Electric Bikes and Big Ambitions – EVieBikes Land in Guernsey

EVieBikes recently landed in Guernsey, bringing the first ever dockless shared electric vehicles to the island. I got into contact with Gavin Breeze (founder and CEO of EVie), who kindly agreed to discuss with me where EVie came from, what the service means for the islands and their plans for the future!

Interview conducted on 2021/04/09.

A Brief History of EVie

According to Gavin, EVie bikes were “sort of all [his] fault”. After founding a software as a service (SaaS) payment company called DataCash and selling it to MasterCard, he found himself at a loose end. Deciding that he was “too young to sit around doing nothing” Gavin looked for his next project, which came shortly after hearing Phil Male (Chairman of JT) discuss a number of ideas he had for improving Jersey. Of the ideas put forth, Gavin decided that “as a private individual the only one [he] could have the […] remotest impact on was to try and move the dial towards the islands becoming all-electric islands” (moving away from internal combustion engine vehicles).

EVie’s first step towards this goal was to move into the shared vehicle hire space, which started with a launch of a couple of cars in Jersey in December 2019 and quickly expanded to a fleet of 10. It wouldn’t be long however until Covid-19 came along, meaning that “people didn’t want to get into a vehicle that somebody else had been [in] 10 minutes before”. Despite this setback, EVie had already sorted out a lot of the difficult parts (such as getting agreements from the Government of Jersey and figuring out logistics for running the service) and so managed to make it out the other side into the current landscape.

Following on from their electric car and van offering, the next step came about when Gavin “suddenly realised that, actually, launching a dockless shared bike fleet was going to be a hell of a lot easier”. EVieBikes were first made available in March 2020 in Jersey with an initial fleet of 140 bikes. Their first year of use was very positive, with 12,000 users taking 50,812 electric bike rides totalling a cumulative distance of 346,649km in 2020.

12,000 users
190 electric bikes
10 electric cars/vans
50,812 electric bike rides
1,810 electric car journeys
346,649km travelled (or 8.7 laps of the Earth!)
3.5 years of cumulative bike rides
45.8 tonnes of CO2 SAVED

Gavin Breeze

After realising that most EVieBike users were not bike owners themselves but might have an appetite for medium-term ownership EVie began their BlueBike service, a subscription scheme that allows for users to get full-time access to an electric bike without having to commit to purchasing one.

In early April 2021 EVie expanded into Guernsey with an initial set of 25 EVieBikes after talks with Deputy Lindsay De Sausmarez (President of the Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure) indicated that the island would be welcoming of such a platform.

An EVieBike branded electric bike parked at the bike racks outside M and S in St Martin, Guernsey

EVie in the Present

The Target Markets of EVieBikes

Although EVieBikes can be used to get around as with any other bike, Gavin mentioned that they’re aiming for three main target markets:

  1. Tourists (when they’re allowed back in the islands)
  2. Commuters
  3. People running daytime errands

The parking situation in Guernsey was raised as a particularly large factor influencing this. After talking about the lengths that many Guernsey residents go to in order to secure a town parking space in the morning, Gavin mentioned that “if you do have to pop out at some time during the day you’re very reluctant to do it because you’re going to lose your car parking space! Whereas if you could just jump on a bike, keep your car parking space for when you want to go home in it and pop out and do your 10 minutes down the road, then why not?”.

Running a Responsible Dockless Bike Platform

Even after figuring out the logistics and operations required to bring EVie to the islands, operating the service is no mean feat. Phil Le Poidevin is EVie’s “man on the ground” where he is in charge of the Guernsey rollout and looking after the fleet, moving the bikes around to anticipate demand and to make sure that the bikes aren’t left scattered across the island.

Although Phil is indispensible in making sure that the bikes are where they can best be used, Gavin noted the importance of incentivising responsible behaviour from users as well: “There are a couple of ways in which we can do that. One is to try and encourage people to actually return their bike to a geolocated virtual bike rack. […] The other layer on top of that is what we call ‘yellow zones’. A ‘yellow zone’ is a demarked area where […] you simply cannot end your rental”.

These measures are intended to push users to utilise the service in a way that doesn’t negatively affect other islanders. “What we don’t want is people leaving bikes (especially in town) in stupid places. […] Having people park responsibly is incredibly important to us” said Gavin.

EVie are constantly making changes based on user feedback and they hope to apply the lessons they’ve learned from the “painful experiences […] in Jersey” to their Guernsey rollout of the service.

The Good and the Bad of Operating in the Channel Islands

Guernsey and Jersey both bring unique benefits and challenges to operating a platform such as EVie. On the positive side Gavin mentioned how range anxiety (the concern for electric vehicle users that they’ll not be able to make it to the next charging station with their current range) isn’t a problem for islanders as it might be in the UK, saying that “You’d really have to be driving around pretty hard to get through a battery in a day”.

On the negative side however is the dispersed nature of housing in the islands compared to a densely populated city in the UK since the bikes tend to migrate to lower traffic areas over time. Gavin went on to say “It’s very much easier to make money and make a fleet run efficiently if you’ve got high density areas where within that [area] you don’t really mind where the bikes are going to be left because you are pretty sure that somebody else is going to rent them from the same place. […] In Jersey and Guernsey, that’s not the case.”

A closeup of the drivetrain and livery on an EVieBike branded electric bike

The Future of EVie

Guernsey Expansion

For the moment EVie are focusing on the rollout of EVieBikes in Guernsey and the expansion of their local dockless fleet to 100 bikes, but the ship Ever Given getting stuck in the Suez Canal caused the second batch of 75 bikes to be delayed.

Further expansion of the services offered in Guernsey were discussed, but these are highly dependent on overall reception of the project as well as the political landscape in the island. Although the platform began in Jersey, Gavin mentioned that he had a “sneaking suspicion that one or two things are actually going to end up being launched in Guernsey before they are in Jersey because of the different attitude and different approach to transport”.

The Move to a New Platform

While the current EVieBikes and the platform they run on are both created by Freebike, EVie are planning on moving to a new bike supplier and separate software platform in the near future. Explaining the move, Gavin said “unlike in Jersey where the cars are on one stack and the bikes are on another stack, […] what will be being rolled out in the next week or so in Jersey is a new car app and then as soon as the new bikes arrive [they] will be hooked up onto the same platform and you’ll be able to see both the bike availability and the car availability from the same place”. Currently the electric car offering in Jersey is only available through the EVie app itself, with the bikes being accessibile separately from the Freebike app. This move will allow for a more consolidated and simpler view of what transport is available throughout the island.

The new platform will also allow EVie to easily add other mobility types they may release in the future (such as e-scooters or e-mopeds), grant them flexibility to support a more diverse set of electric cars and bikes and consolidate user membership into one place. Gavin went on to mention that the shared data “also allows us to be an awful lot cleverer in the fleet optimisation, so understanding where the heaviest points of traffic are and making sure that our fleet admin operators are slightly more agile and effective in putting bikes and cars where they’re most likely to be used”.

EVie’s electric cars in Jersey will be the first to migrate to the new platform with the electric bikes following after the set from the new supplier arrive in Jersey. The opposite approach was originally planned (with bikes migrating to the new platform first) but shipping delays forced EVie to reconsider their approach.

Battery Recharging

One of the ideas that EVie are looking into is that of an easier battery recharging/switching system which would allow for users to swap out batteries at recharge stations situated in key locations throughout the islands.

This could help alleviate some of the effort required from EVie to keep the batteries across the fleet charged while allowing for more user flexibility as even bikes with a low charge could still be utilised with a quick battery swap granting a larger/full range.

User Incentives

Although very much still in the concept phase, Gavin mentioned the possibility of introducing user incentives: “We might for instance post a bulletin saying that ‘bike number 67 is sitting at this crossroads and is out of station, anybody who brings it into town we’ll give them a free ride credit’. If somebody lives relatively close by and they were going to go into town anyway then why not pick up the bike and move it to somewhere that it’s more useful?”.

Such a system would benefit users who are willing to jump on any incentives offered whilst also saving EVie operators from having to relocate bikes that may otherwise be spread out a long distance from each other.

A Consolidated Payment System for Public/Shareable Transport

When discussing the future of the EVie platform itself, Gavin remarked “If you think about it, what we’re sitting on is a payment wallet. […] It would be very easy for us to use the QR code functionality of the app to [scan] a code sitting in a bus”. Rather than having different forms of public transport operating with entirely distinct payment systems, an EVie “wallet” could allow for a greater flexibility for islanders by giving them the option of using the EVie system to pay for all kinds of transport, streamlining the process if they wanted to (for example) catch a bus into town and then rent a bike to get closer to their final destination.

Park and Ride Scheme

In-town parking has a cost associated with it in Jersey, but this cost often depends on its location (mainly how close to the centre of town it is). EVie are looking to help with this by turning the furthest away locations into “Park and Ride” stations, allowing for people to park in a cheaper location and making the rest of their journey on bike. “With a bit of luck it will encourage more people to use those parking places for their cars rather than fighting for one in town, driving [round] in circles looking for a free space” Gavin said.

Conclusion

Personally, I’m really excited to see what EVie will bring to the islands over the next few years. I’ve already tried out the service myself and will be writing a separate post about that soon (so keep an eye out for that!) but I can definitely see myself using it in the future.

A huge thank you to Gavin for his time and willingness to answer all of my questions. Our half hour interview quickly spiralled out to last over an hour and I’m sure we could have both continued talking for far longer if we had the time!

One thought on “Electric Bikes and Big Ambitions – EVieBikes Land in Guernsey

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