Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme open as other public transport options undergo festive shutdown

It’s easy to forget that London’s Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme is in essence just one part of the capital’s public transport network, but that fact has been highlighted through the release of official figures that show a strong spike in casual use on Christmas Day when the rest of the system – buses, tube and overland trains and even river buses – was shut.

In all, 3,768 journeys were completed on Christmas Day using the distinctive blue Boris Bikes, almost double the level seen on the second-busiest day of the month, Saturday 11 December, when 1,938 journeys were made.

What the data can’t reveal is the purpose of the journeys. Some, one imagines, would be people visiting friends or relatives across the city, perhaps toting gifts on the front luggage rack, while in the increasingly 24/7, 365 days a year economy, some might be hotel staff, say, heading to and from work.

We’d like to think though, that at least some of the journeys would have been made by people keen to explore the city by bike on the one day of the year when the streets are fairly traffic-free.

The encouraging news from the point of view of Transport for London (TfL) is that the casual use of the scheme, launched in December, remained robust through to January 16, the latest date for which figures have been released.

With the exception of January 6 and 7, the number of casual users remained in four figures each day throughout the first half of the month, topping 2,500 on three occasions, each being either a Saturday or a Sunday.

With the onset of better weather as spring approaches, it would be expected that usage figures will continue to grow the summer as the scheme heads towards its first anniversary at the end of July.

The figures were released in a written answer provided by Mayor of London Boris Johnson to Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon in his Cycling Questions and Answers session for January, details of which were provided by Jenny Jones, Green Assembly Member and Deputy Mayor under Ken Livingstone, to The Bike Show.

Another question from Ms Pidgeon related to the potential expansion of the scheme beyond the current zone to areas other than East London, which it is due to expand into ahead of next year’s Olympics.

Referring to previous comments by Mr Johnson that some areas would not be suitable for expansion as a result of “London’s geography and topography,” Mr Johnson drew on “lessons learnt from other schemes, notably Paris’ Vélib’,” which, he said “point to severe redistribution problems in areas with steep hills, as the vast majority of users are disinclined to climb up hills in order to dock bicycles.”

Press reports shortly after the launch of the Vélib’ scheme suggested that its operators encountered severe problems in ensuring widespread distribution of the hire bikes due to the habit of residents of areas such as Montmartre using them to coast down into the city centre on their morning commute, but returning home by other means.

As Mr Johnson explained, “Central London is relatively flat but there are many hilly areas in the city which would present redistribution problems, mainly north and south of the centre.”

Those areas would presumably include the likes of Alexandra Palace, Muswell Hill, Hampstead and Highgate north of the Thames and, to the south, Blackheath, Sydenham Hill and Crystal Palace, among others.

“Given the need for one continuous zone, these hilly areas pose a barrier for extending cycle hire to flatter areas beyond them,” he added, which could signal the end, for now, of hopes that the scheme might eventually be extended to outlying boroughs such as Croydon.

Other questions put to Mr Johnson covered a wide range of topics including the Barclays Cycle Superhighways and cycle safety, and you can read the full transcript here.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.