27 July 2010

Rush hour: Sign up for the bike hire scheme now

There's still time to register for the London Bike Hire Scheme. As it isn't available to casual users for another month, becoming a member is the only way to try out the scheme when it launches at 8am on Friday.

It only costs £3 - which isn't even the price of the not even a full pint most London pubs try to fob you off with - and you get a magic key providing instant hire through the post the next morning. (Assuming your posties haven't had to switch from bikes to trolleys and are therefore a day late.)

Some 5,760 people had signed up by Monday evening, TfL have just told me. So by Friday's launch, there will be well over 6,000 members. As there are only 6,000 bikes, that could make for an entertaining stampede when it all goes live.

To add to the excitement, we won't know exactly which docking stations will be live until the morning of the launch. The TfL website has a map which will be updated with working docking stations on Friday morning.

I'll be first in the queue at our local docking station. We're very positive about the scheme. I bang on about it in my Cycling Plus column this month.

One handy use for the hire bikes, even for regular cyclists like us, will be as emergency machine in case of mechanical breakdown. Having to carry a spare wheel - like this chap, spotted on Kennington Road the other day - will be a thing of the past.


  1. I meant to drop a line - I noticed in your latest column you didn't mention the hugely successful Dublin bike scheme. How come?



  2. Because I haven't been to Dublin since it was launched last September. Maybe I should do something about that. I might drop into the Ha'penny Bridge Inn while I'm there...

  3. While there is much hyperbole spoken about success, there is little realism about what has actually been achieved by the systems. The evidence so far is that these hire schemes have an undetectable effect on patterns of travel.

    The problem is the low numbers of bikes. Rob hints at this, in rather a positive way, in his article. However, 6000 bikes shared between 8 million people in London really are not going to achieve much. That's just one bike per 1300 people.

    Dublin has 450 bikes for the million people in the urban area to share. i.e. one for every 2200 people. A lower ratio than London and also lower than the much hyped system in Paris, where 20000 bikes are shared by 10 million people - roughly one bike per 500.

    Even the system in Paris can only cater for well under 1% of journeys in the city. London's and Dublin's systems can cater for rather less than this.

  4. Each bike will get used by several people during the day, so the simplistic division of population by machines isn't a particularly useful piece of arithmetic. And more bikes are promised.

    Where the Bike Hire Scheme is different from the failed Superhighways is that they are adding something new. Even if the number of extra bike journeys is small, it adds something new to London's cycling culture. It is, in a word, fun.

    I doubt that cycle cafes, for instance, encourage many new people out on to bikes, but I'm happy to celebrate Rapha's pop-up, Look Mum No Hands et al for the richness they bring to cycling in the capital.

  5. The Dublin Bike Hire Scheme is extremely Popular. It is getting People who have never Cycled before out on Bikes which is very good. It raises the Profile of Cycling in a big way,if only we had the Infrastructure to match it. Cycling Generally in Ireland is having a Renaissance and long may it continue hopefully.

    The more People who Cycle and love it the more Pressure we can put on the Government to Improve things for us. It makes Cycling very Mainstream and ordinary and takes it out of the Hands of just the Recreational Cyclists and puts it in the Prevail of the Utilitarian Cyclist.

    In Dublin the City Council got a bad Deal with just 450 Bikes they should have demanded more. Maybe it was fear it would not catch on,as Cycling had been in the Doldrums for Years. They did not need to worry as Cycling has been gradually increasing since 10 -15 Years now as you will see if and when you Visit Dublin.

    They have promised more Bikes over 200 for dublin .ie The Dublin Vélib,it is a Piffling amount as an awful lot of People use it.

    I have not used the Bikes myself but they seem to be very Nimble and quick in spite of them looking slow looking and People Whiz around on them at a good Speed. They also have a decent sized Basket for holding stuff unlike the Barclays Hire Bikes.

  6. Rob, however you want to spin it there simply aren't nearly enough bikes to make a difference. My analysis is not simply about dividing the number of people by the number of bikes, but also takes into account the most optimistic estimates from the promoters of these schemes - that each bike will be used for ten journeys per day. It is when you combine these pieces of information with the normal number of journeys that people make each day (around 2.5 - 2.8 journeys per day in different cities), that you get the maximum possible potential influence of the on the modal split. In London's case, the bike hire scheme has a maximum potential modal share, if we believe the promoters best numbers, of a mere 0.3% of all journeys in London. Due to Dublin's small number of bikes, the maximum potential modal share of their bike share is about a third as large as that. This isn't just "small," it's virtually invisible.

    I'm not the only person skeptical about this. Gert Brams from Belgium wrote his post graduate thesis on the actual effect of bike share schemes. This is the only academic analysis that I've seen as yet, and it concludes that the actual effect on the ground was not measurable, though it looked like Barcelona's scheme (which has many more bikes per person) could perhaps have had an effect.

    So why are governments around the world clambering to spend huge sums of money on these schemes ? What is the price for "fun" ? In London's case it's 140 million pounds being spent for what will almost certainly be an un-measurable result.

    140 million pounds would buy a lot of improved infrastructure, built to a much better standard than the "superhighways." But that's really the point, isn't it: Bike share appears modern and trendy, it attracts corporate sponsorship, and it's something that politicians like to show their support to in order to appear to be doing something - without actually having to face up to the problems which face cyclists on the street and take space away from motorists to make the lives of cyclists better.

    It only looks good if you ignore the figures.

  7. I can't be arsed to argue right now, David. I'm sorry that Dr Brams can't measure fun. But by God there are a lot of us at the moment who need a bit more of that. You be sceptical, and we'll enjoy it.

  8. Hmmm, I'm not sure how much of a favour, Rob, you're doing yourself by saying that you can't be, er, bothered to argue with David!

    David has a very important point to make. Lots of people (including myself) may be getting very excited about the cycle hire's simple premise, its visually obvious support for cycling in the centre of town, its 'fun' nature, and the way it is probably going to attract at least *some* people to try out cycling who don't cycle already (as well as us cyclists who may occasionally dip in!).

    But he's right in that the measurable effect on modal shift may be negligible; the amount of funding could be used on arguably better infrastructure improvements for any cyclist (not just those using the cycle hire); and it's a bit of a cop-out/short-cut for the politicians.

    However.... I suspect that there will be immeasurable spin-off benefits. We may not be able to say "it has resulted in a 0.5% increase in cycle journeys during 2010-2011" but we may be able to say "I know someone who tried cycling by using a hire bike, then bought themselves a bike and cycled to work the next month", or, "Wow, cycling does appear to be a bit more visible and therefore significant in London than it was before" as a result of the docking stations (OK, often on back-streets, but let's overlook that for now) and the advertising, or, "Driving in London is just that little bit more inconvenient now that you sometimes have to drive round a wobbling hire bike rider"....

    When I have enough time I will look at the postgraduate thesis shown in a link by David and see if that kind of effect was (or can be?) measured.

    But saying that you're effectively not interested in listening to someone's opinions on your blog (of your own opinions!) is a bit much!

  9. I'm interested, I'm just not in a position to construct the cogent reply your well-argued comments deserve... sorry... will post when I can...

  10. Rob,

    I have some photos of 1000 or so of the Barclays Specials lined up pre-delivery, which you're welcome to use. Email me at simon.p.ford@btinternet.com if you're interested

  11. David's right in that the bike hire alone won't do much, but Rob's right in that it will add to the gaiety of the nation, or at least London. I can't wait for my next work trip to London - no longer will I be stuck on the tube, I can get on a bike like everyone else (or what seemed like everyone else last time I was in town). And given that most journalists and politicians think London=England (and England=Britain) they might start thinking there are votes in actual real cycle provision as well. Hurrah.

  12. @townmouse Yes, because if "average" people want actual real cycle provision, we might actually see some, like in Copenhagen [where it was initially a "bottom up" effort, IIRC; rather than a top down planning decision]. Politicians might actually see votes in it; whereas at the moment, some of them just visualise cycling as one of two extremes - "le Tour", or le BMX riding hoodie. If trains were as obscure as canal transport in the UK, do you think we would see Crossrail?

    As far as the hire scheme goes, I think we should do an "I spy" book with these things in it:
    ) Two people on one bike
    ) Three people on one bike
    ) Person riding in Smurf outfit [to protest Smurf lanes]
    ) Carpet roll on front rack
    ) Bike ridden by celebrity [bonus points if it's after a night out and it gets in the Mirror]
    ) Bike on Critical Mass
    ) Bike in River Thames

  13. David's view is always that if it's not done that way in the Netherlands, it's not worth doing. I'm not surprised Rob can't be bothered discussing it.

  14. Anonymous: If you're so confident of your view, why don't you put your name on it ?

    My view is actually that it makes rather more sense to do things with a proven track record, to make measurements of effectiveness, and to react to those measurements. This goes double when you're talking about something as expensive as this scheme. No bike hire scheme in the world has yet resulted in a significant change in travel habits, and as London's scheme is both smaller and more costly than some of the others it's unreasonable to expect that it's magically going to do better.

    The point about the Netherlands is that this country has the highest rate of cycling in the world because they've been quite scientific in their approach. They haven't just done things because they seemed like a good idea at the time, but instead have carefully measured the results of things that have been tried, and expanded on what worked.