Interbike Australia: A Smart Specialisation Case Study

According to Monica Zarafu, Founder and CEO of Hunter based automated bike hire operator Interbike Australia, electric bike-sharing is a sustainable transport solution for smart cities of the future

According to Monica Zarafu, Founder and CEO of Hunter based automated bike hire operator Interbike Australia, electric bike-sharing is a sustainable transport solution for smart cities of the future.

The electric bike-share movement is a worldwide phenomenon that is just now starting to create waves in Australia. It offers an innovative and convenient approach to urban mobility with users able to take short trips, using a fleet of bicycles operating within a network of automated docking stations.

1000 cities globally have introduced bike sharing, not as a radical concept – but as an affordable and easy to implement transport system.

Interbike Australia, founded in 2014 by Monica and Marius Zarafu, is the first Australian enterprise specialising in shared mobility and bike sharing. It has facilities in Sydney, Newcastle and the Hunter and aims to put Australia on the bike share world map.
Starting out as a family owned business, Interbike Australia has grown to include a multi-disciplinary team of professionals with backgrounds in transport planning, architecture and design, IT, automatic systems, marketing and advertising, all based in the Newcastle-Hunter region.

David Siegel, Senior Strategy Executive at Step Change said that “Interbike Australia is the type of company that's out to change the way the world works”

Interbike’s development team spent a year in R&D, studying electric bike share solutions and signing exclusive agreements for Australia and New Zealand with European leaders in electric bike share technology.

“We have a huge competitive advantage being the only Australian electric bike share provider with advanced technology designed specifically for the Australian market,” Monica said.

Interbike Australia has introduced the latest European technology into their bikes and docking stations giving the rider the best quality experience focused on safety, comfort and convenience. The systems incorporate a self-learning, predictive management platform for rebalancing, and smart docks with dual functionality for locking and e-bike charging. 

“We have learned the hard way that there is no place for compromise in product quality, which is the reason why we partnered with the best manufacturers for every single component of the system”, says Marius.

The systems also include online reservations, user-friendly interfaces which allow a bike to be unlocked with a swipe of a smartphone as well as multiple features for prevention against theft and vandalism – which increases revenue while reducing operational costs.

When Monica and Marius expanded their business from bike hire to bike share, they became the first Australian provider of state-of-the-art technology in electric bike sharing. Their experience as operators of automated bike hire terminals helped them understand all aspects of operating a network - from bike service and maintenance, fleet management issues to high quality customer service, marketing, collecting and reporting data.

Traditionally perceived as a public scheme suitable for big cities only, Interbike promotes bike sharing as an innovative, affordable and flexible amenity for new and existing office, commercial and residential projects, universities, hospitals, business parks, hotels and resorts across Australia and New Zealand.

Interbike works with corporates who have identified the benefits of providing shared bike fleets for their employees. They work with leading property development agencies who see the benefits of integrating sustainable, advanced technology with green building initiatives.

Interbike also collaborates with universities investigating the benefits of bike sharing for their campuses.

 “We have found it difficult to penetrate an uneducated market. We spend most of our time and resources educating our potential customers about the benefits of bike sharing and trying to bust the myth that bike sharing is doomed to fail, which is the general perception at the government level.”

“We should probably offer free trips to Europe, USA and Asia where every major city has a public bike share scheme, plus multiple private fleets for sharing!” she added. Ford, Uber, Zipcar have recently announced their plans to invest in bike sharing.

However, Monica and Marius report that their Newcastle hire locations are the best performers.

“The automated bike hire stations based in Newcastle have the best performance rate compared to any other locations in Australia.”

“In fact, they perform much better than the public bike share schemes in Melbourne and Brisbane and, although our European-trained brains refuse to accept it, the mandatory helmet laws apply in Newcastle too.  But contrary to popular myth, this is not the main reason why bike sharing has been slow to take hold in Australia.” Monica said.

In a joint venture with another local enterprise, Cycle Space, Interbike has also created the Bike Share Studies venture, to work with local governments who have identified bike sharing as something that could benefit their city.

“We help them to compare their local government area —in terms of hills, traffic, size, density, demographics, etc.—to other world cities where Bike Share is working”, said Monica.

“We have also produced an eBook, How to Know if Your City Needs Bike Share discussing ten questions city administrators should ask when considering bike sharing for their cities” adds Monica.

Dr Steven Fleming, Director Cycle Space said “We have provided samples on the http://bikesharestudies.com.au/ website of the proprietary cartographic tool we have developed to analyse cities, and details of our unrivalled expertise in combining urban design, transport planning and bike share.”

So, what’s on the horizon for Interbike?

“We plan to open a manufacturing facility in the Hunter for some of the components, on top of the bike service and maintenance facility, which will create local jobs. We are very positive about our business future as well as the future of bike sharing and manufacturing in the region.”

“We aim to be the market leader in e-bike sharing and innovative personal transport solutions in Australia and New Zealand but more importantly, our goal is to have a positive impact on our cities.”

For more information on Interbike Australia visit www.interbike.com.au