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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I used to be a big fan of the cycle hire scheme in London and defended it against criticism several times (see here , here and here).
However, now I’m really getting frustrated.
One week ago, I was trying to hire a bike with my key. However, I only got red lights and was unable to release any bike. Because I wanted to find out if there is something wrong with my key I called the call center. They were busy and I ended up in the overflow call center. Those poor guys there don’t have direct access to the cycle hire system. I gave them my key number, my mobile number and my email address and they promised to come back to me.
Guess what, I never heard anything again. Today, however, when I had a look at my bank account I realized that TfL nevertheless charged me one pound for the access period.
I tried to log in on the internet but that did not work either. The website always asks me to reset my password but does not accept a new one. (This is a known issue which I had before.)
I called them again and again only reached the overflow call center. Again, they wrote down my details and promised to call me back. Well, let’s see.
Stuff happens, of course. However, thanks to the Boris Bike forum I know that this is not an isolated case. Calls recorded by the overflow call center are frequently lost, they don’t call you bank and the website is constantly making trouble.
This is really a shame. The cycle hire scheme has been running since August 2010.
These are not teething problems anymore. This starts to look like incompetence!
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.
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.
“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.
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…