Wednesday, June 8, 2011

London Cycle Hire

The BBC's Tom Edwards writes on cycling and transport issues. On more than one occasion however his articles seem to uncritically parrot stuff he's been told, without any balancing analysis or opinion. I've criticised this before in relation to parking issues.

This time it's Cycle Hire he's posted about.

"Insiders have also told me that the current model doesn't work, especially around mainline train stations where docking stations empty straight away.
They said that the only way for the system to work and for docking stations to be refilled by users is to charge more at rush hour to limit demand."

This, for anyone who knows the first thing about Cycle Hire, is a bizarre statement. It's always been acknowledged from before the scheme started that the system couldn't possibly meet demand around the main rail termini. That doesn't mean the scheme doesn't work. To some extent the system is self-regulating: users who are prepared to walk far enough from the station will eventually find a docking station with bikes in and others will take the tube or bus.

The Paris Velib scheme rewards users for returning their bikes to an 'unpopular' dock (that is, one that is unpopular as a destination and so typically gets starved of bikes). In the same way, it might be worth exploring the possibility of giving an incentive to users who ride from an outlying dock to, say, King's Cross in the morning, and the opposite way in the evening.

Simply charging more at rush hour won't create more bikes in the right places. If you make the tariff more expensive, or more complex, you will simply confuse and put off users, and given the scheme is operating generally below capacity, this would not seem a sensible idea from any point of view.

The issue that Tom Edwards should be looking into is that many potential users are put off by hostile cycling conditions on the road network. A lot of people are prepared to cycle round Hyde Park, but for some strange reason you don't see too many cycling round Marble Arch. If more people were prepared to cycle in on Boris Bikes from the outlying areas, this would generate more revenue and may get more bikes to popular docks.

There are some clever people looking at the Boris Bike flows. I've not yet seen any of them proposing raising rush-hour tariffs to improve bike availability.

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