Tag Archives: bike hire

Friday photo: star of the show

Boris Bike

This was during the first of the student protests last year, when Conservative Party HQ was smashed up for the cameras.  It was long over by this time, but there was still a large backlog of arrests being processed in the background and obviously it was still the top story on the rolling news channels.

The rest of Millbank, a dual carriageway which feeds traffic into Parliament Square, was a delight to cycle down thanks to the lack of vehicles.

London’s road network is, of course, vital, and disrupting the flow of traffic through it costs the economy eleventy gazillion pounds an hour.  Did the striking workers consider that before they marched down Whitehall yesterday?  Some motorists would have been forced to go the long way around thanks to their actions.  As Ed Miliband put it, referring to schools being closed, yesterday’s strikes caused a lot of inconvenience.  And how dare people put their livelihoods ahead of convenience.

It could have been a line borrowed from Conservative Assembly Members’ script.  Sorry, we can’t provide for cycling because to do so would mean taking away a tiny little bit of the provision we have made for motor vehicles, the Tories say.  It might mean making drivers slow down a little.  And that would cause inconvenience.  How dare cyclists ask to be allowed to cycle in conditions that don’t cause them to fear for their lives — conditions that effectively close the option of cycling entirely to large sections of the population — when to do so would cause a few people a bit of inconvenience.

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Where do all the hire bikes go?

So much of our understanding of the city — its areas and their relationships and divisions — have been determined by the traditional motorist’s road map.  (London is luckier than many cities because its river and tube lines also help define its structure in people’s minds.)

In this visualisation of the hire bike movements on Oct 4, an alternative map of London appears, and really lights up at 5pm.  Some of the Road Atlas routes appear — Holborn-Cheapside, the Strand, and Charing Cross-Totenham Court Roads — but in place of the Euston Road is a new highway through Torrington and Tavistock Places; Piccadilly is replaced by Constitution Hill and Birdcage Walk; and a north-south artery from Cubitt Street down what looks like Packenham Street, Phoenix Place, Warner Street, Saffron Hill and Shoe Lane to Blackfriars Bridge.*

Politicians and planners need to start thinking about the city from the perspective of maps like these.  The great green and orange scrawls of the Road Atlas are increasingly irrelevant.

* though I’m not actually sure how accurate the routes are, given start and end points are recorded, but as far as I know, the exact places in between aren’t.

(Via Matt Brown.)

London cycle hire: second thoughts

Way back in July, when the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme launched a couple of months late, we had a little play around with the bikes to get our first thoughts.  Just a quick back-and-forth beside the BFI.  The bikes were fun and sturdy, just right for their particular job.  It was only later that we saw the credit card bill.

Since then, the “vandal proof” Boris Bikes have had time to be hit by a few cars and kicked around after a few Christmas parties.  More importantly, since then I have temporarily left London and become instead a once-or-twice-a-month visitor for business and social events —  pretty much the target audience for the hire bikes.  So I’ve been using them (or trying to) on the non-member “casual” basis on the five days I was in town these past couple of weeks.

The first thing to note is that it’s very easy to use the non-member system, and once you’ve done it once, it becomes easier still.  When I first hired one it took little more than sixty seconds (though of course I agreed to the EULAs without reading a word of them), and once you’ve got your one/five day access, it’s even simpler next time.  At least, this was the case on the first day when I used them.  On the second day, on the South Bank, something wasn’t right — all the machines were very slow to respond, the buttons needed a harsh jab before they would do anything, and after two minutes of waiting with the spinning circles, they gave an unhelpful error message.  This has since happened on 40% of the days when I’ve tried to hire a bicycle on 24hr access (n=5).  In each case I was in a hurry and had to quickly implement alternative plans, so didn’t bother calling customer services.  If it happens again and I have the time to spare, I’ll see what happens and report back.

The second is availability of bikes: on the first day, my snow-delayed coach from Scotland got in to Victoria at just after 9; on the second day my snow-slowed train from the Westcountry got into Waterloo at just after 9.  In both cases the docking stations — including the massive one at Waterloo — were empty.  But there were plenty in the nearest neighbouring stations, including those behind the festival hall and under Waterloo Bridge, where Serco were still redistributing bikes in the morning, despite the new “super” station at Waterloo which was supposed to end the need for redistribution to and from the South Bank.

The reverse was true when making the return journey: the “super” station at Waterloo was full by seven o’clock, forcing one to ride around the South Bank seeking an alternative.  Then run for your train.

Running for trains brings me to the third observation to note: the docking station black-spots.  Due to objections from the boroughs, not all of the stations have yet been installed.  Their absence was particularly noted in the Albemarle Street area when I left the pub 25 minutes before the last train, but proceeded to waste 10 minutes running around looking at Layar before I found a station.

The Kenny Farthings themselves remain excellent, and far superior to my shoes in the snow.  On one, the gears were noticeably slow and crunchy when changing, but, given my bad habit of leaving bicycles in top gear and using brute force, I didn’t have much opportunity to examine that.

All this matches what those who responded to the London Assembly transport committee’s survey said: the bikes are great, but the scheme doesn’t make for a reliable transport option.  Where buses are slow, tubes vulnerable to signal failures and suicides, and taxis likely to get caught in jams, a hardy bicycle should be the most reliable way to make a journey of a few miles through central London.  But the hire bikes aren’t.  Try to rely on them and one day you’ll turn up at an empty docking station or a terminal that spends five minutes loading an error message; no oyster card in your pocket or taxi pre-booked.  If you do get a bicycle, have you planned in advance where you’re going to leave it at the end of the journey, and if your preferred destination dock were to be full, have you considered your backup plan and left enough time if you need to use it?  I hope these are just the last few teething troubles, and not an indication that, like most British transport and built-environment projects, politicians are willing to invest in building something fancy and new and newsworthy, but not in its subsequent boring running costs, maintenance and bug fixes.

According to the end-of-year TfL report, the hire bikes get a lot of custom from commuters, and some from business use.  And the bikes would indeed be perfect for the sort of central London professional who currently takes taxis to meetings — if only journeys and journey times were consistent and reliable.  Under the current (evolving) implementation, they’re of more use to tourists who have all the time in the world and nothing important to get to.

Weekly War Bulletin, 4 Dec

I just looked outside to check and apparently it’s true: it snowed.  Unfortunately I can’t find a single news article about it, though, so you’ll just have to go without hearing a any news at all about snow causing transport chaos.  Oh, well, but I can’t resist a little blog post or two about just how appalling SouthEastern’s customer services were during the outage.  (I’m currently in Scotland, where the MD of Scotrail came on the news to tell everyone how hard he was working his staff, and even though the message was “find your own way home”, at least there was a message…)

But stop the presses!  The important news is that Becky Sargent, 24, from Portsmouth had an eight hour nightmare drive back from Bluewater.

Scotland was looking into some radical policies to tackle car addiction; the car lobby has succeeded in having them quietly dropped.

Bike hire opened to casual users… and crashed, of course.

In an effort to end the War On The Motorist, the government are declining to approve an EU scheme for cooperation on enforcement of traffic laws.  The scheme would allow countries to pass on fines to a Motorist’s home country for enforcement.  The UK government doesn’t want to join up because they are worried that it will cost too much to the UK.  Presumably because on the continent there are some fines of a magnitude that actually provides a serious disincentive to breaking the rules.

Not strictly on topic for AWWTM, but the opening of a new major trauma centre at St Mary’s caught my eye because motor vehicles are the single largest cause of major trauma.  It’s open just in time to take the victims of all the new M4 lane-changing pile-ups that Philip Hammond will be responsible for — indeed, St Mary’s was apparently chosen for its proximity to the M4, M40, and M1.  This is the final of four new MTCs around London, and they’re not cheap.  It’s great that the cost of NHS care is free at the point of delivery; it would just be nice if it were acknowledged at the point of tabloid hacks whinging about speed cameras, government ministers making dogma-based policies, and Motorists shouting about “road tax”.

The Department for Transport have already failed: the Health department thinks that it has been left to them to provide the nation with cycle paths.

Press release plugs massive relative rise in cycling in Merseyside.  Fails to even mention the absolute figures.

Hardened criminal Katie Price finally taken off the road, along with a killer HGV driver.

Kids in Oxford plea for drivers to slow down.

Some (overinterpreted) numbers on fines given for bicycle misuse in London.

A private members’ bill seems to move us onto Central European Time, moving our daylight hours to later in the day thus saving lives on the evening commute in the winter.  (The Scots don’t like this one, but I don’t know what the fuss is about — I’ve not managed to wake up before sunrise while here…)

I was thinking of getting some spoof parking tickets made up myself, actually…

The transport select committee have come out in favour of lowering the drink-drive limit — a change that almost everybody was agreed upon, but which Hammond recently decided against pursuing.

I’ve cycled in Yeovil and I can reassure anybody thinking of doing the same that chavs with air rifles are the least of your worries.

Insightful news: tube drivers might go on strike next year.  What was that about a no-strike deal, Boris?

Rosie Sullivan clearly has a great anti-motorist future ahead of her: holding up the traffic right from the start.

Your silly story: “bizarre incidents” as drivers in Limerick can’t work out which side of the motorway to drive on.  I don’t know if it’s still there, but the road from the ferry terminal at Cork always used to have helpful “wrong way turn back” signs for those who picked the wrong carriageway.

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.

Weekly War Bulletin, 27 Nov

The Evening Standard learn that only 1 in 3 hire bike users are women and then dictate that this is because women are scared and don’t want to get sweaty.  Of course.  Not because men are too scared to commit to buying a bicycle of their own, or because all the men’s own bicycles are broken and they’re too embarrassed to take them to the workshop and admit that they can’t fix them, or because men want to be able to ride sitting upright and with a basket without being called a girl, or because women with their frivolous romantic novels about wealthy gentlemen and swooning ladies enjoy taking the train while men with their very important spreadsheets and reports don’t.  In gender asymmetries there’s always something wrong with the women, and it’s just obvious that this has something to do with fear and sweat.  Right, Evening Standard?

The hire bikes will finally open to spontaneous unregistered users next week, months over schedule (but a few weeks earlier than the xmas prediction that we were last given from TfL).

The London Cycling Campaign step in to timidly ask the question we’ve all been asking: er, should the hardened criminal killer of Catriona Patel really have been free to drive his truck over the cyclist in the first place?

The big news this week, though, has been all the wonderful things that the coalition are doing for the railways!  (Nobody mention that these are merely the few Labour rail projects that the Tories are not cutting.)  Thameslink goes ahead in full (nobody mention that the Tories will make it eighteen years late rather than sixteen), the Paddington lines will be electrified to Dave, Gideon, and Phil’s old home, Oxford (nobody mention that the Tories will drop the electrification further down to Bristol, Cardiff, and Swansea), there will be hundreds of new carriages (nobody mention that the Tories will order fewer and later).  Thanks, Tories!  The amount of cash saved will probably almost pay for the overspend on the futile M25 congestion relief work.

ATOC didn’t do quite so well at disguising their bad news: despite their best efforts to cover up, the media spotted that there was going to be another massively above inflation rail fares hike this new year.

Meanwhile, Virgin Trains, they of the chronically overcrowded WCML, are apparently holding new carriages hostage, demanding a franchise extension as ransom before they will extend their trains.

And Network Rail have cut £200m costs.  The directors must deserve another £200m in bonuses for that.

Rural bus services might also suffer from fares fiddling.

It’s just too dangerous to ride a bicycle in London.  It is if you’re the deputy prime-minister, anyway: Nick has to take the ministerial car to protect himself from missiles and hit men.

But boo hoo, local authorities want to raise the penalties for illegal parking, you know, to be an actual disincentive.

I thought everyone had already arranged to be on holiday during the Olympics, but apparently some people still haven’t been frightened off — so All Newspapers have been roped in to spread the word of the apocalyptic traffic chaos that will hit London.

This weekend, Oxford Street will be how it should always have been: pedestrians only.  Incidentally, this morning the postman turned up with a tatty copy of the 1963 Traffic in Towns (aka, The Buchanan Report to the Minister of Transport on the long term problems of traffic in urban areas), one of the earliest government documents to acknowledge that British towns and cities might not be able to comfortably accommodate widespread motor vehicle use.  Its author even in 1963 said that Oxford Street, “the most uncivilised street in Europe”, “epitomizes the conflict between traffic and environment”.  (Their solution is given at the bottom of this post.)

The helmetcam doesn’t lie: 88% of accidents involving cyclists in Australia are caused by bad motor vehicle drivers.

Cutting Cycling England wasn’t about cutting cycling: it was just about bringing it in-house to DfT, where it will be transparent and get the attention it deserves.  So nobody mention that the first CE-funded projects are going under.

Imagine if workmen knocked off early leaving the Blackwall or Rotherhithe tunnels closed without warning — the Standard would howl and the mayor would seek to fine the contractors.  Seems nobody cares when it’s the Greenwich or Woolwich foot tunnels, though.  Bath don’t seem to think that pedestrians and cyclists need alternative river crossings when their bridges are closed, either.

There’s a good chance of Bristol getting a citywide 20mph limit.  It’s a shame individual cities have to introduce this one-by-one at £500k a time, though.  Surely it would save on printing signs and cluttering the streets with them if we simply made 20 the default for built up areas…

Probably we will never ever see a weekend of full tube service; certainly not until 2012, though.

Got an old rusty bicycle that’s of no use?  Want to do your bit for the War On The Motorist?  Chain it to the railings outside MI6.  You’ll have all the roads in Vauxhall closed while they blow it up.

This is no more “news” than “tubes go on stike” or “rail fares rise”, but: yet another study says speed cameras save lives.

Twat leaves injured blind pensioner on the side of the street.  But the twat happened to be on a bicycle and the street happened to be a shared use de-motorized street: therefore all cyclists are dangerously selfish lycra louts -or- all shared use paths are dangerous.  Delete as applicable.  Obviously, no such conclusions can be drawn from somebody driving their car into a woman and leaving her to freeze to death in a Somerset ditch.

MP upsets constituents with bad parking-fine advice.  Apparently the Motorists were upset because they were caught by cameras that were designed to tackle anti-social behaviour.  Because middle-class crimes like blocking pavements, taking disabled parking bays, or leaving your car in the way of buses and ambulances are perfectly acceptable and social behaviours.  At least drink-driving is no longer acceptable to the middle-classes — if it’s a Labour MP doing the drink-driving, that is.

Here are the numbers on kids and roads: how many are forbidden from walking and cycling by their parents, and how many have been hit by cars.

One single police force are putting up billboards reminding Motorists how to drive.  As the comments thread points out, that’s the War On The Motorist, that is.

Some councils fill in potholes, some don’t.  How well does yours do?

Double yellow lines will “deter” car users from parking in Cambridge bike lanes.

Your moment of zen: from Traffic in Towns, a plan for the modernisation of Fitzrovia, including the Euston and Totenham Court Motorways, and the widening of Oxford Street to approximately 7 times its current width, for parking purposes:

And Virgin Trains, they of the chronically overcrowded WCML, are apparently holding new carriages hostage, demanding a franchise extension as ransom before they will extend their trains.

If a truck is full of bikes, should it be in the bike lane?

Despite being fully up to date with the latest city driving rules, the Serco/Barclays hire bike relocaters are worrying the Evening Standard today:

Cyclist David Ellis, who was knocked over by a trailer used to transport the Mayor’s hire bikes between docking stations, today branded the vehicles “ludicrous”.

The photographer from Stoke Newington suffered cuts and bruising as well as injuries to his neck and hip after he was thrown from his bike and dragged under the trailer’s wheels while cycling with a friend in Theobald’s Road in Holborn on November 4.

(I wonder whether it was the same one that cheerfully honked along all the while that the october Critical Mass passed along Theobalds?)

Mr Ellis, 37, said the trailers were “a danger to cyclists” because they are wider than the electric vehicle towing them.

He called on the Mayor to improve safety among cycle hire scheme users by removing them and encouraging users to wear helmets.

I couldn’t agree more: it is simply common sense that users of electric vehicles should wear helmets, and the Standard are to be congratulated for the journalistic brilliance that produced this expert insight.