Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Boris Bikes - first observations

I was in the Capital of the World (aka London) yesterday.
I had a quick look at the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme
(also known as the "Boris Bikes" scheme, after the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson)

"Boris Bikes" outside the Natural History Museum, London.
The rack is full, so no more bikes can be "docked" (ending the hire period) here until somebody hires one !!

First thing to think about is eligiblilty.
A quick look at the TfL website reveals a big issue for us ...

  • In the small print it says: "Age minimum: 14 - any younger and you're not covered by insurance".
So that's our child ruled out then (she is nine years old).
So my dream of going into London on the train, then using "Boris Bikes" to get about the capital is not going to happen for another four-and-a-bit years! Until then we'd be better taking our own bikes on an off-peak train (arrives in London after 10 am) , and forgetting about hire bikes completely!

So assuming I am just on my own (unlikely, but not impossible), how would it pan out?

Costs are less than simple.
For a "casual user", such as someone making an occasional trip into London, one needs to pay:
  1. an "access fee" of £1 for a 24 hour period (that's $1.60, 1.20 Euros) PLUS
  2. a "usage charge", which varies depending on the length of time the bike is "hired".
  • up to 30 minutes is free
  • 30 minutes to 1 hour is £1
  • 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours is £4
  • 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours is £6
  • then rapidly rising in a couple of steps to £50 for 24 hours
  • there is a surcharge of £150 pounds if you exceed the 24 hour period, or keep the bike beyond your "access fee" time.
It is easy to see that the system is designed for short hops, or perhaps a quick "leisure" cycle around a London park - one doesn't really want to exceed the 1 hour hire fee!
Indeed, the small print on the TfL website says "To hire for more than a couple of hours it might be cheaper for you to use a company that specialises in hiring for longer periods."
They are not kidding!

You can hire and return as many bikes as you want within your "access fee" period, but you have to leave five minutes between each bike hire - and make sure that your last hire doesn't take you over your "access fee" period, or that £150 surcharge kicks in!!
Right, so let us assume we go by train to London and hire a bike near the station, with the intention of visiting the museums in South Kensington (for those of you not familiar with the topography, the side entrance to the Natural History Museum is very close to the entrance to the Science Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum is on the other side of the road).
It is the sort of trip we actually would do, not just some made-up example for rhetorical purposes.
  • Having arrived at Marylebone station, we would get some Boris Bikes for the nearby parking area.
  • We would then need to cycle on busy roads, as there seems little cycle path provision between Marylebone and Hyde Park.
  • Once at Hyde Park, the journey would subsequently become much more relaxing, as the traffic is slow and the road is wide, and there are marked cycle paths for much of the way.
  • Out of the gates of Hyde Park, and across the road into Exhibition Road, which has been altered, with the traffic being all on the East side, residents and disabled parking in the centre, and the West side for pedestrians and bikes. Lovely.
  • We would arrive at the Boris Bikes' rack practically outside the Natural History Museum.
  • What about if the rack is full of bikes already?
    (it was full on Monday afternoon! - you can see this in the photo at the top of the page)
  • Suddenly, we would have encountered the biggest problem with the bike scheme - the bikes do not move randomly, but flow in certain directions at certain times of day :-(
    Certain places tend to fill up with bikes (so there is no where to "dock" at certain times of the day), and certain places tend to run out of bikes (so there are none available to hire at certain times of the day)
  • We would then have to locate the next nearest parking terminal, and see if that was full.
  • And so on ...

Somehow,for us at least, it seems like a better idea to take our own bikes on the (off-peak) train!

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