An Amsterdam bike hire company is encouraging cyclists to offer tourists lifts on their luggage racks

"Gissa lift, mate." Image: Yellow Bike.

If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, you’ll have encountered them whether you’d like to or not. Used by 63 per cent of Amsterdamers on a daily basis, and with an estimated 800,000 in the city, you may, if you were feeling adventurous, even have had a go on one yourself. I’m talking, of course, about bicycles.

But despite the world-renowned cycling facilities available, there has recently been a spate of stories, blaming tourists on two wheels have for numerous accidents. Although there are no statistics to back this up, it's easy to see how those who are concentrating more on their selfie-sticks than they are their steering could get the blame.

To counter the issue, a company has come up with an innovative solution – a sort of Uber-meets-couch surfing for bikes.

The scheme, Yellow Backie, is the brainchild of one of the city's cycle hire companies, Yellow Bike. In essence, it encourages locals to give tourists a lift on their bicycle’s luggage rack. The company provide the volunteers with a yellow rack to make them identifiable around the city; all people have to do to hail down a ride is shout “backie” and hop on.

Martin Luyckx, online marketing and communication manager of Yellow Bike, says the company was fed up with the bad reputation tourists were getting. “We wanted to counter the negativity with some positivity,” he tells me. “Catching a ride on someone else’s luggage rack is quite common in the Netherlands for short distances – so by having a yellow rack, it now shows that you are open to giving tourists a short ride instead of ignoring them in our great city.”

He hopes that the scheme will become a “common good”, likening it to the Het witte fietsenplan (White bicycle plan) that was introduced to the city in the 1960s. That saw 50 white bicycles were left around central Amsterdam for the public to use free of charge.

Although relatively new, since the scheme’s launch in August, 107 people have signed up in Amsterdam. Luyckx also claims that others around the world are already picking up on the idea – with unofficial DIY yellow racks seen riding around in Utrecht, Haarlem and Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and as far afield as Boston and Denver in the US.

Skadi Renooy, a recent Urban Studies graduate from the University of Amsterdam, is one of those who has got involved in the capital. She said it’s a “charming way to show tourists in Amsterdam that the locals are open to show them the city from an insider’s perspective”.

Renooy has mainly given lifts to backpackers who were travelling alone and wanted to get a local’s perspective on the city. “I think in reality, having a Yellow Backie is more about the signal it gives,” she explains. “You're basically saying: 'Hey, I am a local and I could show you around. Don't be scared of me and my bike!”

That, Luyckx says, is what Yellow Backie is about. “We want tourists to know that they can shout ‘backie!’ when they see someone with a Yellow Backie, and hitch a short ride and see something they may not have seen otherwise. After all, we should not forget that we also are tourists when we go abroad to visit cities such as London, Paris, Venice or Berlin.”

It's hard to predict how successful Yellow Backie. But if it can get visitors out of the red light district and into the real Amsterdam shows, it’ll be on the right track.


Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image:

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.