BikeBiz looks at the city hire bike phenomenon and quizzes one of the newest schemes to have put the scheme to work, in Newcastle

IN DEPTH: Newcastle cycle hire – Scratch Bikes

City bike hire project have been cropping up in an increasing number of cities across the world, largely to huge degrees of success. From the Velib in Paris, to Barcelona’s Bicing, the scheme may employ slightly different methods and pay structures, but all with the basic principle of offering bikes for hire to navigate busy cities, providing an alternative to gridlocked roads and busy public transport.

It’s little wonder that cycle advocates in other cities have begun to wonder ‘why not us’? We’ve seen three such schemes spring up in the UK and Ireland within two years, including the popular dublinbikes, London’s Barclays Cycle Hire and – most recently – Newcastle’s Scratch Bikes, which offered its first hire bikes in July this year. BikeBiz speaks to Robert Grisdale, CEO of ScratchBikes to find out why the city needs its own bike hire scheme, and how the citizens of Tyne and Wear have reacted to its introduction…

What inspired the creation of the scheme?
ScratchBikes was an idea we had whilst studying Civil Engineering at Newcastle University. We had seen and used other systems across Europe and loved the concept, but wondered why they have to be so technology/infrastructure intensive – and therefore too expensive for everywhere but the largest of cities. We set about creating a much simpler solution which we launched in September 2010 at Newcastle University – and it worked.

How has it been received so far?
Despite not having all rental locations in place across the city, we have been amazed at the number of new sign ups and rides in the first week. 99.9 per cent of the feedback we have had has been very positive. People love the fact that we are providing such a flexible system that works and is so cheap to use.

Is the scheme open to sponsorship like the London hire scheme?
Yes – ScratchBikes is exclusively sponsored by Newcastle NE1 Limited for 12 months. They are the Business Improvement District company based in Newcastle [www]. We also offer digital media opportunities on our website and iPhone app.

The move to have an app from the off is innovative. How did you come up it?

Being lads in our mid-twenties, we are used to having information on the move and mobile phones are a big part of our every day lives so developing an app for our users has been on our to-do-list from the start. Many companies are now jumping on the app bandwagon, but unfortunately lots are merely image enhancing gestures which are often pretty useless to the public.

Our app genuinely makes using the system an easier and more pleasant experience. It also provides people with a more friendly way to give us feedback by suggesting new rental locations and reporting faults.

What are your aims for the scheme?
We are developing a new improved locking system which will allow us to offer other organisations, cities and towns across the world with a low cost turn-key bike sharing solution. We have just recently completed an investment deal which means that we can now move forward with the development and deploy the first scheme in Spring 2012. We see our scheme here in Newcastle as our flagship operation – our shop window. We plan to launch our new locking technology here in the next 12 months to demonstrate our new innovative system. 0843 208 1017

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