The ability of casual users to make use of the London Cycle Hire scheme has been delayed again. TfL are now saying it will be the “end of the year” before you will just be able to just turn up and hire a bike without being a member. Supportive in public of Serco (the company running the scheme), the Mayor’s Transport Advisor Kulveer Ranger described this turn of events as a “fucking PR disaster” in private. No shit, Sherlock. Not allowing casual users onto the scheme is bad in itself – a key feature of the advertised scheme is not operating. Worse however it means one of the key assumptions that makes the scheme work at all (even for members) is now substantially undermined. Expensive and badly managed, the cycle hire scheme is now stuck between a rock and a hard place.
I tweeted last night:
davidmlondon: New cycle hire experience. Person ‘minding’ a docking point for friend who’d rung ahead to reserve it. Luckily there was just one more left.
It was a mildly amusing experience and reminded me of towels on deckchairs around Mediterranean swimming pools. Fortunately at the docking station concerned in St. John’s Wood there happened to be still a single free post. That saved me from having a full and frank exchange of views with the person concerned about how anti-social that behaviour might be.
It did bring into focus just how dysfunctional the cycle hire scheme has become. Today TfL announced that the casual use by non-members would not happen until the end of the year. This is poor in itself. One of the key reasons for having the scheme is that tourists or non-members could just pick up a bike from any station without having to pre-register. In terms of encouraging cycling, therefore the scheme has even less value for the moment than it had previously. I am skeptical that its going to do a lot to encourage non-cyclists even when working correctly. The current members scheme is only likely to attract already committed cyclists. TfL say they are concerned that casual users may overwhelm the system and given the well documented launch problems, its difficult to disagree. But there’s a more substantial problem now though – the scheme actually needs casual users to work properly.
If you look at the feasibility study for scheme, one of the key risks identified was:
[The] need for excessive re-distribution of bicycles, potentially increasing congestion and air pollution (albeit marginally)
You can see this daily around the city. Docking sites close to train stations empty first thing in the morning and points in the central zone fill up with bikes. Come home time the pattern reverses, so docking station in the West End (like the one above) empty and there is chaos at Waterloo as there are many more bikes than docking points.
But don’t worry there’s a solution to this – the study notes:
It is assumed (as it has been observed in other cities) that a proportion of the market, namely tourists, will then be able to use the bicycles for their trips throughout the day, thereby helping to re- distribute the bicycles across the central area
Oh dear. Essentially one of the important assumptions of the scheme is now flawed and will remain so for months. Expect to see more cars and trailers around the city ferrying bikes from location to location.
The management of this scheme has been shambolic from the start. Its now caught between a rock and a hard place, needing casual users to avoid excessive re-circulation of bikes but unable to accommodate them because of operational issues. The next few months are going to be very taxing for Kulveer and his colleagues at TfL.