Okay so ‘Boris bikes’ have been around for a good few years in London now. They’ve even made their way to far flung reaches of the world, climbed mont Ventoux and also cycled to Paris! Cycle hire schemes are great additions to any city, they offer an easily accessible way to see and experience a new place or indeed just get a round a place you know very well. With more and more cities introducing them it seems to be the thing to do at the moment for places to show that they are ‘bike friendly’.
The London Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme, to give it it’s proper name, was set up in 2010 and has undoubtedly been an extraordinary success with over 47,000 hires being made in a single day during the 2012 London Olympics! It is clearly here to stay and in their iconic blue design they are slowly making their way to becoming some of the icons of transport in London; no doubt soon they will sit alongside the red bus and black cab as quintessentially London hallmarks.
The idea behind them is simple. Provide simple transport that gets people active. They are popular among commuters and tourists, appealing to all. I think one of the main reasons behind this is the fact that they are so cheap to use. In fact you can cycle one all day for the price of a small tube journey! Just £2 will get you access to bikes for 24 hours, no bad, and £10 access for a whole week. Perfect if you are spending some time in the capital and want to get around on a budget. However there is a slight catch, although this £2 gets you access for a day if you want to ride the bike for longer than 30 minutes then you will have to pay. The payment is weighted also so that the longer you have the bike without docking it the more you will have to pay. However with the vast amount of docking stations around London you should never be more than 30 minutes away from one. Then once you’ve docked your bicycle you can take out another one for another 30 minutes for free. This is a clever system as it promotes people using them for shorter journeys, increasing the likelihood that they will return the bike sooner, which will increase the amount the bikes circulate, meaning if your nearest docking station is empty you shouldn’t have to wait long.
Although the scheme costs quite a lot of money to run I think if they ran it to turn a large profit people just wouldn’t use it. Keeping it cheap allows it to be more accessible to everyone, it also allows more people to get active and possibly get into cycling. A study found that actually 49% of Barclays Cycle hire members said that the scheme had encouraged them to start cycling in London. The more people we have active in our country, the more happier and healthy as a country we will be. If our government focuses on investing in public cycling schemes more people will be encouraged to cycle and exercise, improving their health and furthermore reducing the strain on the NHS. I see it truly as a win win. Furthermore if more people cycle there will be less traffic for the people who want to drive!
So when I went to visit my girlfriend in London earlier this year I suggested we tried using Boris Bikes to get around. Although I am a confident cyclist Alice had never really cycled on the roads before, the closest she got was on a quiet road near me as we cycled to a trail. Therefore understandably she had a bit of trepidation when we came to select our bikes. We put in our cards and got our 24-hour access codes from the machine then began to select our bikes. We luckily got some newly repaired ones as the man from Serco was there unloading them off the truck. They are easy to adjust, have gears, bells, even a front rack for your bag, perfect for rolling around the streets of London. Unfortunately neither of us had helmets, although I’m not sure how they could implement these in a cycle hire scheme, perhaps through a safety deposit type box near the bikes where you could put a code to get a helmet? Although peoples head hygiene would also have to be taken account into the design of these helmets. Anyway we were mainly going to cycle through the parks or on cycle lanes so I reassured her everything would be okay.
The cycling was lovely, they can actually get up to pretty decent speeds, the sun was out and we headed for Buckingham Palace –classic tourists. It was great being able to zoom through the parks, seeing everything as you would walking but being much faster so you could see much more. We certainly saw a lot more than we would have if we had been underground on the tube! I thought a close pass by an Addison Lee taxi on the Mall would shake Alice up but she was unphased, she was really enjoying it too.
We swapped our bikes a few times, managing to always return them in under 30 minutes, and often doing little walks between the cycling to break it up. It really gives you so much more freedom. I thought my experience of Boris bikes was really good and both of us can’t wait to use them again. I just can’t wait for similar schemes to be rolled our to more cities across the UK, it’s definitely what we need.