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Posts Tagged ‘Barclays Cycle Hire’

Velib', Métro Courcelles, Paris

Velib’, Métro Courcelles, Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently was in Paris for a couple of days. I pootled around in the city using Velibs, the French cousin of the Boris Bike. The French scheme has just celebrated its fifths anniversary.

Since I used both schemes, I thought a subjective comparison might be interesting. (My detailed experiences as a casual user of the Boris bikes are available here.)

All in all, both systems are great but both have their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Overall, however, from the perspective of a casual user I like the Velib scheme more than the Boris bikes.

Let’s compare the different aspects of the schemes one after another.

Terminals

English: Boris Bikes docked at Hyde Park, Lond...

A Boris bike docking station in London (photo credit: Wikipedia)

I found the Velib terminals rather confusing at first sight. They have to different sides, one is apparently for subscribers while the other one is for casual users. It was 1 am when I used the Velib for the first time, and some vin rouge might have been a factor. Be it as it may, initially I was trying to use the side for subscribers and was desperately looking for a credit card slot. I was close to giving up, buy my wife, who had only drunk Perrier, finally managed to figure it out that we have to use the other side of the terminal.

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The safety of cycling in the UK has become a hot topic recently. Even the parliament discussed the dangers for cyclists. This debate was triggered by an impressive campaign “The Times” has launched several weeks ago entitled “Cities fit for cycling”.

Should cyclists welcome this debate?

Traditionally, the cycling community is very wary about openly discussing the safety issue. A lot of cycling campaigners fear that too much focus on the (perceived) dangers of cycling do more harm than good because this might  reinforce a misguided perception that cycling is a dangerous endeavour.

This could turn off potential cyclists and harm our interests. It is generally assumed that the more riders are on the road, the safer cycling gets for everyone – this effect is called “safety in numbers”. Hence Andrew Gilligan, the “Daily Telegraphs” London editor and a cyclist himself, recently raised concerns about “The Times’” campaign.

When I started to collect detailed statistics about killed and severely injured riders in London last year, I had similar qualms.

In the meantime, however,  I’ve become sure that such worries are misguided. Most of the people who haven’t started to cycle yet do this because they consider it unsafe anyway. They look at  the traffic and the road infrastructure of this country and just don’t have the guts get on their bike in such an environment. If you want to turn them into cyclists, you have to increase the actual and the perceived safety first.

Roger Geller, the cycling coordinator of Portland Oregon, has developed a very convincing taxonomy of cyclists that I think can be adopted to London. Roger divides the citizens into four groups: “The Strong and the Fearless”, “The Enthused and the Confident”, “The Interested but Concerned” and “No Way No How”.

“The Strong and the Fearless”

The first group consists of a few diehards : People who cycle not matter what. As Roger puts it:

“They are ‘bicyclists;’ riding is a strong part of their identity and they are generally undeterred by roadway conditions regardless of road conditions. (…) Messengers immediately came to mind. Those “type” of people— generally young, predominantly male, fit — are an important and perhaps dominant subset of those who will ride regardless of conditions.”

According to Rogers estimates, this group equals less than 1 percent of the population.

“The Enthused and the Confident”

These riders can be easily attracted by better cycling infrastructure. In Roger’s terms:

“They are comfortable sharing the roadway with automotive traffic, but they prefer to do so operating on their own facilities. (…) They appreciate bicycle lanes and bicycle boulevards.”

Roger estimates 7% of the population belong to this group.

“The Interested but Concerned”

This is the biggest group: About 60% of the residents who are curious about cycling but scared of at the moment. Hence, they use the bike only very rarely in their local area. Roger describes them like this:

“They like riding a bicycle, remembering back to their youths, or to the ride they took last summer. (…) But, they are afraid to ride. They don’t like the cars speeding down their streets.

They get nervous thinking about what would happen to them on a bicycle when a driver runs a red light, or guns their cars around them, or passes too closely and too fast. (…)

They would ride if they felt safer on the roadways—if cars were slower and less frequent, and if there were more quiet streets with few cars and paths without any cars at all.”

“No Way No How”

Well, the Jeremy Clarkson’s of this world, you know. About a third of the population who cannot fathom to use a bike: People that are “currently not interested in bicycling at all, for reasons of topography, inability, or simply a complete and utter lack of interest”

The four types  of cyclist and London

My hypothesis is that in London, currently only the “strong and fearless” and a small part of the “Enthused and the Confident” cycle frequently. The large surge in cycling in the last ten years probably can be explained by the fact that more “enthuse and confident” riders decided to cycle. However, I would predict that given the current road layout and planning priorities in London, this effect will soon peter out.

According to the latest figures in the “Travel in London 4” report that was published in January, the typical cyclist in London is male.

Across all age groups, there is a striking sex gap: Males are much more prone to cycling as females are. According to the numbers, 64 per cent of cyclists are men. If you look at the numbers of journeys, the difference is even bigger: 72 per cent of cycle journeys are done by men.

Especially striking is the difference in the age group 25 and 44 years: Males outnumber females in a ratio of almost 1 to 3.

Psychological research shows that men are more prone to overconficence than women. I think it’s a sure bet to say that women are just scared off by the conditions on the road.

I’m convinced that without a major transformation of the transport policies in London, cycling is about to stagnate in the future because nobody will be able to convince the “Interested but Concerned” to hop on their bike in today’s London. Probably the stagnation of cycling in London has already begun.

According to the “Travel in London” report, the number of daily cycling journey in London in 2010 has risen by about 40000 to 54000. In relative terms, this is an impressive gain of 6.4 per cent. However, about 25 000 of the new journey were due to the new cycle hire scheme which was a major investment. Without the Boris Bikes, the number of journeys would only have increased by 15000. This would have been the weakest increase for a number of years.

The big spike in cycling in London happened between 2002 and 2005, as this chart confirms. Ever since, cycling seems to have reached a new plateau.

Since 2008, the increases were so tiny that they disappear in the statistics if you round to the first digit after the comma.

In the last three years, the numbers of daily bus journeys increased by 300.000 from 3.4 to 3.7 million journey while the number of daily journeys by bike only increased by less than a third.

Seen from this perspective, London is experiencing a bus revolution rather than a cycling revolution.

This is even more appalling given the fact that using the bus is much slower and more expensive than cycling. Busses in London on average travel at a speed of about 12.5 Kilometers an hour, at the same time bus fares increased massively.

So why don’t more people cycle?

Interestingly, this question isn’t asked by Transport for London (presumably because they would not like to hear the answer).

Let’s turn to Portland’s Roger Geller instead. He asserts:

“Despite all the considerable advances Portland and the region have made in facilitating bicycling, concerns about the safety of bicycling still loom large.

Riding a bicycle should not require bravery. Yet, all too often, that is the perception among cyclists and noncyclists alike. No person should have to be “brave” to ride a bicycle; unfortunately, this is a sentiment commonly expressed to those who regularly ride bicycles by those who do not.

There are many cities in modern, industrialized nations around the world with a high bicycle mode split. They have achieved these high levels of bicycle use through adherence to various cycling-promoting policies and practices.

But, one thing they share in common is they have substantially removed the element of fear associated with bicycling in an urban environment. They have created transportation systems in which bicycling is often the most logical, enjoyable and attainable choice for trips of a certain length for a wide swath—if not the majority—of their populace.

For residents of these cities, concern about personal safety associated with bicycling is rarely a consideration, and certainly not to the levels we experience here. In these “fearless” cities septuagenarians are able to ride alongside seven-year-olds safely, comfortably, and with confidence throughout the breadth of the cities.

Making bicycling a more widespread and mainstream means of transportation in Portland will require substantially addressing concerns about personal safety.”

 Compare this assessment to the statements of Boris Johnson and Transport for London. They are constantly stating that cycling in London is safe and has become safer.

It’s a small wonder that most Londoners remain sceptical with regards to cycling.

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The new docking station on Crinan Street / York Way

It is with deeply mixed feelings that I realised a few days ago there will be a new docking station for Boris bikes north of King’s Cross. It will be on Crinan Street right next to King’s Place, where the Guardian resides. It looks like it will be opened soon.

On the one hand side, it’s really good to see the expansion of the cycle hire scheme in the King’s Cross area. The network of docking stations is particularly patchy in this part of the city. Although I’m only a very casual user of the scheme (I prefer to use my own bike) it’s very convenient to have a docking station right next to my office on Crinan Street.

On the other hand, the new docking station really gives me shivers. If you want to use it, you have to ride your bike on one of the most notorious and cycling unfriendly areas of central London – the infamous King’s Cross gyratory.

If you happen to be south of Euston Street, you are forced to cross the junction where Deep Lee, a 24 year old arts student, was crushed by a lorry when she cycled to college on 3 October 2011. Since 2006, three other cyclists were killed by lorries in the area. Pedestrian and cycling campaigners have been fighting for years for a more human friendly redesign of the area but Transport for London did not bother to take action. They were more concerned about smoothing the traffic flow than improving the safety of cyclists. In December, the Camden New Journal reported about a special town hall meeting in Camden:

A TfL representative insisted that introducing a cycle lane at the junction would “cause considerable queues”, stressing that there was “limited time” to conduct a review of the proposed changes for the junction because of a “commitment” to make them in time for the Olympic Games.

Some improvement works at the dreadful junction are about to begin, but James Thomas, an architect and cyclist working on York Way who had a close look at TfL’s plan, says the changes fall short of any real improvement. James, who built the memorial bike for Deep Lee, concludes that the plans bring

no improvements in safety for cyclists

The new docking station north on York Way will lure Boris bikers to an area that is loathed even by very experienced cyclists. Many of them are tourists or otherwise inexperienced cyclists who are not familiar with the bewildering system of one-way streets around King’s Cross and are not aware of the build in dangers for cyclist on the roads around King’s Cross. To quote an infamous sentence by Boris Johnson, they will find is amazingly difficult “to have their wits about them”.

There are no bike facilities on York Way whatsoever and cycling there is absolutely counter intuitive. Between Euston Road and Wharfdale Road, the left lane is used as a bus stop. Northbound cyclists who keep left happen to be squeezed in the middle of the traffic: busses on their left, fast moving cars and lorries on their right.

I cycled there quite often and came to the conclusion that the “safest” way to ride there is if you position yourself on the road like a cyclist in Europe would do: I keep on the outer right lane next to the curb.

However, if you want to carry on north behind Wharfdale Road, you have to cross two lanes of car traffic because York Way ceases to be a one-way street there. To get to the docking station on Crinan Street, you have to cross York Way with its four lanes of fast moving, aggressive drivers. (The better way to get to the docking station is a right turn onto Wharfdale Road and then a left into Crinan Street, but tourists and people not familiar with the area won’t know.)

I consider myself an experienced cyclist who tends not be scared easily but I always feel extremely queasy when I cycle on York Way. I usually use Pancras Way as an alternative to York Way . However, this tiny street between King’s Cross Station and St. Pancras Station currently quite often comes closer to a car park for cabs than a street. In peak hours, it is almost impossible to cycle there at all. On top of that, Goods Way north of St. Pancras currently is a one way street in eastern direction and you have to cycle illegally on the curb if you want to get to King’s Place.

Leaving the docking station on Crinan Street by bike is a similar nightmare since you can’t use the York Way south of Wharfdale Road. Imagine you cycled to the docking station on Crinan Street and find out it is full. If you’re not aware of Pancras Street, cycling back to the docking stations south of King’s Cross resembles a very personal “Tour du Danger”.

All in all, the docking station on Crinan Street makes the case for segregated cycle lanes in the area even more compelling. Anything else would just be irresponsible and a gamble with human life.

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Boris Bikes - the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme in London

Over the weekend, some friends from Germany were visiting us. On Saturday (March 26) we took them for a ride on Boris bikes. Since my wife and I only have two access keys (thanks to a design flaw in the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme, but that’s another story), we had to hire two more bikes with a credit card as casual users. We had a terrific day and our visitors absolutely loved cycling in London. We cycled more than 15 miles which was great fun (and quite cheap compared to using the tube)

However, unfortunately there are still a number of glitches and inconveniences which should be rectified by  Transport for London (TfL) and Serco, the company which is running  “Barclays Cycle Hire” on behalf of TfL. Hence, I want to share our experiences. Those are my insights:

Casual access finally works

This may sound like stating the obvious, but it isn’t. Officially, the  scheme has been open for casual users since December 2010. However, when I tried to hire bikes for some friends in early January, the system declined several German Visa cards. On the Boris bike forum there are quite a few horror stories (another one)  about casual usage. But believe it or not, on several occasions we really managed to hire two bikes using a German credit card last Saturday!

The hiring procedure is a little bit clumsy

Unfortunately hiring a bike as a casual user is more complicated than TfL suggests. When you’re buying your access period (1 Pound for 24 hours), you have to insert your credit card twice. On the first occasion, the system just checks if you’ve already bought an access period. Then you have to click through several pages of terms and conditions and answer several questions (how many bikes? and so on) on the touch screen. When you’re finished you have to insert your credit card again – now you’re finally charged. I found this a little bit confusing. Pointing this out more clearly at the terminal might be a good idea. Interestingly, we did not have to enter the pin number (we used a Visa debit card issued by a German bank).

Some confusion regarding the release codes

After you’ve bought the access period, the system asks if you want to hire a bike right now. Yes, indeed. The terminal then prints a five digit release code which you have to type in using the number pad at the docking point. (When you hire another bike in the same access period, you just have to enter your credit card and get a new access code.)

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I’ve  just stumbled upon an interesting blog post by David Hembrow on the Boris Bike scheme in London. He’s rather critical with regard to the PR by Transport for London:

They’re continuing with the same style of writing that they established a while back. This can be summed up as trying to baffle the reader by quoting what sounds like huge numbers.

Oliver O'Brien's ingenious visualization of the Bloris bike scheme

TfL recently announced that 2.5 million journey’s have been made since the launch of the scheme in August 2010. David writes:

The numbers sound great, but actually if you look closely at them you quickly see that this is not actually very impressive at all. London has a population of 8 M people. Between them, they make around 20 million journeys per day. If these journeys had all been made on just one day (requiring each bike to be used an impossible 416 times), then even that would make up only 12% of total journeys in the city. However, actually it took half a year, 182 days, for this many journeys to be made. The total usage equates to only around 0.07% of the total journeys in the city. On average, Londoners are using these bikes not once per day, not once per week or once per month, but about once every 18 months.

David has a point, of course. There is a lot of sales patter in the communication of TfL and, no doubt,  they are trying to  baffle people with big numbers.

However, I think his calculations are partly misleading because he is comparing apples to oranges.

(more…)

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“The Independent” has recently published some interesting facts about London’s Barclay’s Cycle Hire scheme. Unfortunately, my dear colleagues did a rather poor job interpreting those figures.

Boris Bikes at Southwark Street in London (Photo by Green Lane from Wikimedia Commons)

According to the Independent, which draws on figures from Transport for London (TfL) since the launch of the “Boris Bikes” in August 2010:

  • seven million miles have been cycled
  • 100000 people have signed up (I’m one of them, BTW)
  • 3566 bikes (30 per day) have had to be repaired
  • 180 bikes have been vandalised
  • 10 bikes have been stolen

To me, these figures underscore the huge success of the scheme given that here had been widespread concerns about theft and vandalism prior to the launch of the cycling hire scheme. But since only bad news are good news, my dear colleagues at the “Independent” are trying to give a negative spin to those figures:

Two-thirds of London’s “Boris bikes” have had to undergo repairs in their first six months of operation. (…) Critics claimed that the high rate of repairs was a result of TfL opting for “unwieldy machines” over more sophisticated bikes.

I think this is quite an unfair and distorted interpretation of those numbers. Are  3566 repairs since August 2010 really resembling a “high rate of repairs”?  As we have also learned by the TfL figures, the Boris bikes have been done 7 million miles since August. This means there are on average  0.0005 repairs per mile traveled (In fact the real figure is much lower because we’re only talking about the bikes which actually had an issues).

I’ve done around 1500 miles on my Brompton since August 2010 and had four punctures which equals 0.0027 repairs per mile. Perhaps I should use the Boris bikes more often…

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