Monday, August 2, 2010

Barclays Cycle Hire - Update

There are various reports of 'teething problems' with London's cycle hire scheme.
The bikes seem OK if rather heavy, but the docking stations and billing system seem to be responsible for a lot of issues. The docking stations, you would have thought, would have been debugged given that they've been used in the Canadian scheme. It is clear that the whole system has not been adequately tested.

The online map finally has the docking stations marked however.

Another thing that is missing is the users. I saw just one hirer today. Now, I don't want to be a glass-half-empty person, but I couldn't help noticing the docking stations are, erm, rather full. TfL are reporting 6000 trips per day. I suppose that could be accounted for by 3000 commuters making 2 trips each per day, which would seem quite feasible. The quiet start won't have been helped by the short period of time (1 week before launch) that was allowed for registration, and no doubt rental numbers will ramp up considerably once casual users are allowed to hire bikes.

The docking stations themselves are rather tucked away. As I noted in a previous post, it's possible to walk some way without seeing a docking station.
You would expect to see them at places like outside Charing Cross Station, Embankment Station, Trafalgar Square, St James's Park, but they're not. There are docking stations quite close to Charing Cross (at Craven St) and Embankment (at Northumberland Avenue), but they don't advertise themselves - you can walk out of any entrance to said station and not know they're there. It's as if the powers that be didn't want to despoil Trafalgar Square or St James's Park with docking stations - as if they're not despoiled by the huge volumes of traffic thundering around.

The most offputting thing must be the almost total lack of cycling facilities. From Northumberland Avenue docking station, you would most likely cycle up Northumberland Avenue or along Victoria Embankment. Both options are pretty unpalatable: heavy traffic and fast-moving where it's not congested, with no cycle lanes.  There's no real alternative along the backstreets. Look below at the picture of the Wellington Street docking station, and you'll see a cycle lane. Don't be fooled though, it's only about 20 yards long. At the south end you have the Aldwych and Waterloo Bridge, perhaps the least cycle-friendly location in London. At the north end you have the usual warren of one-way streets with no exceptions for cyclists, and rat-running cabs and vans trying to avoid the main road congestion. I'm still convinced that the Cycle Hire scheme is a Good Thing, and the system glitches are only temporary. It has the potential to introduce lots of people to cycling in London. However, the main reason people don't cycle is safety/traffic fears. If Boris doesn't do something to address the obvious road danger that permeates even what should be the quiet back streets of the capital, that potential will never be realized.

 Above: Wellington Street. A couple of helpful cycle-hire officials were standing by to assist and answer the dumb-ass questions of passers-by.

Above: Rather full docking station at Craven Street. You'll notice that ironically cycling is not permitted here, which is why the law-abiding cyclist is walking his (non-hire) bike.

Above: A rather full Northumberland Avenue docking station...

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