BeÁgueda is an innovative electric bike-sharing project that started in the city of Águeda in 2011, providing the hilly city with a sustainable solution for cycling up and down steep terrain. The electric bikes and related infrastructure were developed by companies in Águeda and were tested by locals. This helped stimulate the local economy and placed Águeda as an industry leader in the development of bicycle technology.
Águeda, a city of nearly 48 000 people, is in central Portugal. The riverside area and upper town are connected by streets that can climb up to 70 metres, creating difficult conditions for people wishing to use traditional bikes. This has resulted in a virtually non-existent local cycling culture. At the same time Águeda is known for its ‘two-wheel’ industry. In 2001 37 per cent of Portugal’s motorcycle and bicycle manufacturers were based in the municipality. The main bicycle manufacturer in Águeda produced 50 000 units in 2007 including bikes for its French partner Lapierre, which supplies city bikes to the Paris Velib scheme.
In 2009 Águeda signed the Covenant of Mayors pledging to reduce greenhouse gases and increase energy efficiency. Following this agreement and a dialogue between the municipality and hundreds of organisations and citizens, Águeda agreed on 10 major actions towards sustainability. Two of these focused on increasing the use of bicycles and investing in cleaner vehicles.
As a result of the new focus on cycling and cleaner vehicles, the city authorities issued a challenge to Águeda companies to develop a pilot project for electric bikes (e-bikes) and related infrastructure. The municipal authority selected two companies, Miralago and Orbita, to develop the technology; the first made the e-bikes, the second created the parking bays, and the software and technology. The companies receive no subsidy or tax cuts.
During July 2010 841 locals tested the e-bikes users during a large event in the region. Technical issues reported by users during the event were subsequently fixed. Just under a year later, in June 2011, the city installed 10 e-bikes to commence a pilot scheme. To access the e-bikes, citizens had to apply for a ‘Milfare’ card which allowed free rental. In 2012 Águeda purchased more e-bikes and then a year later introduced a € 10-a-year rental fee. The city invested just over € 15 700 into the scheme of which 85 per cent was co-financed by the European Commission. This investment was rather low due to the attractive offers of the industrial partners for the hardware as well as the maintenance.
Between June 2011 and August 2013 160 users (35 per cent women and 65 per cent men) used the e-bikes over 5 200 times, travelling a total of around 24 000km. Users have been positive about beÁgueda, liking in particular the little effort it takes to travel uphill (23 per cent), the safety (18 per cent) and the environmental friendliness (18 per cent). beÁgueda received a prize in 2011 from the European association Energy Cities for being one of the best local actions to promote sustainability and reduce CO2 emissions.
The city is currently applying for funding to increase the number of bikes. There is no contract to deliver more of the current bicycles and infrastructyre in the future, as Águeda believes that the next generation of e-bikes and parking bays will quickly evolve and become more modern.
Águeda has noticed problems with the longevity of the bicycle batteries. The city is looking to fix this and hopes to develop a new functionality that automatically charges the battery when the bikes are parked in their dedicated bays once more funding becomes available. The limited number of bikes and parking bays are also issues the city is keen to address.
Águeda is also testing a new system on one of its bikes based on BikeEmotion technology, which detects the exact location of the bicycles, their availability and condition (e.g. battery capacity). It allows users to see where/when bikes are available and will ensure that bikes are sufficiently maintained. Águeda is applying for EU funding to implement this system in all of its bikes.
For the city, the electric bike is a clever solution to address social, environmental and economic objectives. The scheme is an easy, fairly low-cost initiative which can be replicated in other towns where hilly slopes discourage cyclists. Thanks to the e-bikes and related technology being developed by companies based in Águeda, it also stimulated innovation and helped boost the local economy.
Celia Laranjeira from the municipality of Águeda said, ‘It’s a successful project in which local co-operation between the municipality, local industry and citizens resulted in benefits for all.’