© city of Bergen, Marina Mageroy

Bergen test rides the future

The playwright Ludvig Holberg felt so inspired by the seven hills of Rome that he decided that his hometown Bergen must be blessed with a corresponding seven mountains. Although locals still argue which seven they are, since the city is actually surrounded by nine, there’s no doubt that cyclists in the city are happy to get a little extra help, especially if they’re pedalling on a cargo bike! Fortunately, all cargo bikes rented by the Environment Agency of the city of Bergen are electric.

Today in its third phase, Bergen’s renting scheme consists of five cargo bikes and a coaster bike to rent for free for three weeks at a time. The idea is that citizens can “borrow different types of bikes, try them for a period, and see if this is something for them,” explains former commissioner for city development, climate and environmental affairs Rune Bakervik. Because these bikes can be a substantial investment for individuals, the city is helping people make a sustainable choice with very little risk. “They probably cost a lot, NOK 30-40,000 (€3,000-4,000) and above – all depending on what extra equipment they have,” says the city’s cycling manager Einar Johan Grieg, “but we usually say ‘it’s a very cheap car’.”

A click away from renting a cargo bike

Renting a bike is quite easy, according to project manager Marina Magerøy: “Go to the municipality’s website and search for active municipal cargo bikes. There you will find pictures of the individual bikes and a description of the differences and what needs they cover.” The description includes details such as maximum weight allowed as cargo, range of heights the bike can accommodate for the driver, as well as information on how cumbersome some of the models are. All useful details users take into consideration when choosing which model to borrow.

Once a user makes their choice, depending on the model, they pick it up either at the Environment Agency’s headquarters or at one of the equipment libraries of the municipal Sports Agency. The rental system was decentralised in an attempt to reach out to the wider population of Bergen, instead of limiting it to the city centre where the Environment Agency is located.

“We’re working together with the Sports Agency of the municipality, and they have this really wonderful equipment library where they have sports equipment, like skis, for rental for free,” confides Ingvild Clementsen Kayser, mobility advisor at Bergen Environment Agency. “They were super excited to have cargo bikes, but the reason why they don’t have more of the bikes is that they don’t have space to store them.”

The intention is to expand the renting scheme even further in the future and involve more organisations to be able to reach as many of Bergen’s inhabitants as possible. “We think it’s important to get the bikes more into the outskirts of Bergen. We want to make them more available to people living further from the centre who might have an even bigger interest in the cargo bikes,” insists Ingvild.

A success story reviewed

When we opened registrations for the first period, the bikes were all booked in the first day
— Einar Johan Grieg, Bergen cycling manager

The scheme is part of Bergen’s wider New Cycling Strategy 2019 – 2030, and it’s been an immediate success. “When we opened registrations for the first period, the bikes were all booked in the first day,” reveals Einar. The second period is about to start and on the Environment Agency’s website a yellow banner announces that all bikes are already booked. People are invited to sign up on the waiting list in the hopes that some might change their mind, or they’ll have to wait another five months before they get another chance.

Regardless of its success, the creators of the scheme consider it in continuous evolution and have been receptive to feedback from users, both formally, through questionnaires, and informally, by talking to users when they pick up and drop off the bikes. For example, after the first trial phase in spring 2019, some people noted that the cargo bikes were very heavy and became an unnecessary burden if just used to drop off the children at the kindergarten. They proposed to add a coaster bike to the fleet, which would allow them to attach and detach a trolley at will. The Environment Agency quickly reacted to this feedback and added the coaster to the original fleet of five cargo bikes after the trial period.

Some people have also expressed the need to rent the cargo bikes just for a day, for ad-hoc uses such as a house move. “There’s definitely a market for that kind of use,” reflects Ingvild “but that’s not what we’re aiming at.” For Bergen’s scheme the three week rental length is very important to have an impact on people’s behaviour in the longer term, and it’s working. “I know of at least two people that bought their electric cargo bike after borrowing through us,” confides Andreas Tveit from the association Bærekraftige Liv* (Sustainable Life in English). Even users who did not buy a cargo bike right after renting it, replied to the Environment Agency questionnaire that they are now more interested in buying one in the future. The survey also found out that most users of the scheme have a more positive attitude towards cargo bikes after testing them.

All year round

Even though Bergen doesn’t get as cold and icy as Oslo most of the time, the city has its fair share of precipitation, and yet, its inhabitants are not discouraged, but happy to cycle all year round. Not only is there no change in interest in renting e-cargo bikes in the winter, but the newly introduced bike sharing scheme has also registered record numbers.

The bike sharing scheme started in the summer of 2018 and hit one million trips after a year. This scheme, like the e-cargo bikes, is equipped with bikes with studded tires for the winter which allows it to stay open all year around, but it doesn’t provide electric bikes. So, all credit for the scheme becoming the most used in Norway, goes to Bergeners’ will-and-leg power. “It’s a little bit amazing, I think,” says Einar proudly.

“People from Bergen take things to heart, or they don’t” comments Ingvild, and it seems evident that they have taken cycling and the city biking schemes to heart.

*Barekraftige Liv is a national association involved in many sustainable initiatives involving citizens. It originally started in one of Bergen’s neighbourhoods and it collaborated with Bergen municipality to find participants for the scheme’s trial period in spring 2019.

Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer