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.