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Bike sharing in London

Write On Metro notes the one-year anniversary of London’s bike sharing program.

In London’s first year of operating a bike-share program, it has proven so popular that riders can’t always find a bike, and when they finish their trip, often can’t find a docking station.

The program, Barclays Cycle Hire, has 6,000 bikes at docking stations throughout London, which users can unlock with a credit or debit card. The first 30 minutes are free to encourage short trips. Stats for the first year: 6 million trips, 12 thefts and fewer than 100 accidents, reports Transit Wire.

That latter link points to this Guardian story, which notes some of the successes and complaints about this program:

When Barclays Cycle Hire, London’s newest mass transit initiative, celebrates its first birthday at the end of the month, its unmistakable bicycles will have crisscrossed the capital 6 million times. If the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wanted to raise the profile of cycling then he has certainly succeeded – from the title sequence of The Apprentice to an endorsement from Arnold Schwarzenegger (“You can eat a few extra Wiener schnitzel and get away with it”), the so-called “Boris bikes” are impossible to miss. But has the scheme made a substantive difference to the lives of Londoners?


Not everyone has retained their affection for the scheme. “It is a very good idea but in practice it is unusable,” says Stephen Bayley, who was jury chair of the 2011 Brit Insurance Design awards, which actually gave Barclays Cycle Hire the transport prize. “I used it from nearly day one, but I gave up about three months ago when I had to go to nine different docking stations before I could park my bike, which took over an hour. It’s not a reliable transit system for working people, it’s an amusing curiosity for tourists.”

This is a recurring complaint. The bikes make 20,000 journeys a day, but in a relentlessly predictable pattern, with huge spikes during the morning rush hour at the major rail stations and then again, in reverse, as commuters dash back to catch their evening trains. The largest terminal, at Waterloo station, can house 126 bikes, but [Transport For London] admits it could have five times as many and still not satisfy demand. More frustrating, as Bayley discovered, is when you successfully hire a bike but cannot find a place to return it at your destination.

On a tour of the nerve centre for Barclays Cycle Hire, near King’s Cross, I raise the issue with Kulveer Ranger, Boris Johnson’s director of environment and digital London. “It’s true,” he says. “We can’t guarantee that you will be able to find a bike or be able to dock it. The bus network can carry 6.5 million people a day, the tube 4.5 million, but there are only a few thousand bikes, so not all Londoners are going to get them when they want them. If you have to make an urgent meeting, you’ve got to think, ‘This scheme does not do it for me.’ But it does work when I’m relaxed and I want to make a journey.”

Ranger can point to some notable successes, not least the fact that there have been fewer than 100 accidents and none of them serious. But a residual concern remains who is using the scheme: overwhelmingly white men aged between 25 and 44, many of whom earn more than £50,000 a year. For a scheme that has already cost £79m, with a further £45m for the extension to cover the Olympic Park next year, can we really justify this “posh-boy toy”? “If you look at the normal demographic for cycling, it’s exactly the same,” says Ranger. “But that will change as we move into year two or three and we see people getting comfortable with it.”

Worth keeping in mind, but I think that’s much less likely to be an issue in Houston, since we don’t have anything like London’s rail stations; Park and Ride buses from the suburbs are the closest equivalent, and they’re much lower volume and tend to take people right to their offices. Still, if peak demand far exceeds average demand, you’re going to have a problem with bike supply.

Quite a few American cities are getting on board with the bike sharing idea:

Last year, Washington, Chicago, Miami Beach, Denver and Des Moines, Iowa started bike-sharing programs. Boston and New York are scheduled to start programs later this summer.

Washington’s Capital Bikeshare, launched last September, has more than 1,100 bikes and 118 stations. So far, 500,000 rides have been logged. Capital Bikeshare was partially funded with a $4.8 million grant from the Department of Transportation, reports the Seattle Times.

Nice Ride in Minneapolis began last June and now has 700 bikes and more than 70 stations with more than 100,000 trips recorded in its first year. The city credits its success to the nature of the trips; 40 percent are city trips, which are less than three miles.

Add to that San Antonio, with Austin and Houston to follow. According to this story, after three months San Antonio’s B-Cycle program had 733 members who had totaled over 32,000 miles riding; it doesn’t say how many total trips were taken. It’s gotten both positive and not-so-positive reviews so far. Houston should be able to draw from a lot of other experiences when it rolls out its pilot program this August.

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  1. Peter Wang says:

    “posh boy toy” – brilliant!

  2. Rich F says:

    Madison just started up their B-Cycle program, with a lot of help from Trek, a local company. I don’t know of any stats released yet, though.