16 August 2010

Hire ambitions: Good and bad experiences of the bike scheme

The Beer Hunter has been challenging himself to visit as many hire bike docking stations in a day as possible without incurring any charges. On Saturday, he told the Borisbikes forum, he managed 61 in eight hours, through an enterprising mix of jogging, cycling and orienteering.

We like this idea of docking-station challenges and will be watching with interest how the 'record' develops. We might even have a go ourselves.

It all sounds great fun - if the system works. Which hasn't been the experience of another poster to the Borisbikes forum, who claims they were incorrectly billed £30 for nine 'free' journeys.

Are these teething problems or gum disease? As they say, only time will tell. And as my mum would say, well in that case give time a couple of beers or something, and get it to tell us now.


  1. Note what he says about finding the bikes:

    "One thing is for sure though, I wouldn’t have survived with just a paper map – my android app was absolutely essential."

    There are so many hurdles deliberately built into this scheme, that is is bound to fail, even if they fix the software. If no bikes are available you need to navigate to find one, and possibly again to find a dock. That defeats the 'ease of use' principle. More fundamentally it takes time and effort. And the Android or iPhone costs money.

    Note the references in those posts to using the gym, and indeed using the bikes for lunchtime exercise. Remember the scheme was paid for with taxpayers money, on the assumption that it provides a form of transport. Riding in circles for exercise is a marginal use, which can not justify the scheme.

    This is also an image issue - the scheme was intended to promote cycling, indeed that it is the only possible benefit. However, even that would backfire, if it associates cycling in London with a particular class or profession - e.g. 'only for City types'. That seems to be a problem with the Paris scheme, where resentment against the 'bourgeois' users may have contributed to vandalism.

    Remember that poor people are barred from using the scheme - you need a credit card or a debit card to purchase access. You can't pay cash, the only means available to the poor. The terms and conditions also imply that your debited account must have a minimum of £600 (the maximum deductible charge for any single hiring).

    Boris Johnson was "educated at the European School in Brussels, at Ashdown House School and at Eton College, where he was a King's Scholar. He read Classics at Balliol College, Oxford, as a Brackenbury scholar and was elected President of the Oxford Union." That suggests he has never met anyone with less than £600 in their bank account, so he may not have given the matter any thought. But it's not the way to run a public transport facility...

  2. What a prattish 'class war' comment. All of us tax payers own the bikes, we need a deposit from anyone that hires them otherwise they will all be nicked in days. It is just common sense which is essential to run a public transport faciity

  3. Users are not allowed to pay a deposit, as they could at traditional bike hire schemes. They need a debit card or a credit card to use this scheme. If they have a debit card, they apparently need a debit limit of over £600. It is arrogant to suggest that this is a trivial issue.

    And what would be the loss to London anyway, if all the bikes were indeed stolen?

  4. So do you think that a £600 deposit would make the scheme more accessible?
    I don't think the scheme is perfect - and nothing will ever be for people in Britain - it's just the way it is - we moan about not having something and then we moan about having it - however it makes bikes visible, it makes them socially accepted and it will become, I am sure, a tourist attraction. I mean who wouldn't like tick of Boris Bikes on their sightseeing list.
    The more people cycle the more pressure there is to build better infrastructure. And when there's lots of bikes on the roads people who drive cars will start lobbying for separated infrastructure too (read about it on my blog).

  5. which blog is that, ndru?

  6. Tim, just click my nick or go to iamnotacyclist.blogspot.co.uk

  7. http://iamnotacyclist.com/Theblog.aspx ??

  8. apologies http://iamnotacyclist.blogspot.com/

  9. The scheme does not make bikes visible, aside from the spin-driven reporting in the media. It is far too small to have any effect on visibility. On 2007 figures, 19,000 cyclists enter central London in the morning peak, and peak usage of the bike hire scheme seems to be no more than 600 bikes. Any novelty value will soon disappear.

    There is absolutely no evidence that the scheme 'makes bikes socially accepted'. That is purely a marketing slogan, and the scheme's promotors have produced nothing to back it up.

    Remember that this scheme is part of a transport strategy, designed to minimise cycling, by restricting the infrastructure capacity available to cyclists. Constant rebuilding of the road network to maximise motor vehicle flow, erodes its ability to carry cyclists safely. As a result less and less people will cycle.

    The scheme is not a good scheme with flaws, it is an inherently flawed scheme with no apparent benefits. Since so few people use it, it would be far simpler and cheaper to give them all a free bike.

  10. And yet publicity is something good. It draws attention to the subject. Once you've setup a hire scheme an started with the cycle superhighways, why not carry on improving the infrastructure.
    The point is people who cycle should use this as their argument for developing new cycle paths rather then moan about it. It's just a start.

    Now just to make things clear I think that £140 million could be better spent. But they would have to be introduced at some point. And I do really hope that they won't become a rusty remainder of a unsuccessful project.

  11. Road capacity constraints in London make modal split on the road a zero-sum game. There is no question of a bike hire scheme AND improved cycling infrastructure. Policy in London is to increase capacity for cars: therefore policy in London is to make cycling more difficult. The hire scheme is part of that policy.

  12. < There is no question of a bike hire scheme AND improved cycling infrastructure. Policy in London is to increase capacity for cars: therefore policy in London is to make cycling more difficult. The hire scheme is part of that policy. >
    Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong. In fact moronic, paranoid, obsessive and plain dumb.

  13. Anonymous I have to disagree. You are right that London's capacity is finite, so how would you implement a policy that you speak of? Would you knock buildings down? Or remove pavements? Because there are more and more cars - at some point people will jump on bikes simply because the traffic comes to a standstill. I, presonally, can see a movement in the opposite direction. The only thing we seem to be lacking is an organization lobbying for separate infrastructure and not a bunch of vehicular cyclists.