14 sept. 2015

Bicycle culture in London part 3: London cycle hire.

We're are back in London and going to focus on the public bicycle hire scheme of the UK's capital. Open in july 2010 and inspired by the parisian Vélib it's sponsorised by the Barclays bank and is officialy called « Barclays cycle hire » with blue as the main colour. It's also popularly known as « Boris Bikes » after Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London who launched the scheme. The operation of the scheme is contracted by Transport for London (the local government body responsible for most aspects of the transport system in Greater London) to Serco Group (a british company who operates transport system). Barclays gave 25millions £ for a five year deal althought the total running costs are estimated between 110 and 140 millions £ from 2010 to 2015.

The system is simple and efficient. There are more than 10 000 bikes over 700 docking stations situated every 300 to 500 metres throughout London. Register to the system takes one minute and each hiring a maximum of 30 seconds. You can hire up to four bikes at the same time. It costs £2 to access the bikes for 24 hours and the first 30 minutes of each journey are free. Longer journeys cost £2 for each extra 30 minutes. You can only pay with a debit card.


Before hiring, safety items are always reminded to you (especially the blind spots). Then have a ticket with a 5 digits code you have to enter on the docking station to free the bike you choose. After your journey you just have to push the bike into an empty docking point across and wait for a green light blinking on the docking station, which will show the bike is securely locked. Londoners who subscribe for an annuel access for 90£ to the system have a sort of usb key they put in the docking station to hire their bike.

Bicycles have a front basket to put a small bag or suitcase. They have 3 gears and lights come on automatically when you start riding. They don't have any lockers so you have to put it in a docking station if you want to have a little shopping and wait at least 5 minutes to hire another bike.

They are built in Canada by Devinci Cycles and are the same model than the bicycle hiring system of Montreal and Toronto. The Barclays cycle hire got its own app for smartphone. It is very useful for tourists who want to know where the nearest station is to hire or return a bike.

Some of barclays cycle hire users are wearing helmets beacause of the busy motorised trafic of London and it's lack of segregated bike lanes. The system will probably change the type of bike users in London. It's starting to put non hardcore cyclists and especillay women on bikes in the United Kingdom capital. 

As the Vélib cycle hire system, the London one is slowly beeing adopted by the inhabitants and the tourists as an iconic London trade mark just like the black cabs and the red double decker buses. In March 2014, 101 of the 10,000 bikes in the scheme were coloured yellow to mark 100 days until the arrival of the 101st Tour de France in London on Monday July 7th 2014. Guess who rode a yellow jersey bike ?

To be complete on the subject, Barcalys retired of the cycle hire and another bank, Santander UK is the new sponsor starting April 2015 ; the scheme is now called Santander Cycle Hire and turned to red...

If you are not afraid to ride in a heavy motorised trafic, on the left side of the road and if you're not anticapitalist, London cycle hire is a good and cheep way to discover the city and it's different neighbourhood.

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