About this report

This report sets out findings from an interim evaluation of the Free Bikes Pilots for school age children who cannot afford them (the Free Bikes for Children Pilot Scheme). This report was produced in February 2022. It draws on information gathered from pilot project proposals, reports and early stage interviews with project leads and partners as well as a small number of parents and young people.

The report covers:

  • Chapter two: Project set up
  • Chapter three: Procurement and distribution
  • Chapter four: Targeting children and young people
  • Chapter five: Adaptive bikes
  • Chapter six: Early feedback from families
  • Chapter seven: Interim conclusions.

The Free Bikes for Children pledge

The SNP manifesto for the Scottish election in 2021 contained a commitment to start to deliver free bikes to children who cannot afford them. This commitment sat within the wider aim of tackling the climate crisis and bringing about a revolution in transport, through providing a mechanism that allows young people to travel independently. The pledge also connects strongly with wider policy priorities around increasing active travel and reducing car travel, increasing health and wellbeing and reducing inequalities.

When the SNP government was elected, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon re-iterated this commitment in May 2021, through the Priorities of Government statement. The pledge was to establish pilot projects within the first 100 days of government, and commit to rolling the scheme out fully within 12 months.

As a result, the Free Bikes for Children Pilot Scheme was introduced to try out a range of ways to offer free bikes for school age children who could not afford one.

Six pilot projects were introduced within the first 100 days, with a further four pilot projects introduced in autumn/ winter 2021. One pilot project withdrew from the pilot in early 2022, for wider reasons not related to the pilot.

The Free Bikes for Children pledge links with and supports a wider range of work that the Scottish Government is undertaking to ensure that cycling is available and accessible to all – including changing behaviours, enhancing infrastructure and providing access to active travel options. Scottish Government, working with its partners, has supported a wide range of activity to improve access to bikes - including

  • funding for employers, community groups and schools to support access to equipment, parking or showers to encourage cycling
  • bike share programmes
  • support for e-bike projects
  • support for projects to create more opportunities for people to walk or cycle.

Evaluation aims

This evaluation focuses strongly on the process and mechanisms of providing free bikes for children. The evaluation explores:

  • Viability - The evaluation explores the positives and negatives of each approach, the impact of each pilot, the challenges and the opportunities offered. It explores how each pilot project can contribute to reducing inequalities and provide fairer and easier access to bikes for children.   
  • Scalability and cost - The evaluation explores the feasibility of scaling successful approaches to a national level, including unit cost to deliver.

Evaluation method

The evaluation of the Free Bikes for Children Pilot Scheme runs through to August 2023. This interim evaluation involved six key stages. Due to Covid-19 related restrictions, all fieldwork was undertaken remotely – online or over the phone.

Stage 1: Building relationships and understanding

The evaluation method involves in depth work with each of the pilot projects, and open and honest reflection from pilots around what works well and what has been challenging. It also involves building on feedback and evaluation work already being undertaken by each pilot project, and adapting the evaluation method to each pilot project as appropriate.

At an early stage, time was spent building relationships and supporting pilot projects to understand the approach to evaluation within the Free Bikes for Children Pilot Scheme. It was made clear that the evaluation would:

  • identify successful approaches and what works – without directly comparing the performance of projects individually
  • sensitively present challenges and barriers in the form of learning – alongside actions taken to address challenges, and outcomes of this
  • share findings and learning themes openly while retaining individual participant anonymity
  • focus on the overall aim of identifying the range of approaches that work well for achieving positive outcomes for children, young people and families.

A collective session was held with project leads and partners in September 2021, and a recorded presentation provided for projects unable to attend or funded after this date. Individual sessions were then held with each pilot scheme during October and November 2021, to discuss the approach to evaluation in more detail. An individual plan was made for each pilot scheme, tailored to their activities, timescales and target group (Nine projects were involved at this interim stage).

Stage 2: Desktop review

The pilot schemes attend monthly check-in meetings with Transport Scotland leads, as well as providing monthly reports, budget updates and presentations to the Free Bikes for Children Pilot Scheme Board. This information was reviewed to identify key learning points, successes and challenges, to understand progress in project set up and delivery and to inform fieldwork with the project leads and partners.

Stage 3: Fieldwork with project leads

Individual interviews were held with project leads for nine of the pilot schemes. The final pilot scheme was not yet active at the time of interim fieldwork, and will be held in spring 2022. Interviews followed a semi-structured discussion guide (Included as Appendix One) and explored:

  • project set up
  • identifying children and young people
  • working with partners
  • procuring and distributing equipment
  • meeting a range of needs
  • supporting safe and sustainable use
  • costs and resources
  • impact
  • learning and support.

For the final evaluation, repeat interviews will be held with all ten project leads in spring/ summer 2022, towards the end of their pilot scheme delivery.

Stage 4: Fieldwork with partners

Individual interviews were held with nine project partners, from six of the pilot schemes. Partners included bike providers, cycling clubs, school teachers, youth organisations and others. Interviews explored similar issues to project leads, but focused in on the elements that the partners had been particularly involved in.

For the final evaluation, 18 further interviews will be undertaken with partners. Permissions have been received to speak with school staff, who are important partners in a number of the pilot schemes.

Stage 5: Fieldwork with families

At this early stage of pilot scheme development, most projects were in set up phase and felt it was too early to speak meaningfully with families about their perceptions of the scheme and its impact. At this interim stage, two interviews were held with parents and two with young people who had received bikes through one pilot scheme. Interviews explored:

  • how families felt about the opportunity
  • how families accessed the scheme
  • views on equipment offered through the scheme
  • views on safety, storage and sustainability
  • impact of the bike and associated support, including impact on activity levels, cycling skills, health and active travel.

Detailed evaluation work with parents, carers, children and young people is planned for spring and summer 2022. This will include 46 interviews and a short survey of parents and carers, and children and young people.

Stage 6: Analysis and reporting

Qualitative evidence was analysed using a process of manual thematic coding, to identify patterns and key themes. An early framework was also developed for understanding the cost of providing free bikes to children, based on learning from the pilots. 

This interim report was produced for discussion within the Research Advisory Group, before being finalised and presented at a learning event for pilot scheme in spring 2022. Content relating to each pilot project was sent to the project lead for approval.

Contents | Next >

Back to top