Co Cars & Co Bikes – Exeter’s Electric Revolution
I am a huge fan of electric bikes. I’d be lying if I said that, for a gentleman of portly proportions, the extra assistance from the on-board battery isn’t a big factor in this. However, it’s far more than that. The power that they have given the average person to select a mode of transport which is significantly more kind to the environment over, say, a daily commute in a fuel-driven car, cannot be underestimated. And don’t even get me started on electric cars. Yes, there is still work to be done in terms of the electric infrastructure of the UK but there is no arguing that the future of road travel is surely set to be electric.
On that note, one of the things that I have noticed about Exeter is that we sometimes take for granted the gold that sits underneath our noses every day. One such example is the revolutionary Exeter-based company Co Cars (a hire-by-the-hour car club, set up here in Exeter in 2005) who, in 2016, also launched a fully electric fleet of rental bikes under the brand Co Bikes.
Even more excitingly, Co Bikes continue to build their partnership with Devon County Council, leading to the rollout of close to one hundred new bikes across fourteen new locations in Exeter. With bike-hire from just £1 per twenty minutes* and car-hire from as little as £3.75 per hour*, this offering quickly stacks up as a sustainable and cost-effective method of getting about our wonderful city for business meetings, social engagements or as a relief option from having a permanent commuting vehicle.
More to the point, as part of this strategic partnership, Devon County Council have also committed to install 150 new electric charging points in Exeter in the next two years. What was that I was saying about infrastructure problems earlier?
Councillor Rob Hannaford, the local county councillor for Exwick and St. Thomas, commented,
“This project is a huge step in encouraging electric car use in Exeter. Up to now the argument has been that it’s difficult to encourage more people to use electric cars until there are more charging points, and more charging points won’t be provided until there are more electric cars on the road. This partnership with the private sector helps break that cycle. Fewer petrol cars in Exeter will lead to a reduction in emissions, cleaner air and an improved quality of life for residents.”
I recently took to the roads to give both Co Bikes and Co Cars a try for myself; bikes can be rented using the nextbike app and cars by booking online or by smartphone. So first off, I had to register as a user (with Co Cars, Co Bikes and also their key partner nextbike who they have worked with on the electric bike rollout). A few simple forms and an app download later and all I had to do was wait for my Co Car membership smartcard to be delivered in the post before logging in and booking out my hire sessions. This card essentially acts as a key to unlock and lock the vehicles at the beginning and end of each session. With nearly thirty cars here in Exeter (and others in Plymouth, Cornwall and Salisbury) and close to one hundred bikes, there is no shortage of availability, or locations to pick up and drop off vehicles.
So, first up, Co Bikes. As expected, the intelligent pedal assistance technology meant that, just at the right times, I felt as if a gentle guiding hand was giving me the extra nudge that I needed. Be it on a hill climb or even when my legs were getting a little tired (no ‘skipping leg day’ jokes please), this really came in handy.
The hiring side of the process was easy too – unlocking and locking the bike as well as knowing where there were bikes available for the time slots that I required. All in one place through the nextbike app and all part of what ended up being a far more enjoyable process than I was anticipating as I weaved my way around Exeter. Rather than the usual experience of gasping for air, I even had a bit of spare energy to take in my surroundings and enjoy the process a little more. You can probably tell that I’m not used to long bike rides…
I tactically chose my car pickup location based on where I was going to leave my bike, so the transition ended up being fairly seamless. In more familiar territory (as a car driver of seventeen years), I made my way to a business engagement struggling to wipe the slightly smug grin off of my face. You know, the one that people have when they know something that others don’t? Or when someone is saving the world AND a few pennies at the same time? That one.
Overall, my experience of using Co Cars and Co Bikes was a hugely positive one. From the actual experience, to their ethical underpinning and circular-economy approach, I found myself struggling to think of a reason why I wouldn’t permanently consider them as my default mode of transport around Exeter. For every one person who makes this leap, one thing is for sure. They’ll most likely save some money and will certainly help to make a small impact in the bigger effort of Exeter to become a healthier and happier place.
Viva la Electric Revolution!
To find out more, visit www.co-cars.co.uk or follow @CoCars and @CoBikesElectric on Twitter.
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photos supplied by Co Cars/Co Bikes
*Prices correct at point of publishing and membership fees also apply. Costs are inclusive of fuel, insurance, roadside assistance, road tax and maintenance.