E-bike scheme peddled to Brisbane council ‘would have cost a bomb’

“The proposal that was put forward … would have cost a bomb. [It] would have cost a bomb to introduce electric bikes into the existing CityCycle scheme.

“So, it was, effectively: ‘You want electric bikes? Fine. Millions and millions upon millions to do that.'”

A council report submitted to the December 3 council meeting noted JCDecaux’s original proposal to replace CityCycle with e-bikes required the council to pay “significant” capital costs.

The council considered terminating the CityCycle contract early, but with 10 years still to run, the estimated costs would be too high, according to council documents.

In July, JCDecaux offered to end the CityCycle contract and remove the bikes and docking stations. In exchange, the company would retain until 2031 the 200 advertising panels that funded the program, and extend a separate bus advertisement contract until 2031.

“This variation supports council achieving the most advantageous outcome for residents and visitors to Brisbane by leveraging the holistic relationship it has with JCDecaux,” the council report said.

More than 1150 council buses will be wrapped in advertisements under the agreement.

After multiple complaints the new wraps will be lighter, enabling passengers to see outside.

Opposition leader Jared Cassidy said the council’s arrangements with JCDecaux were “probably the worst deal I have ever seen this council make”, and that CityCycle had cost ratepayers an average of $4520 a day since its launch.

“Instead of forcing JCDecaux to make CityCycles more user-friendly and accessible, they are simply giving up,” Cr Cassidy said.

The council’s financial costs and revenue under the revamped agreement with JCDecaux were redacted as commercial-in-confidence in the council documents.

CityCycle has operated in Brisbane for 10 years, racking up just 4 million trips before the emergence of e-scooters led to usage of the bicycles crashing within two years. E-scooters clocked more than 3.5 million trips since arriving in Brisbane in November 2018.

Cr Schrinner said the council’s decision to go back to market for a cheaper dockless e-bike scheme was “the right thing and the responsible thing”.

He said a new e-bike scheme, without docking stations, would potentially create revenue from operator permits rather than the council subsidising CityCycle for another decade.

The scheme cost council $16.5 million since its inception, after then-lord mayor Campbell Newman promised it would be cost-neutral with JCDecaux funding the bikes through advertising furniture across the city.

Greens councillor Jonathan Sri questioned the advertising agreement, saying a council report detailing the contractual changes “really [does] highlight what a dodgy deal the City of Brisbane got in terms of this agreement”.

In November, public and active transport committee chairman Ryan Murphy said the council had not been able to “change everything that we would have liked with the contract” but the new agreement was an “excellent deal for ratepayers”.

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E-bike too pricey? Dance lets you subscribe to one instead

Dance, launched by SoundCloud founders Eric Quidenus-Wahlforss and Alexander Ljung along with their friend Christian Springub, announced on October 22 that it raised 15 million euros ($17.8 million) in its Series A funding round to bring its e-bike subscription service to Berlin.

Dance founders (from left) Christian Springub, Eric Quidenus-Wahlforss, and Alexander Ljung

Dance’s vision of an e-bike subscription service differs from shared micromobility startups. “You get access to your own vehicle, so you’re not part of a shared pool,” says Quidenus-Wahlforss. “If it gets stolen, if it breaks down, if there’s any problems with it, then we’re there for you.” Through the accompanying app, users can schedule repairs, get their stolen e-bike replaced (for free), and manage their subscription, which costs 69 euros ($82) per month, though Dance is offering an introductory pilot price of 59 euros ($70). With SoundCloud, Quidenus-Wahlforss says, “we were part of the whole transition from owning music to renting music. . . . We think something similar could happen here.”

When you first sign up for Dance, your e-bike will be delivered to your door (in Berlin, that delivery will be via a cargo e-bike, not a truck), and you’ll get a three-day trial to test it out. Users can also cancel their subscriptions any time. The founders hope their price point makes e-bikes more accessible to everyone, without also clogging up streets with shared vehicles.

“We’ve seen an explosion of shared micromobility, where you have on-demand scooters and bikes available in many cities. And there is now some amount of chaos going on there, and there’s some consolidation,” he says. “One of the things we realized is that as a commuter, you still really want access to your own vehicle for a few reasons. It’s accessibility, that you have your vehicle whenever you need it, but also price, [where] using shared vehicles all the time is way too costly for people.” The average cost of an e-bike in Europe is about 2,000 euro ($2,374). Bike share prices range, with a Citi Bike membership in New York costing $179 a year, and Lime bikes and scooters charging a per-minute fee.

Dance first launched in Berlin in June and has since been running an email-only pilot program there with a “couple hundred” customers and bikes it has acquired from small e-bike companies, Quidenus-Wahlforss says. This funding, he says, will help them continue the research and development for their e-bike, software, and app. The startup is designing its own vehicle, which it hopes to launch some time next year. That bike will be equipped with a smart lock, and Quidenus-Wahlforss says they’re thinking a lot about anti-theft measures and the longevity of their e-bikes, since they will have to own and maintain their fleet.

While Dance is starting in Berlin, Quidenus-Wahlforss says the company has “global ambitions” and sees e-bikes as the future not only because of the pandemic but because of the climate crisis. “We think cities need to transform. The vision of the future we really believe in looks more like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, places where more than 50% of people commute regularly by bike,” he says. “We want to build a connected movement that is all about this transformation.”

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