Santander Cycles Leicester is a new public ebike share system for the city, owned by Leicester City Council, delivered by Ride On and supported by the Department for Transport (DfT) and Santander UK. Leicester specific businesses also support the scheme as a socially inclusive, affordable, easy to use and zero emission option for active travel.
There have been three specific challenges to this scheme.
Leicester City Council has had an ambition to consider and deliver a public bike share scheme since adoption of the Cycle City Action Plan to meet Government targets in 2015. The market of bike share schemes was significantly impacted by the global bike share dockless bubble in 2017 and 2018. This created a disruption to the strategic consideration of bike share options across the UK.
Uncertainty, changing priorities and available resources have been reconsidered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Strategic plans and context have dramatically altered over the last 12 months. Evidence and assumptions have been significantly shaken.
Disruption to supply lines and uncertainty over importation and related bureaucratic processes due to Brexit have had an impact on decision-making, delivery timelines and appetite to manage operational risks.
The strategic response to the changing global bike share market was to pause, assess and re-evaluate the market response to the evident speculative bike share bubble. In this period, we were also able to secure a commercial sponsor (Santander UK) and capital support from the DfT before going out to tender in 2019.
Policy thinking has evolved with the publication of Leicester’s COVID-19 Transport Recovery Plan (2020). Anticipated need, demand and support for bike share have grown. Cycling is now recognised as one of the city’s resilience planning tools. The geography of the planned bike share scheme has been reconsidered in the light of changing demand and opportunities.
The solution to the Brexit issue is set in managing realistic expectations and operational risks that can require extended delivery timeframes.
It is too early to say what the impact of the scheme is. Cycles and docking stations first appeared on-street in January. Following initial hardware and software testing, the scheme was opened in February only for key workers making essential trips.
With the easing of lockdown restrictions, the scheme was opened to the general public on 14 April. We can report that initial membership uptake has been strong. Over 2,000 people have registered to use the scheme to date.
Following the completion of implementation of all 50 initial docking stations a formal public launch will take place during National Bike Week in early June 2021. Public response has so far been very positive, and discussions are already taking place to consider additional commercial sponsorship offers and an early expansion of the project.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The Santander Cycles Leicester project has a robust Business Plan led by Leicester City Council and shared by the key stakeholders.
The Business Plan is underpinned by a strong and clear governance structure. project meetings are held weekly with regular board meetings and decision-making processes.
Santander Cycles Leicester has well-defined social inclusion objectives. A city-wide approach and structured methodology to enable growth.
A strong team working structure of relevant and invested stakeholders has been crucial. Including representatives with leadership and decision-making abilities.
The ability to identify and find solutions to challenges in a timely manner across policy, strategy, technical and logistical issues has been important. Responding to commercial market, COVID-19 and Brexit challenges has required a robust and adaptable approach to planning this new form of public transport.
A confident and consistent vision for what we want to achieve with this project has remained constant. This has enabled us to manage the unexpected and predictable challenges as well as finding or developing solutions in this fast-paced and evolving micro-mobility sector.