Bike share operator nextbike is temporarily removing its OVO Bikes schemes from the streets of Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan after months of vandalism, thefts and threats against its team in Cardiff.
And nextbike – who had to hire a private investigation firm to help the situation – have warned that 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, 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.
In that time, riders have covered a staggering 3 million km – meaning the scheme has prevented 351 tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere – which is the equivalent of planting almost 16,000 trees.
But since that date, 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.
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 has been working closely with Cardiff Council and South Wales Police in an attempt to solve the problem but to no avail.
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.
“The team is made up of local people who live and work in Cardiff and Vale,” said Ms
Solheim. “It is totally unacceptable that they should be treated in this way. Our schemes
employ 17 local people – that’s 17 people who will be out of a job if we’re forced to withdraw the schemes. This cannot be allowed to happen.”
Inspector Darren Grady, from South Wales Police, said: “Nextbike is an excellent facility
which allows residents and visitors to travel around Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan in a convenient and environmentally-friendly manner.
“The minority who steal or vandalise these bikes ruin the facility for others and we are
committed to working with nextbike and the local authority to continue clamping down on this mindless behaviour.
“Abuse of nextbike employees, theft and vandalism will not be tolerated and our
Neighbourhood Policing Teams are extremely proactive in arresting those responsible.
“In the city centre alone, nine people have recently been convicted at court for such offences resulting in prison sentences, fines and community work.
“We look forward to seeing the bikes back on the streets soon and we appeal to the
community to help protect the scheme when it returns.”
Cllr Caro Wild, Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Transport at Cardiff Council, said: “This mindless vandalism has to stop and we will be working closely with nextbike and the police to ensure that when the bikes do return in the New Year, additional safeguards are put in place to catch the small number of people that are putting the scheme is jeopardy.
“It is completely unacceptable for a small number of people to take these bikes away from other residents in the city. These bikes are really important for many people in Cardiff to get to work, go to the shops, or visit family and friends.”
Cllr Peter King, Vale of Glamorgan Council Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services
and Transport, said: “Active travel forms an important part of the Council’s approach to
reducing carbon emissions following the climate emergency we declared in 2019.
“The bikes are simple to use and their modest tariffs compare favourably with the cost of
travelling by car, bus or train.
“They can help improve the health and wellbeing of visitors and residents so we hope to see them back on the streets soon.”
Ms Solheim added: “We really want the Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan schemes to continue. We are currently recruiting for roles within the scheme, so it is certainly not our intention to close the schemes if we can avoid it, but we need to see a drastic change in people’s behaviour for the schemes to remain viable. We will be continuing to install additional electric stations throughout the shutdown, which will add more density in Cardiff and extend the electric scheme beyond Penarth in the Vale.”