Monday, August 15, 2011

Unhappy Birthday London Cycle Hire

It's been a while since I had the pleasure of a trip on one of Boris's blue barges, but an evening appointment pointed to the hire bike as the best option one day last week. I tried to pick up a bike in the morning, but got the red light from all three bikes in the dock. The terminal said 'Your key cannot be read at this time'. No clue as to why. So I phoned the call centre. They said my credit card had expired. Which it had, although they hadn't thought to send me an email notifying me that my account was unusable. So, I located a computer and checked my account. No clue on any of the screens that my credit card had expired, or that anything was less than tickety-boo with my account. Undeterred, I tried to enter my new card details. Three times, without success. So I phoned the call centre again. It turned out that attempting to use my key had resulted in my account being suspended, and when it's suspended, you can't enter a new credit card number. So you're screwed.

So let's summarize. When your credit card expires, as it will, you will get no warning from TfL. That event will silently render your account unusable, although you won't find this out from the self-care website. And you cannot rectify the situation - not without phoning the call-centre, anyway. I wonder how many people think it's the bikes or docking stations that don't work, and give cycle hire up as unreliable?

Oh, and here's the punchline. Because I'd tried unsuccessfully to enter a credit card number three times, each of those attempts resulted in an access fee being charged to my account - so I've been wrongly billed to boot. But at least my account now works, and that evening, I picked up a mount from just off The Strand. I've developed a technique of squeezing the tyres and spinning the wheels to check for obvious faults, and after rejecting four bikes with binding brakes or soft tyres, I picked a straight-looking bike. Unfortunately that proved after a couple of hundred metres of riding to have a bent left-hand pedal axle, and more worryingly, a totally ineffective front brake (a very common fault).

Meanwhile, over the water in Dublin, there's a happier picture with their cycle hire. They've had over 2000 journeys per bike, compared with 1000 for London (in the first year). The secret? "The quality of the service delivered by JC Decaux", according to a Dublin City Council spokesman. He also said that
development of cycle lanes will be part of the dublinbikes expansion. The council is in the process of developing a strategic approach for an integrated cycle network.

A strategic, integrated cycle network? Now there's a strange idea. Trust the Irish...


  1. Well c'mon you can't blame them for not checking every account and sending you a reminder. You should know full well when your card expires, no? :) I am not saying they are perfect but cut them at leas a little bit of slack. Plus I would rather go for one day access than try to update your card details in the kiosk... but that's me :)

  2. ndru,

    They are using an automated computer system! The problems described should be a non problem.

    The hire system should (and probably does) do daily checks on certain things, ie "Has this user's annual access period expired?", checking the credit card expiry date would be a trivial task.

    Useful error messages are a school boy error. It's no use telling people that things didn't work, they already know that, telling them the reason why "Credit card out of date." would help resolve problems quicker.

    All in all, no they deserve no slack. These problems should not have existed in the first place with any properly designed and implemented scheme.