Two years of Boris Biking - where would Londoners be without their ubiquitous big blue bicyles?


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It's a very happy birthday to London's Boris Bike system as our famous blue bicycles turn two years old.  Just how much have the Canadian imports become an ubiquitous sight on our streets and what would London do without them?


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Casting our minds back it seems ridiculous now to remember the hysterical level of hand-ringing that accompanied the introduction of the scheme.  Would bat-like cyclists come screaming out of one way roads the wrong way?  Would inexperienced cyclists be throwing themselves in to the path of hapless, innocent motorists (possibly on purpose)?!  Would bikes crash the economy?!  Worries were, of course, unfounded.  In two short years (and goodness, doesn't time fly when we are having fun?) some ten million journeys have been made on the bikes.  Last week alone nearly a quarter of a million journeys were made, with a record 47,000 journeys made last Friday, the 27th July.  The scheme has expanded from starting out with 5,000 bikes to 7,500 bikes today with docking stations covering a 21km square area from West London to Tower Hamlets in the East.  Proposals are currently on the table to expand the scheme further next year to include a larger part of south London.

Of course, the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme - to use its real name - is not above criticism.  The corporate naming rights for the scheme, which will cost Barclays £25 million till 2018, have sat increasingly uneasily since the revelations surrounding the LIBOR scandal, and has set a precedent for naming public services after publicity-hungry corporations (Arabfly Dangleway, anyone?).  With the average weekday journey time just 18 minutes and subsequently free, and with an average daily income of just £3,370 for the whole scheme there are still questions surrounding the project's funding and long term viability. And that's before you even try to dock a bike at Waterloo at 6PM on a Friday night...

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All this said and done, it already seems hard to remember a time before the Boris Bikes.  As an existing London cyclist with a distinct aversion to riding in the rain I know that the scheme has increased my ridership levels.  Catching the Tube in the mornings in the rain but still having the option to cycle home at the end of the day if I want to is conveniantly liberating.  And having a fleet of bicycles at hand to help guide visitors on tours of the city is not just useful it's a joy to be able to share my passion for cycling here with people from out of town.  And yes, there may have been one or two late night journeys home after the last Tube has left for the evening but the Boris Bikes have stuck around.  Not a good idea, of course, but handy none the less...

But without a doubt the key success story of the Boris Bike scheme has been, for me, the way in which it has acted as a super-charger for everyday and ordinary cycling.  The "come as you are" "turn up and ride" nature of the system has won over a whole new legion of fans who are realising, perhaps for the first time, that whether you're kitted out in lycra or high heels anyone can ride a bike.  And for that reason alone our big bulky blue bikes have grown from being an ugly ducking in to a swan in my affections.

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Happy birthday Barclays Cycle Hire, long may you continue!  You're big, blue, bulky and expensive, and I think I love you.



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9 comments:

Mark S said...

I really think you've hit the nail on the head with the "turn up and ride" comment. That is EXACTLY how a bicycle should be seen, as an extension of ones legs, a position that has sadly been taken up in this country by the car.

Cycling is the most efficient form of locomotion and in a busy city such as London is one of the few modes of transport where journey times can be so reliable :-)

Monchberter said...

I have to agree, 'turn up and ride' is the best way to describe their benefits.

They've grown on me somewhat, from thinking them too heavy and slow, I realised I shouldn't be comparing them to my own bikes. My only bug bear is that unlike tyres / gears the one thing you can't really check before you hire is the how well the brakes work. I'd say at least a third of the ones I do hire don't have brakes that work well enough for me to trust them fully, and that's after me doing a quick check while in the stand.

ibikelondon said...

@Mark S I agree - the way the wider public perceive the bike and its ability as a tool has been lost somewhat along the line. And I do believe the Boris Bikes are helping to counter that and re-position the bike in the wider consensus.

@Monchbeter You're not wrong! The single biggest failing of the entire scheme has, in my opinion, been the handling of the bikes themselves by Serco, the service provider who run the scheme for TfL. Their efforts at re-distributing the bikes have not gone well and their maintenance schedule is clearly not good enough. Keeping the bikes in top nick - and safe - should be Serco's primary consideration.

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan - in theory. After seeing the Velib in Paris I looked forward to a London scheme. I even planned my route from Camberwell Green to the Elephant. Dropping the kids off at school using the bus means I can't often cycle to work. Still waiting for the scheme to extend south. I'm hoping that when I get that regular experience I'll consider using them for occasional trips to meetings in town.

@AlecLeggat

Jose said...

hi,
I like your last sentence a lot. I wasn't aware about the existence of this service, since I haven't been in London for a while. But I recently visited Dublin (Ireland!) and found the same system there. It caught my attention very soon. The bikes are extremelly similar to those in London so I guess they either took the idea from London or from Canada itself. The only 'but' I see is that in order for it to be worthwhile one needs to stay in the city for longer than a month or two, since you have to pay a kind of a fee (not high for a year but high for a month or two) to be able to use this system. Particularly Dublin's public transport is very expensive so the idea is really good, except for visitors or short time residents as I said. What seems to work fine in Dublin is to ride on one's bike. There are a lot of them and I think (it's just my own idea) it's becuase of how expensive the public transport is, since it rains a lot in Dublin. Maybe they just adore bicycles! (no wonder by the way, I adore them too)

ibikelondon said...

Hi Jose, well spotted, the system in Dublin is exactly the same as the system we have here in London. It's called "Bixi" as is brought off the shelf from a Canadian company of the same name.

Where we differ to the Dublin scheme is that here in London anyone can turn up on the day and purchase a 24 hour, 3 day or one week hire period using just their credit card. Subsequently the bikes are very popular with tourists, but perhaps that is what Dublin are trying to avoid? In Barcelona you have to be a registered resident to apply for a bike hire card to stop all of the bicycles being used by tourists leaving none for the residents - it may be a similar set up in Dublin.

Dublin has seen a real cycling renaissance in recent years and has become quite the poster-child due to the hard work and dedication of a number of pro-bike politicians there. Copenhagenize.com has some great posts about the history of cycling in the city and the current field of play there - hop over to their website and hit the 'Dublin" tag and you'll find plenty to keep you entertained!

Thanks for stopping by and happy cycling!

ibikelondon said...

@Anonymous I agree that London needs to catch up with other cities in terms of providing infrastructure to back up the bike hire scheme. We need more bike hire stations (especially south of the river) and more good quality bike paths for people to use on them.

congokid said...

"The [Dublin] bikes are extremelly similar to those in London so I guess they either took the idea from London ..."

Yes, in fact Dublin was so impressed by the London scheme that it went back in time to September 2009 and launched its own bike hire scheme almost a whole year before London's saw daylight.

I guess I need to insert :) here...

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