As a member of the scheme I have a vested interest in seeing the scheme succeed and every bike stolen or missing is going to be ammunition for those who might argue against expanding it. So, with the Mayor of London's plea to Londoners ringing in my ears (“I want everybody to realise that these bikes belong to every body — this is a partially Communist experiment") I pulled out my mobile and rang the bike hire scheme call centre. It rang, and rang, and rang. Eventually I got through to a helpful young man who suggested I should ride the bike to the nearest docking station and dock the bike securely. He asked for the bike's unique ID number so he could try and trace the account of whoever had owned it, and I set off on my merry way... Sadly, the first bike hire station I tried at South Audley Street was full. So was Conduit Street. And St George's Lane, Curzon Street, and New Bond Street. It seemed increasingly likely that whoever had abandoned the bike in the first place had done it in desperation looking for a docking spot.
9AM had been and gone by this point so I took it to my office for safe keeping ('cos lets face it, an unlocked bike on the not so mean streets of Mayfair will last all of about 5 minutes before it is nicked) and rang the call centre to let them know what I'd done and would they mind awfully sending round their bike distribution truck to pick it up? "Of course we can, Sir!" they replied (after taking what seemed like an age to pick up the phone) "Someone will be with you in an hour!"
Two hours later I was still in possession of my ill-fated hire bike and was growing quite attached to it. Attempts to ring the call centre again (ring ring, ring ring) got me through to what was described with apologies as 'the secondary call centre'. They explained that no, they couldn't put me through to the primary call centre, or the bike distribution team, but that they could take my name and number and get someone to ring me later...
8 hours and 6 phone calls lapsed between me finding the bike and a nice young man from the bike distribution team coming to my office (with Barclays branded fleuro vest and helmet!) to pick the bike up. Lucky for Barclays Cycle Hire I'm a patient kind of guy; other people might have been tempted to, you know, dump the bike in the street. At an estimated £300 a pop I'm sure that TfL are keen for this not to happen.
So where is the scheme going wrong?
The installation of the docking stations seemed to go reasonably well (NIMBY idiots in Mayfair doing their worse not withstanding), and the bikes themselves (designed and built in Canada) seem robust enough. But there have been horror stories aplenty about people's keys not arriving (apparently it helps when you remember to pay the postage), people's keys not working, spurious charges appearing on accounts before accounts are cancelled all together and of course the fact that the scheme is yet to be opened fully to non-members. Every morning at Waterloo on the South Bank there are teams handing out bikes to meet demand as quickly as they can - during the day central London bike racks are full - come home time the teams are back at the stations ready to receive back all the bikes they handed out in the morning.
A glut of bikes near Waterloo last night, photographed by Twitterer @Fundamentals with thanks.
Of course, we are all aware that the scheme is new and those of us who have joined are supposed to be 'pioneer members' (what, all 45,000 of us?). But Serco, the company who were awarded the £140 million scheme to run the scheme, have to demonstrate value for money and shake out the problems they are having with their call centres and supply and demand issues if it is going to be deemed a success. I think my day with the abandoned bike demonstrates perfectly where they could begin to improve. No one would ever take the Tube or bus if this was the kind of service they received; these are the standards that Serco should be aiming to exceed. According to Ross Lydall on his Evening Standard blog, Transport for London top bod Peter Hendy has had similar issues with the scheme and will be giving Serco an ear-bashing as a consequence. If our pleas aren't heard, maybe his will?
Do you have confidence in the BorisBike scheme? What do you think needs to be done to improve the present customer experience? As always, I'm happy to pass on your thoughts to the relevant authorities.