Earlier this week I ran across the new London bike rental scheme. There are a surprisingly large number of these new machines in this, the first phase of the scheme.
The 6000 bikes are spread around the centre of the capital (roughly the area covered by the current congestion charge area) and the 400, rather cool, docking stations seem to have sprouted up from nowhere.
Mind you, it cost a massive £140 million to install and although Barclays’ branding is dominant, the bank paid just £25m into the scheme.
(In stark contrast, TFL is paying just £8m for the first five prototype - and Autocar inspired - New London Buses. And that’s a super-advanced machine with a Volt-style electric drivetrain).
Of course, in a lot of places the docking stations have robbed at least two parking spaces (including my own favourite space, which allowed me to park in Chelsea for free on a Saturday afternoon, so I could walk into the centre of the capital) but in general the scheme seems remarkably sensibly planned.
Access to the bikes costs £1 per 24 hours (or £45 for a year’s subscription). The first 30 minutes on the bike is free and an hour’s hire is a pound. Take the bike for two and half hours and the bill shoots up to £10.
It’s clear that the idea is the bikes are for short hops across the capital. The bike isn’t equipped with a lock so you can’t pop into Starbucks or Topshop. (‘Lose’ the bike and you’ll get a £300 bill). Transport for London would prefer you to use the bike from docking station to docking station.
A friend tells me Black cab drivers are already complaining about the roads being filled with wobbling pedestrians who fancy getting about a little quicker.
But then London cabs are amongst the most expensive in the world and London tube fares are probably the most expensive in the world. Buses also stop every 400 metres or so, so these bikes could be the quickest way to cross the centre of the capital.
The scheme’s code of conduct asks bike hirers to refrain from doing stupid things like riding on the pavement and undertaking big vehicles at junctions.
It also warns not to ride the bikes while under the influence. That’s a very tricky area indeed. How many people will be tempted to pick up a bike after a night out and pedal off to the nearest railway station? Cycling while over the limit is an offence.
Even so, I reckon I might sign up. It’s 17 years since I gave up cycling and cycling journalism. I’m just pretty sure that I can’t ride through central London without rear-view mirrors…