Thursday, 8 August 2013

Boris bikes - keeping the wheels turning

As I am writing this, I can hear a radio advert for cycle hire in the background. There are new ads around the streets, and even a new video. Oh, and Manchester wants them too.

A Boris biker enjoys the Freecycle in London
New figures from TfL show that almost a million journeys were made by Boris bike in July, and last week's Freecycle was the perfect showcase for thousands of the beautiful blue bikes to take to London's streets. And all over south and west London the newest docking stations are being installed.

So I was surprised to read the rather downbeat assessment of the bikes by Andrew Neather in the Standard, a paper which has in recent months given great encouragement to London cyclists. On striking workers, the farcical Barclays sponsorship deal, and continuing problems with redistribution he is of course spot on. And I have always believed cycle hire needed to be introduced as part of an integrated cycling policy which would put safety as a top priority. Nevertheless, my own view is that Boris bikes have been a great success in getting Londoners onto bikes who would never otherwise have found the means. For many of us, with cramped urban homes, we have no space for our own bikes, and the Boris bike is the perfect easy pick-up and ride. Someone else even does the work if you get a puncture or a broken gear!

At £90 for annual membership, 25p per day is still superb value despite the price rises this year (essential I think to boost revenue). With over 100 new docking stations opening later in the year, membership will also take you further across London. At last we will start to leave behind the main initial problem with the scheme - that it was too timid in its ambition. I hope that further expansion will follow.

If I could wish for one further things from TfL and Serco with regards to the bikes, it would be for greater engagement with users. As the writer of this blog, I find it frustrating how little information is shared by the operators about new developments and future plans. Harnessing the enthusiasm and passion of users will pay back in continued use of the bikes, and new members joining through personal recommendation.

I hope Andrew Neather keeps faith with the humble Boris bike, despite its flaws.

And a final note on docking stations - Queen Street is now back to full operation after the interminable building works which had closed half of it. The much-missed Wansey Street dock remains closed due to the works to secure the Cuming Museum after the fire. It is due back soon though.