London: still not impressed with superhighways

Way back at the start of October we mentioned that the London Authority’s transport committee were seeking your views on the hire bikes and the two trial cycle superhighways.  The results are in, and we must have had a massive influence because the results seem to match what we were saying.  It is of course possible that everybody else independently came to same conclusions as us, but we prefer to think that it was AWWTM what won it.

Bike hire

The conclusion for the hire bikes is that they are already mostly a much loved success. One of the quotes that the survey report highlights says:

I have lost half a stone and saved £100 on taxis.

Anything that gets people out of their chauffeur driven cars must be a good thing.

There were a lot of negative comments on the hire scheme but they focus on two specific aspects of the scheme’s management.  The biggest issue was Serco’s cockups with the membership/payment software, and their subsequent awful customer service when members sought to have their hundreds of erroneously-charged pounds returned to them — teething problems that one would hope have long since been resolved.  The other issue that was frequently raised is that there aren’t enough docking points at railway terminals, and those that are near stations quickly empty in the mornings and fill in the evenings, leaving members stranded — these are in part the backfiring of a deliberate plan to keep ridership low during the anticipated difficult bedding-in phase.  But this problem of distribution and thus journey uncertainly/unreliability seems to be the major remaining turn-off — the scheme is a victim of its own success (and failure to plan for that success!).

Buried a bit deeper in the report is the transport committee’s own discussion of ongoing implementation issues with the hire bikes.  Only 5,000 of the 6,000 bikes and 344 of the 400 docking stations are so far live, and the “casual users” option is about to launch six months late.  When the committee tried to find out who was taking the hit for the lost revenue and increased costs associated with the delays and chaotic launch period — TfL or Serco — they hit the “commercial confidentiality” wall.

The committee also notes that Barclays have agreed to a 5 year sponsorship deal worth £25m, but payment is subject to TfL meeting management performance and bike ridership targets.  TfL have again avoided comment on whether the farcical roll-out and the lost casual ridership revenue have affected the amount that Barclays will contribute.

Cycle superhighways

Less favourable is the verdict on the cycle “superhighways”.  The survey participants were specifically asked whether they feel that the superhighways are “respected by other road users” — two thirds said they are not — and whether they feel safer cycling on the superhighways than on alternative routes — three fifths said they do not.  I’m guessing that most of the 40% who feel safe are using CS3 in the East End, where the bike path is largely segregated or low traffic (and where the “superhighway” is mostly a case of putting blue paint on an existing well used bike path), rather than CS7, which runs in the gutter of a major arterial road.

Unfortunately the report doesn’t give us any such detailed breakdown, which seems like a major omission to me, given the quite important differences in style between CS3 and CS7.  Since the purpose of the report is to make recommendations to the mayor regarding the future of the superhighways, looking at the relative successes and perception of the two that we so far have would seem highly relevant.  The main recommendations that the committee does end up making are the obvious ones: get motor vehicles — parked or moving — out of the bike lanes and advanced stop lines, and consult with people who actually ride bikes before building the next ones.

The report notes that the goal with the cycle superhighways is to attract 120,000 cyclists a day above current numbers: 10,000 for each of the 12 routes.  Given that the goal for the bike hire is a mere 40,000 new cyclists, the success of the superhighways is of far greater importance than that of the hire scheme.  And yet at present only 5,000 people use the two superhighways that are so far in place; the overwhelming majority of those are not new to cycling: while 239 survey respondents said they use the superhighways “several times a week”, just 11 said that it was the superhighways that had converted them to cycling in the first place.  (Again, can we see whether those are CS3 or CS7 users, please?)  That 5% is a lot less impressive than the TfL claim that the cycle superhighways have generated a 25% jump in cycling numbers.

This report comes as TfL gear up for the roll-out of the next two cycle superhighways.  It’s largely too late to influence their routes: we’re getting more blue-paint on busy main roads.  More mediocre uptake.  More surveys, stats and reports that confirm what we always knew.  And then perhaps we’ll go around again…

Updated to add: Freewheeler’s post reminded me of the other (entirely unsurprising) thing that had stood out about the bike hire while scrolling through: the modal shift to the hire bikes is mostly from the tube, and from other public transport.  There is almost no shift from cars to hire bikes.

6 thoughts on “London: still not impressed with superhighways”

  1. Well said. The assembly has obviously drawn the correct conclusions from the survey. It learned something that TFL could’ve learned well before they designer the CS3 and 7 if they could have been bothered to ask people riding bikes. IT would do much more good if the money for all of the CSs have been pooled together to fund just one, proper cycle highway.
    I can only hope that the findings of the assembly will not fall on deaf ears and that the subsequent CSs are better designed and of CONTINOUS quality; and that the existing CSs are upgraded.

  2. The GLA have kindly published the raw data from the survey online:

    I’ve done some quick sums, which indicate that you’re right about the difference between the two routes. Of the 135 respondents who said they used SH3, 53% said they felt safer, compared to 36% of the 303 who used SH7.

    You can do a variety of other breakdowns from the raw data if you’re interested. And the ‘other comments’ parts are fascinating.

    However, you need to be careful about concluding that there has been ‘almost no’ shift from cars to the bikes. Only a minority of respondents identified one single mode they were giving up in favour of the bikes. Of these, the Tube was the most common and ‘taking my car/motorcycle’ the least common. But 57% said they were giving up ‘a combination of the above’, which is hardly surprising when you think about people’s actual travel habits. This figure is obviously going to include some car journeys. Also, the question is poorly phrased, asking people if they were giving up “my” car or motorcycle. But most car journeys in central London are by taxi, which wasn’t included. I assume the vast majority of people who use taxis in London also use other modes at various times, putting them in the ‘combination’ category. Indeed, if you look at the responses (free entry) given under ‘other’, quite a few more people mention taxis, although bus and Tube are still by some way the largest categories.

  3. Purely anecdotally, so unscientifically, a number of my colleagues and clients in City firms have been enthusiastic adopters of the BB as an alternative to the taxi. Boroughs will vary but I would be surprised if more than a smattering of vehicles in the City of London were being self-driven as personal transport, most being buses, commercial vehicles or, of course, taxis/private hire cars.
    I put it to one of my ward councillors in an email recently that taxis/private hires are extremely greedy users of road space, as they are by definition driving empty much of the time, plying for hire or en route to a pick-up. In fact, in another life working for the Revenue, taxi drivers used to swear to me on their lives that their lights were on for half their mileage.

    Nothing personal, but reducing the volume of taxi traffic via BBs seems a pretty sensible move to me, but it is one I can imagine TfL might prefer not to acknowledge.

    The councillor didn’t disagree.

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