Scheme heads towards second anniversary with issues such as distribution of bikes still not ironed out

New figures released by Transport for London (TfL) suggest that three in four members of the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme have started to cycle in London because of it, and that the scheme is encouraging people to cycle more on their own bikes, and to spend money on cycling equipment. The news coincides, however, with a BBC report quoting a leaked TfL internal report that says that the novelty of the scheme has worn off.

It should be noted that while that document, dated September 2011, was based on research conducted in July last year among both active and inactive members and from June to Augist among casual users, the latest figures from TfL are from research carried out in November among active users only, so the two are not directly comparable.

One of the key findings of that earlier report was that "A trend of declining scores across all measures for members suggests BCH novelty has worn off and cyclists are becoming more critical of the BCH offer.”

On the one hand, the fact the scheme was no longer seen as a novelty is to be expected with any new initiative once it has had a chance to bed down, but at that same time, it appears that for many users, issues initially dismissed as teething troubles still needed to be addressed - indeed, shortly before the survey was conducted among users, TfL had ordered scheme operators Serco to improve its performance and address shortcomings including the distribution of bikes at docking stations.

According to TfL, November's research found that one in five "active" members of the scheme, which was inaugurated in July 2010, have spent money on cycling equipment including helmets and clothing and four in five believe that it makes a positive contribution to the capital.

Moreover, three quarters of its members would recommend the scheme to their family and friends, with features such as value for money, the ease of use and enjoyment of using the bikes cited as the chief factors in urging others to sign up.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson, under whom plans were realised for a bike-share scheme for the capital previously mooted by former mayor Ken Livingstone and other politicians, commented: “More than nine million journeys have now been made using my flagship Barclays Cycle Hire scheme and I am very pleased that 80% of users say they think it makes a positive contribution to the capital.

“I will continue to invest in improving the transport infrastructure of our great city and look forward to launching the eastern expansion of the cycle hire scheme later this year.”

That expansion will see the scheme head eastwards towards the Olympic Park, and it will also expand into areas such as Shoreditch, Camden Town and White City.

While the BBC says that the scheme continues to suffer from issues such as poor distribution of bikes that leaves some docking stations either full or empty during the day – both frustrating for those looking either to return or pick up a bike, as the case may be – TfL insists that it is focusing on making improvements in that area.

Another aspect of the scheme singled out for criticism by the BBC is its contact centre and again TfL maintains that it is working on making the experience less frustrating for users than is currently often the case.

TfL, whose own safety record has come under fire from cycle campaigners and others following a string of high-profile fatalities in recent months, is also encouraging Londoners to undertake cycle training that it funds to help them gain confidence in cycling around the city as well as skills to cope with a variety of situations.

“Since the launch of Barclays Cycle Hire, almost eighteen months ago, users have made over 9 million hires,” said Leon Daniels, TfL’s Director of Surface Transport.

“Thousands of people living and visiting the capital have discovered that cycling is one of the most enjoyable ways to get around London.

“Cycle safety continues to be our top priority and I would encourage people who live, work or study in central London to take advantage of TfL-funded adult commuter cycle training,” he added.

“Cycle training is a great way to improve confidence and to develop the skills needed to keep cycling safely and comfortably throughout the winter; everyone cycling in London should give it a go.”

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.


A V Lowe [621 posts] 6 years ago

The use of the bikes by commuters creates the major problem. Commuter flows are wildly tidal and to deliver this with BCH would require either fixed docking points that would be empty for 50% of the time using up space and costing money, or an efficient way to replenish/remove bikes at key hire locations.

To ensure spaces are available a normal balanced scheme needs around 50% more docking points than bikes circulatingbut the tidal issues make that figure rise potentially to 100% or more

One option would be to offer a wider multi-tariff system, such as in Montpelier, where the same bikes can be used by commuters who take the hire for a whole day - essentially OV-Fiets, the Dutch Railways product, where subscribers pay around £2.50/day and park the bikes at work before returning them to the station.

TfL would reduce the queues to return bikes at Waterloo if they had equipment that comes with Tim Caswell's HourBike system, as th users are forced to queue whilst bikes are fed through a docking point and then loaded on to a trailer, or cycled off to the storage area. Messy triple handling, and often a queue of 10-15 people missing their train because the crew are not equipped with the right kit. The original Paris bike scheme - some 20 years in operation (ie NOT Ve'Lib) solved this issue with old buses.

Of course the other London Bike hire schemes - OYBike who pulled out of London when the company failed to prequalify as a bidder (because they failed to have the financial backing despite having Veolia Transportation as a major stakeholder at the time), and Brompton Dock, whose pilot trial with SW Trains was launched in May 2009 - before BCH - and has steadily rolled along with all 100 bikes on near permanent hire to season ticket holders. The Automated system has had its first unit running at Guildford for nearly 6 months, and will launch on several new sites from March 2012. Unlike the BCH scheme users are encouraged to take the bikes for a month or longer, and a bike with all running costs covered costs around £700/year.

workhard [400 posts] 6 years ago

I bailed on Boris and his Bikes and bought a Brompton

step-hent [727 posts] 6 years ago
A V Lowe wrote:

Unlike the BCH scheme users are encouraged to take the bikes for a month or longer, and a bike with all running costs covered costs around £700/year.

Isn't this about the same cost as a brompton on a cycle to work scheme? Sounds like a great way to test whether you want one, but not really an efficient long term hire scheme.

Definitely agree with AV Lowe that the commuter use puts a lot of stress on the whole system, but it's difficult to see how to avoid commuter use, really. Still a good scheme though - when i'm in town without a bike it's great to be able to jump on a hire bike and nip to places which would be a convaluted journey on public transport, or a tediously long walk...

cborrman [88 posts] 6 years ago

been using it for two years now, paid the £50 (first year) and now £45 for second year and make that back in just 3 avoided taxis!

there are clearly better and worse routes for usage, but i think the short-term nature (sub 30 mins free) is the only way to ensure bikes are available.

I do agree however they need to have more docks than bikes, there is not really a space issue, you can park 50-100 bikes in the space of one bus or bus stop.

I think they also need to a better way of restocking, i.e. we most take the boris when london is gridlocked... so replenishing that stock by road is not going to work.

More localised storage is one option?

i can tell you, when you arrive back in London at 5-6pm into paddington and face the dread of the circle/district line, a taxi stuck in hyde park or a 20 min pleasant ride through the park, its pretty much a no-brainer.

However, they could be improved drastically in a few simple improvements@

1) having hand gel at the stations to clean your hands, i get the boris bikes to go to meetings for food, coffee etc and dread to think of the muck, virus and bacteria on the handgrips...

2) shelters at bike stations for rain, etc. you often get flash showers in London, wet seats are not good and deter usage during a whole day of frequet showers. Worse, some are below trees and are full of bird droppings, the ones outside embankment tube are the worst (back to comment above). The state of some of the bikes would make you cows climb trees before having a dump...

3) a rack on the back for hand luggage sized bags

London is a way better place for having them, and we should not care who uses them as each use is promoting cycling and avoiding a few more toxic emissions.

graham [17 posts] 6 years ago

I think this is a superb idea, with one caveat...

I was staying in Waterloo and training in Clerkenwall. The first couple of days I walked - nice sunny days, and a wander across the river was lovely. Then the novelty of walking wore off, and as there was a stand by the bridge, I took a bike. It was fun! And there's a camaraderie among BCH users that was unexpected, and pleasant.

On returning in the evening, there was nowhere to return the bike that I picked up in the City. As it was my first time I didn't know what to do... Got sorted in the end but it took longer than walking.  2