Having seen press cuttings during late-July detailing the new Barclays-sponsored cycle hire scheme, I'd paid very little interest. During The LEYTR Jolly Boys' Outing last month an obvious addition to London were a plentiful supply of bike racks, or cycle docking stations to use more modern prose.
But how does it work and can anyone just walk up and rent a bike for a few hours? Sadly, to answer the last point first, no they can't; well, not at the moment, anyway.
Initially, membership needs to be made and a credit/debit card linked to each account. A key needs to be paid for and an access fee needs to be selected and paid for: 24 hours, weekly, annually. The key is then posted out and is inserted into the machine located at each docking station by the user, where a daily charge is selected and charged to the account. The daily charges range from 30 minutes up to a maximum of 24 hours.
A little long-winded, but understandably necessary considering the nature of the scheme. Charges are made when a bike is damaged, returned late or not returned at all. The maximum charge is pitched slightly higher than the cost of a bike, £300. The daily charges seem to differ violently, from free for a 30-minute period to £50 for a full 24 hours.
To say that the scheme has been very successful would be an understatement. Within a month-and-a-half, the one millionth journey has been made or, more importantly for TfL, paid for. This must bring considerable relief to Mayor Johnson, whose personal championing of the pedal cycle
has been inextricably entwined with his entire career. I'd argue that Boris would consider the very public termination of the new Routemaster more of a valid sacrifice than that of his cycling scheme.
The scheme has been given more than its fair share of publicity, though. DJ Edith Bowman and The X Factor 'referee' Dermot O' Leary have been signed up to star in a short film showing how straightforward the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme is. When is the last time a C-list celebrity lent their name to promoting the bus industry? Would one, for example, give the New Bus for London a helping hand on its way?
To be fair, the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme is one of the first of its kind here in the UK and accordingly an especially large push was needed to try and imprint it in as many people's minds as possible. Casual users (non-members) cannot make use of the scheme without first registering, which would appear to restrict the scheme's popularity somewhat. That said, it's best that teething troubles are ironed out before the free-for-all ensues. There have been teething troubles, too. The biggest problem fellow bloggers have reported is the non-availability of bikes where they are needed and the excessive numbers at docking stations - so many that cyclists are having to travel well beyond their intended destinations to find a docking station at which to leave their bike.
A nice touch is the ID number of each bike being in the standard TfL font displayed on buses and Tube trains, New Johnston
While TfL and Serco have identified the likely hotspots around peak periods, the scheme's success appears to have exasperated matters. More bikes are being constructed every month, initially in preparation for the scheme's expansion for non-members, but more recently they've been used to satisfy demand. Serco has been inundated with requests for bikes at docking stations and has found positioning them accordingly a full-time job.
While TfL is keeping details of thefts and damage under wraps for the time being, the docking stations that we encountered last month seemed in good repair and a few bikes were available in each. With one million journeys being recorded in such a short space of time, genuine modal shift may well be taking place. Trouble is, though, how many are leaving the buses, trains and Tube rather than their cars? So few people travel by car into central London, that a real concern for TfL here must be that a noticeable drop in peak travel figures may be recorded very soon indeed. On the buses at least, this may help justify service cuts to meet the very stringent demands of its reduced budget.
i How the Scheme works (video)
i Barclays Cycle Hire homepage (TfL)