This was the moment a group of young lads tried to hack a Big Issue eBike and failed, but left it damaged and abandoned for a day in a street in South Bristol.
The video footage, filmed by a passer-by in broad daylight, emerged after Big Issue and the Norwegian firm that runs the eBike hire scheme announced they were stopping it because of the ‘relentless vandalism’ the bikes are suffering in Bristol.
The firm said that more bikes were being attacked, damaged or stolen in Bristol than in all the other places around the world put together.
The video, sent to Bristol Live, was filmed at 5.30pm on Friday, July 8 on a street just off North Street in Bedminster.
The footage shows at least three young lads in their teens, trying to ‘hack’ a Big Issue hire eBike, break the lock and GPS system that would then ‘free’ it from the scheme so it can be ridden without charge or being tracked by the firm.
One of the lads sits on a window sill, while another – still in what appears to be a school blazer – turns the back wheel as a third tries to force open the front wheel lock. Bristol Live understands the police were called at the time.
“I didn’t see the police if they ever came at all,” said the person who filmed the video, who did not want to be named. “The older lad with the hood was carrying a screwdriver that was at least six inches long,” they added.
The attempt to hack the bike’s locking mechanism and steal it was unsuccessful, although the bike was damaged. “The bike remained upturned and beeping on the pavement for at least 24 hours,” the witness said, adding they were shocked at the brazenness of the youngsters conducting this theft attempt in broad daylight just 15 yards from a busy main road.
It is this kind of vandalism – the damage caused during attempts to steal the bikes – that has prompted Big Issue and Norwegian bike hire firm ShareBike to pull the scheme in Bristol. The eBike hire scheme was the first and only one of its kind in Britain, and the project lasted just six months.
The scheme started with 400 eBikes on the streets of Bristol. They were left in strategic spots around the city and to ride them people had to download an app, pay a fee and use their phone to unlock the bike, before parking it in a designated area and locking it again electronically.
The scheme was similar to the failed YoBike scheme, which also suffered from vandalism problems, but also a drop in usage because the bikes were heavy and not electric.
The Bristol scheme was a not-for-profit venture raising funds for the Big Issue, but the bikes represented a target for thieves and a challenge for youngsters.
Of the 400 bikes the scheme started with in February, just 200 useable ones are currently on the streets. They are vandalised, attacked or stolen so often, the organisers of the scheme say it is the equivalent of the entire fleet getting destroyed in Bristol every two weeks.
The sheer scale of the damage has shocked organisers – they have seen more ebikes damaged in Bristol than in all the other places around the world the scheme is operating combined.
In a statement, Big Issue eBikes said: “It is with sincere regret that we are announcing a pause to our current open, public-rental e-bike service in Bristol, from the coming weekend, August 20-21. Since we launched in the city six months ago, we have experienced extensive and relentless levels of vandalism to our e-bikes. We have taken many measures to try to overcome this issue, including making changes to the design of the e-bikes and trying to work with the local authorities, the police and our subscriber community. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, the vandalism has not reduced.
“Having begun with a fleet of over 400, we currently have around 200 e-bikes on the street and approximately 10% of these are damaged every day. In practice, this means that our entire fleet is vandalised every two weeks. We have more e-bikes destroyed in Bristol in one week than in all our facilities combined anywhere else in the world.
“It is disappointing that the actions of a minority of people means we are left with no choice but to pause the current scheme. This is not a decision we have made lightly. Big Issue eBikes was set up as a not-for-profit partnership between Norwegian micro mobility experts ShareBike and the Big Issue to deliver ‘biking for good’ in Bristol – providing sustainable and affordable electric cycling in the city whilst creating job opportunities and training for long-term unemployed people,” they said.