“From speaking to bike retailers, the impression I get is that many more of the subscribers have gone further and purchased their own bikes for hobby and leisure cycling after reconnecting.”

JCDecaux Ireland runs dublinbikes on behalf of Dublin City Council and the scheme’s success is due in part to a high turnover in bike use. Average journey times are 14 minutes and as members don’t pay for journeys under 30 minutes, 96 per cent of journeys are free. The scheme covers an area of roughly nine square kilometres in the heart of the city, with bike stations located close to civic amenities and attractions as well as where people live and work (a point that former Lord Mayor of Dublin expanded on to me when we spoke in 2011).

The Council says that a diverse range of people use the bikes, from students to business people. There are around 60,000 members now, a huge leap from 36,000 before expansion in 2014.

Rossiter believes the hire scheme truly has been a key driver in making the city more bike friendly: “Dublin’s bike culture has flourished in recent years as increasing numbers of workers, visitors and students opt for the convenience of pedal power. Greater investment by Dublin City Council is leading to the provision of better facilities and more and more people are returning to the bike as an inexpensive, efficient and environmentally-friendly mode of public transport. Dublin is swiftly becoming a cycling city and the Coca-Cola Zero dublinbikes scheme has been one of the biggest drivers in making this possible, helping to normalise cycling as a formal means of transport.”

There’s a longer-term 14 phase expansion planned for the Coca-Cola Zero dublinbikes scheme designed on the principle of incremental phased expansion from the city core, locating bike stations at a frequency of 350-500 metres apart. This will provide a capacity of 5,000 bikes and approximately 300 bike stations throughout the city.

There’s more on changing attitudes to cycling in Ireland here.

This article was originally published in December’s BikeBiz mag as part of our Regional Spotlight on Ireland and Northern Ireland. You can read the whole issue online, for free. If you’re in the bicycle trade then you can get BikeBiz magazine through the post for free.

In other news...

Danish software company Bikedesk expands to UK, aims to streamline bike store experience

Off the back of unprecedented success in Denmark, Bikedesk has announced it is expanding into …