The dublinbikes scheme was supposed to have spread out across the city by 2015. That clearly hasn’t happened.
We were supposed to be at stage 14 in a 14-stage plan by now. But phase three hasn’t begun yet, and there’s no indication that work on it will commence any time soon.
The problem is money. The council announced this month that the expansion of dublinbikes will be put on hold until it finds more.
On Your Bike
For a while now, the Department of Transport has said that it wants to quadruple the number of Dubliners cycling to work to 160,000 by 2020. How?
In 2009, the National Cycle Policy Framework aimed to create a strong cycling culture in Ireland and said it would provide public bike facilities run by local authorities to achieve this.
In 2010, Dublin City Council produced a report called the dublinbikes Strategic Planning Framework 2011-2016. Dublinbikes had been around for a while, and there was demand for expansion.
The framework laid out a plan to extend the scheme to Whitehall in the north, Terenure and Rathgar in the south, Inchicore and Drimnagh in the west and Ringsend and Sandymount in the east.
The idea was to do this in a 14-phase plan to be rolled out within five years (by 2015), providing 5,000 bikes at 300 stations around Dublin.
But, as residents of Whitehall and Rathgar will know, this never happened. Just phases 2a and 2b: the docklands and Heuston.
This is a pity, because, as the council’s report said, the expansion would “improve people’s quality of life . . . whilst simultaneously helping to alleviate congestion and infrastructural bottlenecks”.
But as Dublin City Council’s press office put it: “The realisation of this plan is subject to the identification of funding for capital costs, as well as annual maintenance costs.”
And so far, funding hasn’t been forthcoming.
How’s It Paid for Now?
At first, back in 2006, dublinbikes was set up through a contract between the council and advertising company JCDecaux.
In return for advertising space around Dublin, the company paid for the bikes and their installation, as well the first 15 years of management and maintenance. User subscription fees and service charges also helped to cover costs.
The expansion of the scheme to Heuston and the docklands was funded by a doubling of the annual subscription fee, which is now €20, sponsorship from Coca-Cola Zero, which contributes €300,000 a year, and capital funding of €5.2 million from the National Transport Authority.
The scheme now extends to 101 stations and 1,500 bikes around the city .
But there is little money left to propel it into phase three. In fact, there’s an annual shortfall of€200,000, which the council covers.
So, at the council’s Transport Strategic Policy Committee this month, it was announced by Michael Rossiter of the council’s planning department that the expansion of dublinbikes would be put on hold until more funding was secured.
The money might not be there right now, but the demand seems to be.
At local area committees, councillors often put forward motions asking for dublinbikes stands to come to their areas.
At last week’s South Central Area committee meeting, for example, Lord Mayor Críona Ní Dhlálaigh and councillors Tina MacVeigh of People Before Profit and Rebecca Moynihan of Labour supported a local campaign for a dublinbikes station near Griffith College on the South Circular Road.
“There’s a huge demand locally,” said Ní Dhálaigh, with 2,000 full-time and 3,000 part-time students in Griffith College, as well as students attending Griffith Barracks Multi-Denominational School and St Catherine’s National School.
Meanwhile, Reimagining Phibsborough has campaigned for the expansion of dublinbikes in that area.
Dorothy Smith of the group says this was partly for symbolic reasons, because Phibsborough is often neglected and forgotten about.
And it was partly for practical reasons, because the area is dominated by vehicle traffic, and, being only a short distance from the city centre, dublinbikes would offer an alternative mode of transport for commuters.
“Actually, one of the main problems people have here is they aren’t able to cross the road,” she says. “The traffic totally dominates everything.”
As she sees it, the scheme was introduced to the docklands, and Phibsborough is just as close to the city centre. There are plenty of stations along and nearby the Grand Canal, but none along the Royal Canal, she said.
She argued for a dublinbike station at Glasnevin Cemetery for the 1916 centenary, as well as a station along the Tolka Valley Greenway which, she says, has huge leisure potential for cyclists.
But when she proposed sites for dublinbikes to city council staff, the response was negative, she says.
“In every single case they said no it’s not possible,” she says. “Does that mean we will never have a dublinbikes here?”
Time for a Funding Rethink?
South Circular Road was in line to get dublinbikes stands as part of phase three of the project. But, at last week’s committee meeting, councillors were told the scheme can’t be extended ad hoc.
The council estimates that planning, designing and implementing phase three would cost between €4 million and €6 million. But it didn’t give any commitment or speculate when this might eventually happen.
Dublin City Council is looking at different funding options.
These include funding from the National Transport Authority, new pricing for membership and usage, increasing the number of subscriptions, and generating revenue through more advertising around Dublin.
“No potential source of finance has been discounted at this point,” said a spokesperson for the council’s press office. But to date, efforts have been unsuccessful, according to the council.
At the moment, annual membership of dublinbikes is set at €20. That’s cheap compared to fees charged abroad. In Paris, it’s a minimum of €29, in London it’s €115 (£90) and in New York it’s €135 ($149).
Over the summer, the council will work with the roads department to identify more sites for advertising billboards, which could provide income. It also hopes to get more money next year when the terms of dublinbikes’s sponsorship with Coca-Cola Zero are set to be renegotiated.
In Paris, the 20,000 Vélib bikes are funded in full by JCDecaux. But, according to the New York Times, this cost is covered by their control of over 1,628 billboards in the capital city.
This system is unlikely to work here. Independent councillor Mannix Flynn, who is on the transport committee, says that this funding arrangement was bound to leave the scheme short of money eventually, because Dublin has a limited amount of space to erect billboard advertisements.
Said independent councillor Paul Hand: “I don’t think that funding is very sustainable. I think there needs to be a completely new look at this.”
Many of the JCDecaux adverts contributing revenue for the scheme are in areas that haven’t benefited from dublinbikes yet, he also said.
Even without expansion, dublinbikes is probably one of the best public bike schemes in Europe, says Hand. But he’d like to see a new plan for the rolling out the scheme and more sustainable funding provided by the central government.
“In the same way Dublin Bus and the Luas gets a subvention,” he says. “If you’re taking cars off the road you’re helping the environment, so any costs of a state subvention would be more than made up for with a cleaner environment and less congestion on the roads.”
Councillors at this month’s transport committee meeting agreed. But council officials said that the National Transport Authority (NTA) will only contribute to capital costs of expansion and not annual operating costs.
A spokeswoman for the NTA says it plans to invest another €1 million toward the further expansion of the scheme to DIT’s Grangegorman campus in 2016.
Damien O’Tuama, national cycling coordinator with the Irish cycling advocacy network Cyclist.ie, and a member of the Dublin Cycling Campaign, says there are more than 1,000 public bike-sharing schemes around the world. And they use a variety of funding models.
In China, where there’s up to 100,000 public bikes in a city, the cost of infrastructure and running the scheme is completely paid for by the state. This would be unusual in Europe, O’Tuama says.
At other end of spectrum, some models are funded by private capital and operating costs are provided by a private-sector model.
Most systems are somewhere in between those two extremes, and use some sort of public-private partnership, he says. The private aspect can include advertising, sponsorship or subscriptions.
Now that there’s a shortfall of funding for dublinbikes, O’Tuama says a decision has to be made. Do we continue with the current model or try something else?
The Dublin Cycling Campaign doesn’t have strong opinions on the funding model. “Though generally we would prefer to see it state-funded,” he says.
But the campaign does have strong opinions on state investment in cycling generally.
Describing it as a smart investment, O’Tuama says the state should invest more. “It de-congests the city, which saves the city money. It improves air quality, it improves public health and there’s all these economic benefits,” he says.
The new infrastructure and capital investment programme for 2016-2021 shows the state plans to invest €9.6 billion in transport over the next six years. Only €100 million of this, or roughly 1 percent, is set aside for active travel like walking and cycling.
“If you actually want the bicycle to be an everyday part of transport that has to be 10 percent,” says O’Tuama. “Then you can actually have the government or local authorities spend on public bike schemes.”
The council expects phase three to cost €4 million to €6 million, and there are another 11 phases to come after that one. If the cost of each of those phases is about the same, the 14-stage plan would cost €48 million to €72 million.
This is a hefty sum, but to put it into perspective, the state spent €93 million on new buses for Dublin between 2014 and 2015. And Dublin City Council spent €24.5 million on road maintenance alone last year.
At the transport committee, councillor Mannix Flynn said the state should completely fund the scheme in Dublin and elsewhere as part of the national public transport system, and forget about corporate sponsorship.
But he acknowledges that problems could arise from this, as JCDecaux developed the IT systems that are in place for dublinbikes.
Another idea is to roll out another scheme, which provides secure storage spaces for people who already have bikes, he said.
Council officials were asked to outline a new timeline for dublinbikes expansion at the council’s next transport committee.