Those outside of London might not know that a new cycle hire scheme based around Montreal’s Bixi system has been implemented at something like £140 Million cost, with 400 docking bays and 6,000 bikes (ahem – more on that later). Known commonly either as Barclays Cycle Hire (the main sponsor) or Borisbikes (after Boris Johnson, the mayor – partly wrong since actually Ken Livingstone started the project) it was launched only 6 weeks ago and already gone over the 500,000 journey mark, with over 60,000 registered people (I think it might be more now after the tube strike).
So is it a success? Well I’ve been trialling it for the last week. It’s the first time on a bike for 20 years and before the congestion charge reduced traffic generally in London it was suicidal then to ride a bike, so I never had ridden in London. I have to say overall I like it and have kind of gotten the bicycling bug back and hope it will be a success (unlike Bristol’s or the famous original Amsterdam example), with some provisos/benefits:
- It’s cheaper than a gym and has more point than sitting on an exercise bike!
- And apart from the small usage fee, all of my journeys have been free – kerching!
- It’s great for cycling on the weekend. Would I use it for serious commuting? Not sure yet…the lack of bikes & docks is annoying for ‘have to get there then’ type situations.
- There aren’t enough docking bays – only 313 were actually launched, residents and councils like in Kensington and Westminster have put a stop to some being built – including embarassingly the street where Boris lives!.
- There are some phantom docking bays, like the one marked at Little Venice (see previous point for probable cause why)
- The computer system has some serious problems though – I was stuck in Bloomsbury during a ‘reset’ (yes they reset the computer system at peak time, Friday 6pm) and none of the bikes were working. I’ve had some problem in the past week with my key, but actually not only were none of the 6-7 bikes at that bay working, the woman at the call centre only knew of one bike that was supposed to be there – the other IDs – each bike has a 6 number ID on side – were ‘unknown’ and other bikes that were supposed to be there, weren’t. Worrying – especially as you can get charged upto £150 for non-return of a bike – if there is some lag in the updates like this, or bikes are ‘lost’ what can happen?
- The 5 minute wait when you dock a bike to take that or another bike out. Sort it! Apparently you also need to wait a minute or two, or at least a few more seconds before trying to take another bike out ‘on red’.
- No idea which way to put the key in (apparently it should work either way)
- Cycle Journey Planner is really useful – but on the ground why can’t the maps on the ‘bay computers’ have one way streets marked? Or on the paper cycle map? Also the bays could be marked on the similar looking pedestrian map? One way streets were the only real nightmare of this exercise.
- Lack of bikes – as I said 6,000 bikes are supposed to be in the system, more than a thousand aren’t due to lack of docks being finished or built by launch. This came to a head during the strike, where no bikes at all were to be found in Soho – they were all down at Waterloo.
- The TFL interactive map is wrong. It gives wrong data about the availability – or did during the strike, saying local docks were full of bikes when they were empty.
- The nearest docking station to me is 20 minutes walk – which isn’t bad, but I know if there was a dock nearer my house I’d use it hell of a lot more.
- Most commuters and locals are only using the scheme at the moment which means very bursty use between train stations and the centre for work. Students aren’t back yet, that should mean the pattern changes – as will tourists when they can use the system later in the year or next year. I can understand the reticence about that, it will need to be bombproof then.
- What is it with Boris and painting the new Tory blue everywhere? From pedestrian signs to riverboats to the bikes, surely they should have their own colours/branding?
Oh and the London Assembly want to hear your views on the new scheme before the public meeting on 12th October – if you’ve used it get to it gang!