Free bikes for every Scottish pupil who can’t afford one launched

An ambitious Scottish Government pledge to offer a free bike for every school pupil who can’t afford one was kicked off today with pilot projects that will provide the first 3,000 cycles at a cost of £2.5 million.

The six schemes will be trialled over the next year, with transport minister Graeme Dey admitting they were a “blank sheet of paper” approach as there was no tried-and-tested model that had proved successful elsewhere.

The minister was also unable to say how much it would cost to equip every eligible child with a bike or how many might be needed.

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However, he reaffirmed the SNP’s commitment to complete the programme during the current Scottish Parliamentary session, which ends in five years’ time.

Lochlan Griffiths, ten, and Gabriella Oude, nine, from St Pholomena's Primary School, demonstrating the new bikes today. Picture: John Devlin

Different approaches will be tested in the pilots, including 300 bikes being given to pupils at five primary and secondary schools in the Provanmill area of north east Glasgow, where Mr Dey launched the schemes today.

Bike “libraries”, offering long-term loans, will be part of another pilot, I Bike, by cycling developers Sustrans and councils in West Lothian, Dumfries and Galloway, and Aberdeenshire, which will also feature a fleet of bikes for participating schools.

The other pilots involve official development body Cycling Scotland providing some 20 bikes each to 20 secondary schools across the country, Barnardos and Forth Environment Link offering bikes to up to 30 vulnerable children in Forth Valley, Angus Cycle Hub providing refurbished bikes for up to 1,000 youngsters, and Scottish Cycling, the sport’s governing body, organising “Rock Up & Ride” skills sessions at eight sites through cycling clubs.

A further pilot on one of the islands is also to be announced.

The pilot schemes will assess how children's lives can be improved by being given bikes to get around. Picture: John Devlin

Mr Dey told The Scotsman: “We are genuinely starting with a blank sheet of paper and no preconceptions.”

The minister also stressed the importance of highlighting the fun of cycling.

He said: “The training has to be enjoyable and really captures the imagination.”

The schemes will test how to prevent bikes simply being re-sold on online trading sites like eBay or abandoned in sheds.

Transport minister Graeme Dey said the pilots represented a "blank sheet of paper" approach. Picture: John Devlin

The criteria for eligibility will have to be worked out, along with secure storage for those needing it.T

Training, is expected to dovetail with the official Bikeability programme through schools, although uptake is patchy across Scotland.

Mr Dey announced: “We’ve still got a lot of ground to cover when thinking about how best we can assess need, build in accessibility for all and ensure supply and delivery models which are sustainable for urban, rural and island communities across Scotland.

“That said, when we look at pilot projects already mobilised, it’s clear the strength of ambition on display is immediately apparent.

"We’ll be looking at the evaluation very closely to see what’s working most effectively and inclusively to support future schemes.

“The benefits of providing greater access to bikes for children are obvious.

"It ensures equality of opportunity in building life skills, confidence and independence, and embeds healthy and sustainable travel habits from a young age.

"Ensuring that more children can choose active travel including cycling is vital to help meet our world leading net zero targets.”

The £330,000 Provanmill scheme – Equality Cycles – to be run by St Paul’s Youth Forum and the Rosemount Development Trust, said: “Young people will be empowered by owning bikes, which will aid them to tackle the climate emergency, access services and improve their physical and mental health.”

Olga Zurakowska, 16, a pupil at St Roch’s Secondary School, said there was a “bit of a stigma” to girls cycling, which she hoped the project would overcome.

She told The Scotsman: “I used to cycle all the time when I was younger.

"I walk to a lot of places but this will mean I can travel further distances and improve fitness.”

Gregor Henderson, the trust’s community development officer, said there was a particular need for such a scheme in Royston.

He said: “It’s an island cut off by motorways and the railway, with very limited transport links and a history of social deprivation.”

Plans are being developed by the forum and Sustrans - Flourishing Molendinar - to create safe walking and cycling routes and a traffic-free street.

Ben Raw, the forum’s Equality Cycles project coordinator, said: “We know that communities with the least are feeling the effects of climate change.

"By offering young people access to bikes, this project doesn’t just allow young people the opportunity to get around, but offers them a way to re-see and re-imagine their communities.

"By creating climate resilient neighbourhoods, local people, in one of the most economically deprived areas of the country, can not only to survive, but can thrive and flourish.”

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The Scottish Conservatives accused ministers of failing to work out basic details of the scheme, which was an SNP manifesto in May’s Scottish election.

Transport spokesman Graham Simpson said: “It’s quite clear none of this has been thought through, which is typical of the SNP.

“The pilots seem to be costing the equivalent of more than £800 per bike, which is an awful lot of money for a kid’s bike.

“We have not been told how it will be decided if a pupil can’t afford a bike.

"We don’t know what happens as pupils grow up and get bigger.

"Will they get a new bike every year?

“We want more people of all ages to get into cycling, but we need to know the cost and the details.”

Mr Dey responded: “The pilots will test the practical delivery of the policy, including how to identify those children who need a bike, the different models of sourcing and distributing the bikes and the wrap-around support.

This includes bicycle training and maintenance, and equipment such as a helmet, high visibility clothing, lights and locks.

“We’ve been clear that a variety of models will be tested and evaluated in these pilots, including bike libraries and shared ownership models which could deliver greater value and ensure more children benefit.”

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