Wheels Come Off Nextbikes


Auckland’s public bike hire service, Next Bikes, is suspended from tonight.
NextBike’s Julian Hulls said it was with a “heavy heart” that Nextbikes were coming off the streets today.
“After 3 years of running the operation, as an advertiser funded service, we’ve come to a point where we can no longer sustain the business in its current format.”

On June 2, he presented options to Auckland City Council’s transport committee on how the business could survive.
His preferred option was that Nextbike continues to use the 101 racks in the current operating agreements, but that the council install 149 additional racks. The additional bikes would also have advertising on them but he estimated that number was needed to make the service profitable.
He didn’t get what he wanted.
A month later, a report from the council officers had continued to raise the council’s concern about the amount of signage that accompanies such a public bike hire scheme and the issue of parked bikes blocking pedestrian access.
The committee requested council officers to work with Nextbike to “further explore the methods for advertising that better aligns with the council’s goals regarding achieve a quality street environment that is pedestrian focused and keeps the signage in the street to a minimum.”
The council decided Nextbikes had to continue to use the current number of racks, can not use other street furniture for parking the bikes and a review will be carried out into the regulatory conditions Nextbike operates under.
The council committee also considered any future location of bike racks should be considered “firstly for key public transport, interchanges and community use as a priority with secondary consideration for priority to support the public bike hire scheme.” The council said he could continue to operate but threw it over to the new Auckland Transport CCO to make any further decisions.

Julian Hulls says it’s “farewell but hopefully not the end.” He says he still has hope because of the new Auckland administration with its focus on improving public transport. He asked supporters to go to the Nextbikes Facebook page and says in the future Nextbikes “would need to be structured in a different way.”

Brisbane's scheme

He says Nextbikes had 2500 members, up from almost 900 in October 2009 and was operating from 55 locations around Auckland.  Over 50% of all Nextbike rides were unpaid as short trips.  Over 85% of customers were from Auckland. 201 cities around the world are known to now have street public bikes systems.




  1. max says:

    It was also the only system worldwide that operated in a helmet law country and found a way to make it work (providing helmets). Apparently, his small system saw more per-bike usage than the massive Melbourne scheme - which doesn’t provide bike helmets, skirting the issue, and making it MUCH less useful as a spur of the moment-use scheme.

    Julian ran an awesome system on a shoestring, operatively (and I don’t want to know what he spent to originally buy the bikes and the license - the risks people run for things they believe in) - while systems like that set up in London & Melbourne cost several tens of thousands of NZ dollar PER BIKE for the Councils to set up.

    I hope we can find a way to fund NextBike here - seeing that he ALMOST made it totally self-supported shows how little funding is needed. Why wait for several years, realise “Oh, we could really do with such a rental bike thing (again) here” and then pay many millions to set one up? We can still have one here, right now, if the new Council comes to the table.

  2. JX says:

    While in essence I applaud this type of venture - the system utiised in Auckland was too cumbersome. The method to obtain the bikes was complicated - ringing up and getting bike-lock codes etc, the pricing was also difficult to understand. None of this helped getting it adopted.

    If Mr Hulls is going to try again - I suggest he first check out how other cities are engaging with this type of system and follow suit.

    A good start would not be littering every pavement area with the bikes - they did get in the way of pedestrians and were in this sense a nuisance.

    I would recommend using a card system be similar to how Cityhop works for its car club - where people can simply swipe to gain access to a bike and use it as need.

    The over the top size advertising was also an eyesore. Build a user pays system and if this isn’t viable then maybe this idea isn’t for Auckland.

  3. max says:

    JX, I wonder whether you ever tried it - and what you are suggesting re the technical issues is in many ways not feasible unless you spend those tens of thousands of dollars PER BIKE I mentioned earlier. Meaning the system would be financially unfeasible unless ratepayers cough up tons of money. As for pricing - how difficult is “free for the first half hour, then a fixed hourly price, topping at $16 a day”? The sliding scales used elsewhere are much more difficult.

    I also wonder why you complain about advertising, when every bus carries whole billboards, every shop sees fit to put sandwich boards out on the footpath and cover their windows with ads, and every second CBD building has huge billboards covering the size of a small house’s wall. Eyesore? Only if one has decided one dislikes the idea - otherwise, it’s just one of many, many, many signs all over town.

    Similarly, the comment about littering the pavement would be funny, if it wasn’t what what Ken Baguely used to foil the scheme. With 100 bikes within the CBD and the inner suburbs, at times it got hard enough to find a bike if you wanted to find one, even looking up locations online. To argue that NextBike was “littering the pavements” implies both that the bikes are trash and that they were everywhere. Nonsense, in my humble opinion. I never saw one blocking anyone’s passage in the whole three years. I do see the about 40,000 car parks (full of cars) within the CBD blocking my access to my city, though!

    As for the complicated process, after you have done it once or twice, it takes less than a minute to rent a bike. Overseas systems with fancy docking stations are not signficiantly quicker. Most importantly, Julian’s bikes WERE USED. People obviously found them worth the bother, so if it’s not for you - fine.

  4. JX says:

    Max as I stated earlier in principle I think the idea is sound.

    But I DO think that the bikes scattered around the CBD did create both visual noise and got in the way of pedestrians.

    Maybe not at every Next Bike station but most in the city created roadblocks during peak pedestrian traffic periods and there was one up on Hobson outside the Auckland City Hotel that effectively blocked the pavement and left a small gap to get past it. Having lived in the CBD for the last 5 years I saw this occurring on countless occasions.

    Lastly, maybe it does need to be a council initiative. If it was well funded the system would probably be effective due to the council providing prevalence for them and by providing a modern tech infrastructure behind it .

  5. max says:

    JX, sorry if I came across a bit cross - I consider this a massive loss, both for cycling in Auckland, and personally. I used the system at least once a week, despite owning two bikes myself. It was very very convenient.

    As for blocking things - I say it again: CARS block this city everywhere. The very fact that a single bike stand can produce a pinch point on a major arterial inner city road like Hobson shows how much we have lost the balance. Outside of said hotel, there are SIX traffic lanes. Please don’t argue that the cycles are taking up the space! If we were less car-addicted, we would either lose car parks for cycle rack spaces, or widen our footpaths so that enough space is available for cycle parking.

    As for the “modern tech infrastructure” - again, the system WORKED. I do not think that taking 30 seconds to call a number, and 30 seconds to adjust a bike seat etc… is so much better than 15 seconds on another system and 30 seconds to adjust a bike seat. Why spend multi-millions just so we can get fancy docking stations, swipe cards and 15 seconds faster transactions? Thousands of people have shown that the NextBike system works well enough to be practical.

  6. JX says:

    Hey Max, Cars do block everything in Auckland! On this I agree with you and you are right - Hobson Street pathways are ridiculously small for pedestrians, especially given that this area is home to thousands of inner city-living dwellers, still the bike stand was movable - six lanes of roading a little more difficult.

    What we need more of around Auckland central (for starters) is more of this shared space system they are building down on Elliot & Darby Streets.

    More areas should be addressed like this.

    And again, I don’t disagree that the NextBike system was working for people, my points against tech etc aside, but unfortunately the business model wasn’t and so if we are to see this type of venture again a solid business model is going to need to stand behind it or otherwise, we taxpayers, should accept that infrastructure that isn’t roading is also acceptable for our dollars to be spent on - why not a biking system.

  7. Sally says:

    What a shame. I do hope that this scheme can be revived - and in time for all the extra visitors here during the RWC?

  8. Bron Jones says:

    I’m sorry to see the bikes go. I always thought they looked great on the footpaths, always rather colourful advertising in a nice sense.

  9. Thomas says:

    Emotion aside,and without being accused of tall poppy bashing, JX is right.
    Great initiative from the people behind the venture and it’s always sad when a business runs into problems.
    But this venture, while well-intentioned and philosophically sound, had issues.
    I couldn’t work out the business case and that’s proven by the information in your article that most rides were free as they were short and not charged. You can’t run a business on free rides.
    Most people, the article says, were Aucklanders. Similar overseas businesses rely heavily on tourists and I thought that was the idea. I have used both the Paris and London services as a tourist.
    This is Auckland and the population is car mad and has reasonable public transport. Those who like cycling already have bikes and more of them are riding them already to work. The size of the population is not big enough to find enough “others” to participate.
    And I have to agree with the council, the stands were not often placed well and much as I liked the idea of the scheme, I have at times got frustrated having to avoid them on well- populated narrow footpath areas.
    Nice try and thanks for trying but JX is right.

  10. karl says:

    Thomas - the point of schemes like in London or Paris is NOT tourist transport, and neither is the NextBike system in Auckland. Arguing that Aucklanders are car mad and that therefore such schemes are doomed to failure is also wrong - the scheme experienced great usage levels compared to many overseas systems!

    And you seem to misunderstand the point of the free trips - these trips were free the same way overseas systems give you the first half hour free - to encourage use, especially on short trips. Yes, Julian failed to get enough advertising to sustain it on that basis alone, but the gap was small. Much, much smaller per bike than many overseas schemes. But as a small entrepreneur he can’t continue taking losses, even though in a Council budget, these would end up equal to the cost of employing 1-2 staff.

    This scheme succeeded in use terms already - you guys should understand how close this was to succeeding financially as well. I’m not party to Julian’s balance sheets, but I suspect that if Council had not blocked him from expanding to 250 bikes (with more or less the same daily operating costs, and he already had those bikes!) and if Council had not given very public noises that made people think he might soon be forced of the street by Council - I think then he might have been able to attract the advertising (for a lot more bikes, too, so more money) to keep NextBike afloat on his original model.

    Now, a different format will need to be found. The price of operating it has not changed - it’s still dirt cheap compared to the schemes in Melbourne or London. Council could fund out of their petty cash, and get a) a public transport service, with the first half hour free for all Aucklanders and b) advertising space for Council events and campaigns, such as road safety, or community events…

  11. David says:

    The street furniture and racks issue is a problematic one. As an avid cyclist, who doesn’t own a car, the lack of good, safe places to lock my bike frustrates me. And it is doubly frustrating when the available locking locations are covered in unused NextBikes.

  12. max says:

    Like any vehicle, rental bikes spend most of their day parked. Your average car drives maybe two-three hours a day, the 90% rest of the day it uses up about 8-plus square meters of space.

    The fact that you see cars parked doesn’t mean they are “unused”. Neither do parked NextBikes mean the system is unused.

    Further, even if NextBikes stays folded, the whole thing led to a bit of an embarrassment at Council about the lack of bike parking (barely a low hundreds of spaces in the CBD and the inner suburbs together, compared to over 40,000 car parks), so more cycle parking will be introduced in the future as a result (sadly, the first thing “done” was a consultant’s report, rather than simply taking away a few car parks and installing cycle racks in them).

  13. Alan Preston says:

    The politicians and bureaucrats take our money to pay for expensive roading infrastructure so we can waste our time and economic power stuck in non-sustainable transport modes and they wouldn’t make or even let this happen.
    A damning indictment on Auckland City Government.


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