London’s ‘Boris Bikes’ have now been in operation for about a year from their launch in August 2010. The scheme, instigated by London mayor Boris Johnson, has a good deal of support from Londoners, and of course it’s also had its share of criticism, but so far the benefits seem to outweigh the drawbacks, at least for most of those who actually use the bikes on a regular or occasional basis.
The stated purposes of the scheme include cleaning up the city’s air, saving money for residents and visitors, reducing traffic congestion and promoting a healthier lifestyle in general. How well it has succeeded in the different areas has been a matter of discussion, and there are admittedly many ways in which it could be improved.
The scheme costs £45 per year for unlimited access to Boris bikes in locations around the city. This amounts to about 12p per day, and any journey that times out at a half hour or less is free. Customers have to register for the service online at www.tfl.gov.uk/cycling or they can call 0845 026 3630. Once they supply bank or card details, payment is withdrawn automatically.
Anyone who uses the bikes for trips of 30 minutes or less can save up to a whopping £1,059 in a year, as opposed to drivers with a Zone One travel card covering central London that costs well over £1,000.
However, if the trip is longer than 30 minutes the price goes up dramatically. Boris bikes cost £1 for an hour, £4 for an hour and a half, and £6 for two hours. If you keep it for 24 hours, the bike will cost you
£50, and if you don’t return it after 24 hours, the fee is £150.
There is also an option to pay on a daily or weekly basis; £1 for a day, £5 for a week. However, if any trip goes longer than 30 minutes, the same fees apply. Transport for London says that most users stay within the 30-minute time limit, so their transportation costs are minimal.
The drawbacks, according to critics including regular users of the system, are mainly concerned with the availability of bikes when and where they’re wanted, and the other side of that coin, which is a slot to park them when they’re returned. There’s also the attitude of London drivers; on the whole they are not terribly considerate of cyclists, to put it mildly.
Studies made of this scheme, and others in cities like Barcelona as well as the recently launched Brompton Bicycles, are still underway. The general consensus at this point seems to be that the bike alternative is a great idea – it just needs some fine tuning.