The much-vaunted London Cycle Hire Scheme doesn’t go live until the summer, but software developers have already come up with an app for the Apple iPhone that will help Londoners and out-of-towners alike find the nearest docking station to pick up or drop off a bike.
Developed independently of Transport for London, the body ultimately responsible for the scheme, and SERCO, its operator, the app harnesses GPS and mapping technology as well as a database with the co-ordinates of the 400 docking stations in the capital to locate the nearest one.
According to cyclehireapp.com, which came up with the app, "it won't take more than a couple of taps to find what you need." Moreover, it promises that “maps will come preloaded with the app - no internet connection needed - and it will work fine inside the tube."
Although no launch date has yet been set for the app, you can sign up for updates on the cyclehireapp.com website, and also follow them on Twitter. Once the iPhone app is up and running, it is planned to develop similar applications for other smartphones such as the BlackBerry
The app's developers, however, will be hoping that it does not suffer the same fate as a free, independent app for Dublin's bike rental scheme which had to be withdrawn last year following legal action by that scheme's operator, the French advertising giant JC Decaux, which also operates the Vélib' cycle hire scheme in Paris.
In the meantime, they are welcoming suggestions for features that could help iPhone owners get the best possible use from the app. The website londonnet.com suggests a built-in alarm to let you know when the initial half-hour hire period is coming to an end, which could prove quite a money saver.
One that we’d like to see – although it might prove impossible without input from TfL or SERCO – is a feature that tells you whether there were actually bikes available for hire on the docking station you’re being directed towards, to avoid disappointment when you get there.
Another could be tracking your usage of the scheme over say a week or a month to help you gauge how much benefit you’re getting out of it, and if your journeys could be overlaid on a map, it might even help you decide where you were better off walking, or where you might consider jumping on a hire bike.
Or how about a 'Boris tracker' feature that helps you keep track of where London's Mayor happens to be pedalling at any given time? Useful should you have a gripe about the scheme, perhaps after venturing to a docking station to find no bikes are available.
The possibilities are really limited only by your imagination – so let’s hear your suggestions about what features the app could provide.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.