London’s bicycle sharing scheme, Barclays Cycle Hire (BCH), scheme was introduced in 2010 by Mayor Boris Johnson and is touted as a catalyst for London’s cycling revolution. Barclays Bank funded a majority of the initial scheme, with operations fully funded by Transport for London. The scheme is often referred to as Boris Bikes after the Mayor and several community forums like this are fast gaining popularity. BCH gained instant success, with six million trips made in the first year alone, totaling almost 15 million trips since its inception and reaching a record high during the London Olympics in 2012. Although, Mayor Johnson is credited for the BCH scheme, it was actually first announced by the previous mayor, Ken Livingstone in 2007. The scheme drew inspiration from its European counterparts and is heavily modeled after the Velib, Paris’ bike share scheme.
How it works is pretty simple: one can either become a member for an annual fee (£90 pounds) or hire at 24 hour or 7 day intervals without membership for 2 and 10 pounds respectively. Securing a bike can be done online, over the phone or at the bike-hire terminal 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Once the access fee has been paid, a code is printed and the bike can then be released from the terminal. At this point the clock starts. As this scheme was designed for short trips the first 30 minutes is free. Time after that increases accordingly: up to an hour (£1), 1.5 hours (£4), 2 hours (£6), 2.5 (£10), 3 hours (£15), 6 hours (£35), 24 hours (maximum – at £50). When done one only need to return to any of the ‘docking’ stations throughout London (all are positioned between 300 and 400 meters apart). If the nearest docking station is full there is a check-in that allows one another free 15 minutes to get to the next docking station with space to return. Real time feedback on docking stations issues and route and map suggestions are also available. Here's a quick video by BCH explaining how it works:
The program was an early success at the London Olympics recording an estimated 47, 105 hires in a single day (according to Barclays website). Also, from Barclays ‘Key Facts’ it is notable that since its launch (Dec 3, 2010) there have been over 14,907,013 hires by members on weekdays and over 21,224,815 hires by members collectively. Barclays has also already doubled its rates from what they were originally set at – another indication of increased demand.
|2010 Map of Cycle Hire Scheme|
Criticisms of the program include the ‘misuse’ or taking advantage of the free, first 30 minutes by hopping from one docking station to another to extend the ‘free’ period. The recent increase in fare has generated a lot of criticism and a fall in ridership levels. Also, there has been opposition from neighborhoods regarding the noise and docking stations appearances and locations. Finally, the program is very weather dependent so when there are overcast days ridership declines and revenues fall.
Despite the criticism and the setbacks, the BCH has been a resounding success, prompting a successful expansion to Canary Wharf and east London earlier this year. Transport for London is now planning to expand services to the southwest boroughs of the city. Moreover, to support this cycling revolution, London is introducing several bike lanes and Cycle Superhighways in the hopes of doubling all cycling trips in the next decade. With the BCH, London is clearly on a learning curve but has proved to be a major success, improving ridership and safety among those who wouldn’t normally bike. Inspired by London, cities across the globe, including NYC are now implementing their own bike share programs.