As the New York cycle scheme launches, a look back at London’s ‘Boris bikes’

With the residents of New York looking forward to the launch of a city-wide cycle sharing scheme in June, it's the ideal time to look back at the highs and lows of London's own 'Boris bikes' - as they are affectionately known.

By Alissa Klutschko of HRS UK

With the residents of New York looking forward to the launch of a city-wide cycle sharing scheme in June, it’s the ideal time to look back at the highs and lows of London’s own ‘Boris bikes’ – as they are affectionately known.

On May 27, New York’s own Citi Bike scheme will go into a pre-launch phase, when around 8,000 people who have already bought annual memberships will be able to use the Citibank-sponsored service.

A week later, the scheme will open to general use, giving residents of New York access to some 5,500 bicycles at nearly 300 solar-powered stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Eventually, Citi Bike aims to double this to 10,000 bikes and more than 600 stations.

Like almost any initiative introduced in feisty New York, the scheme has proved controversial. Concerns range from stations blocking access to fire trucks to the possibility that they may be used as dog urinals – and the operators of Citi Bike have even been accused of discriminating against obese people with its rule that riders must weigh less than 260lbs.

Despite this, polls show widespread public support for the scheme, with 70 per cent approval ratings across the city. Amidst all the hubbub, New York’s leaders might want to take a look at the successes of bike share schemes in other major cities around the world, notably Paris, Barcelona and London.

New York’s scheme and London’s have a few things in common: both are sponsored by a major banking group, both operate on a similar system (users purchase access keys to release cycles from docking stations and can buy access on 24-hour, seven-day or annual bases) and both attracted a mixture of support and hostility when they were proposed.

According to data from international hotel booking service HRS, London’s Barclays Cycle Hire system met with overwhelming uptake in its first few months. After a fairly quiet July 2010, in which 12,461 cycle hires were recorded overall, numbers shot up to 341,203 the following month and 544,412 by October 2010: not bad going for the first three months.

Boke share full

Since then, hire rates have continued to increase year after year, with more than seven million hires in 2011 and 9.5 million in 2012.

Last year was a particularly important one for the scheme, as the Olympic Games came to London and in March the service expanded to east London, covering North Shoreditch, Tower Hamlets and parts of Shepherd’s Bush in the west.

Bike shares later

This expansion coincided with one of the biggest uptakes in the scheme’s history, with a 70 per cent increase in hire rates between February and March.

Bike share first few months

When the Olympics arrived in July and August, ‘Boris bikes’ celebrated another milestone as a record 47,105 cycles were hired in a single day. The HRS data also reveals that people overwhelmingly use the bikes for short journeys: since the scheme began, the overall average journey time has remained at 18 minutes, although journey times tend to increase in spring and summer.

Predictably, usage drops off in the colder months as London’s workers huddle for warmth on buses and the Tube instead – although the statistics show that year-on-year this trend has decreased.

The scheme saw a 37 per cent fall in usage during November to December 2010, but just 29 per cent in the same period in 2012, suggesting residents are increasingly toughing out the chilly weather – or perhaps increasingly finding the bikes a more convenient way to get around amid the many public transport delays the winter weather brings.

Additionally, Transport for London revealed the most popular stations around the city for cycle hire. Perhaps not surprisingly, Waterloo Station was the most popular – as the busiest railway terminal in the UK, it sees tens of thousands of people come and go every day, and no doubt a significant number of commuters now hop on a bike for the last leg of their journeys to work.

Belgrove Street, Hyde Park Corner, Speakers’ Corner and Hop Exchange were the next most popular stations, in descending order.

From a relatively slow start, the Barclays Cycle Hire programme has become an integral part of the fabric of London. With more than 20 million hires since July 2010, it’s hard to argue that the scheme has been anything but a success – and this summer, the residents of Liverpool are gearing up for a cycle hire scheme of their own.

Let’s hope New York’s effort to get more people using this healthy, carbon-free mode of transport meets with just as much success!

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