Bike share operator nextbike is temporarily removing its rental bikes from the streets of Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan after months of vandalism, thefts and threats against its team in Cardiff.
The company says it had to hire a private investigation firm to help the situation and warns the schemes could be permanently closed down if the situation does not improve when the fleets are reintroduced early next year.
Nextbike launched its Cardiff fleet in 2018 to provide sustainable and affordable transport across the city and since then it says that, combined with the Vale of Glamorgan fleet which launched in 2020, the scheme has attracted almost 136,000 customers who have clocked up more than 1.2 million rentals across the city.
It’s worked out that in that time, riders have covered three million kilometres (nearly two million miles) – meaning the scheme has prevented 351 tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere – which is the equivalent of planting almost 16,000 trees.
But it says more than 300 bikes have been stolen – with 130 of those being taken since August this year. And 260 bikes have also been scrapped because of damage caused by vandalism, ranging from bikes being set on fire or snapped in half, to being dumped into rivers.
This represents over half of the Cardiff fleet of 1,030 pedal bikes. Damage to the Vale’s fleet of electric bikes has occurred primarily when people have returned the bikes outside of electric stations in Cardiff.
Nextbike says residents are being urged not to let the schemes follow in the footsteps of Edinburgh’s Just Eat Cycles bike share scheme, which was closed in August this year by its operator, Serco, after sustained vandalism of the fleet.
Nextbike says it has been working closely with Cardiff Council and South Wales Police in an attempt to solve the problem but to no avail, so the Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan schemes will be suspended from November 15th while nextbike looks to repair the fleet where possible and bring in additional bikes to bolster fleet numbers, ready for a relaunch early next year.
But Krysia Solheim, nextbike UK Managing Director, said if the crime rate continued after relaunch, they would have no option but to permanently close the schemes. “The amount of vandalism and theft that we have seen is simply staggering and not something we’ve experienced to the same extent anywhere else in the UK,” she said. “Our teams simply cannot keep up with the level of damage and theft being carried out.
“We are temporarily removing bikes while we repair those that can be repaired and investigate what safeguards are in place around our bike stations – for example CCTV and street lighting – and how this can be improved.
“We will be readjusting the network to move stations to safer areas where needed. We will also be providing our staff with body cameras for their own protection.
“Our schemes help to reduce congestion and CO2 emissions, so it’s especially heartbreaking to be doing this during COP26, when the eyes of the world are on the UK as leaders look to agree on climate change solutions. Cardiff Council, Vale of Glamorgan Council, South Wales Police and our sponsor, OVO Energy have been incredibly supportive partners throughout this difficult time and, with their help, we’re also looking at ways of engaging with the wider community to help us prevent the problems.
“It’s a very small minority causing most of the damage. We’ve identified the groups responsible and are working with the police and local authorities to engage with them to deter such behaviour in the future. The private investigation firm we recently tasked with monitoring our bike docks in the Cardiff area, successfully recovered 16 lost/stolen bikes over a two-day period. They were shocked by the behaviours they witnessed.
“While it points to a wider social issue, we cannot let this small minority ruin it for the tens of thousands of loyal OVO Bike customers we have in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. We know the vandalism has affected the service for our customers, especially over the last few months, and we’d like to apologise for this because we know people rely on the scheme to get around.
“We’ve always seen our bike share schemes as belonging to the local community – and when the fleets are relaunched, we’ll need the community’s support more than ever. We need people to be our eyes and ears, and to report damage, abandoned bikes or suspicious activity whenever they see it.
“The bikes will be back on the streets early next year, but if vandalism and theft continue at this rate, we will have no other choice but to pull the scheme permanently or significantly reduce the current network.”
Ms Solheim said nextbike staff had even been threatened when trying to recover bikes. Recent incidents have included an employee being urinated on and another being chased by someone with a shovel when trying to recover a bike.
(Picture – nextbike)