Come On LA!

p-2048-1536-5f4d380e-a365-44ad-9eb7-fc7a9f2c2bf3.jpegPerhaps ironically, since I tune into BBC Radio 4 every day when in Los Angeles, I’ve not been listening to it or any other UK radio or news source while here in London at all. So imagine my pleasant surprise on Thursday when I came across what clearly looked like a docking station for bikes (as opposed to super-fancy bike racks, which I thought it was at first)! Sure enough, once I got closer I confirmed it – a bike sharing scheme was starting in London. By the next day I saw some more stations on my walks, and a truck driving along full of the bikes, presumably going to load up the stations. As it turned out, I learned later that the scheme started that very next day, and today I saw several people out riding on them!

I am a little disappointed about one thing. I wanted to try them out and be out there seeing the streets of the city from one of these bikes instead of on foot (as I have been doing a lot in the last several days), but guess what? l-2048-1536-86c4807a-287e-447b-acb2-e9ad42d60d9d.jpegl-2048-1536-35f8fd9a-5457-4398-b43e-70bde490452b.jpegThe open access phase begins in September. Before then you have to register online. What’s the problem, you ask. Well, I went online last night and here’s the thing. You register online and then you have to wait for them to send you a key in the mail – real postman-delivered mail, mark you. So since I am leaving today, there’s nothing I can do, realistically. (Somehow this was to be expected with my beloved England. There’s often a high tech trail one must follow that inevitably leads to a low tech kludge. This reminds me of a decade ago when there was the rush to have websites, but not so much of a rush to have content. So you’t want to know the movie times at a cinema, go to its website, only to find that all there was on it was a phone number…)

Disappointment aside, this is great though! I wish the scheme well, and that it will be expanded in good time to well beyond zone 1 (the central zone for existing transport infrastructure). I note that people are calling it Boris’ bike scheme, so I imagine that he (Mayor Boris Johnson) has been speaking about this a lot and pushing for it. Well, that’s two Mayors in a row who has been carrying out my secret agenda. 🙂 First, Ken Livingstone introduced the congestion charge, going firmly (but only partly) toward my vision of a pedestrian- and public-transport- (including taxi-) mostly Central London. A bike sharing scheme was the next natural thing to have, and was part of the dream, and now Boris Johnson (the next Mayor) seems to have come through. Excellent! (Ok so there’s way more traffic on the roads than would have been part of my master plan, but the ideal needn’t match the dream in its entirely…)

So this is London, so don’t think you can do anything new without masses of random complaints and misunderstandings. (Mine above does not count of course…) Check out the comments at the end of this TimeOut London article. Overall, I hope people will see that you can’t roll out a perfectly working scheme in one fell swoop. It has to build, and add components as time goes by. Things like more coverage outside zone one, integration witness ticketing that works for other public transport, the ability to just walk up and use your credit card (coming in September…), etc. And let’s not forget the big picture. This will get more people out enjoying the city streets, out of cars, and so on. Everybody wins!

So as you may know from several earlier posts (see here and here and the partial list below) I’ve been mumbling about this for LA for years now (and have made encouraging noises and suggestions to people at USC to look at something that Nicolò Macellari, a postdoc at USC, dreamed up for the campus – see last part of post here), and meanwhile more and more cities are adopting the idea while one that needs it so very much is still behind on this. I’ve not got a recent update on where discussions and studies have got to on the idea to do it in LA, so I am hoping that things have moved past the discussions and studies phase, but I am not holding my breath. (If you know of news, let us know!)

But I am hoping… There is always hope.


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17 Responses to Come On LA!

  1. Jorge Pullin says:

    Several of us were pleasantly surprised to see a similar bicycle scheme in place in Mexico City during the GR conference a month ago.

  2. Supernova says:

    We apparently have this in Denver — have seen the stations around — but it’s been extremely frustrating trying to find any information about it online. I don’t understand why you would go to the trouble to set this up and then not make sure it was well publicized?!

  3. Can you only register by internet? While I take your point about the “kludge” of the post, not everyone has easy and regular access to internet, so if it’s only possible by internet, this would seem to restrict access by less well off people. I guess this will be eased with the start of the “casual use” thing, but then you need a credit card…

    You know what would be so so so uber-cool? Is if you could pay for them at PayPoints.

    Even so, it’s very very very nifty that the scheme’s been started. I hope they can make it work.


  4. Clifford says:

    Dear readers,

    It seems that comments got switched off on this post by accident yesterday, and I did not notice. So if you are visiting again and want to comment, go right ahead. Sorry!


  5. Clifford says:

    Hi Jorge,

    Indeed, I was emailed about the Mexico system recently. Thanks for the link! I was sent a link to this photo :

    I’m in Vienna now, and there’s a system here. I might try it!



  6. Clifford says:

    IP – “would seem to restrict access by less well off people”…. Well, maybe… But remember that public libraries, open to all, do allow everyone, regardless of income, to use the web. So while I think this way of starting the system is questionable, it is not for this reason.



  7. Clifford says:

    Supernova – Perhaps to avoid having the nice shiny bikes being sullied by the Great Unwashed? 🙂


  8. Claver says:

    They had some problems with keeping track of the bikes in France. Apparently, some turned up in Poland! Long journey – if cycling. But I don’t see why latter schemes would not have been prepared. Perhaps they roll them out, measure demand and see if it justifies setting up elaborate tracking devices and then proceed?

  9. Clifford:

    Last time I checked, the internet cost money at my local public library, and it wasn’t a secure connection. Even if I’m out of date with that, you’d still need to have the credit card (= need to have good credit rating = need to be able to afford your monthly payments = need to not be below the breadline).

    I’m not pulling this out of the air, by the way — less good access to these things has been much remarked on by the mainstream media UK, who have noted that cheaper options for a number of services are often not available to those who need them the most, precisely because the poorest people in the UK don’t always have credit cards, secure internet, online banking, etc.

    Bicycling is such a great way to get around, and for people who live far from affordable shops and struggle with petrol costs, cycling is a doubly good idea. It’s just a shame the bicycle scheme isn’t set up with that demographic in mind.

    Which is not to say the bicycle scheme isn’t a great idea — of course it is. It’s always great to encourage more people to cycle, and sometimes it’s important to target the people who regard their off-road-vehicles-in-the-City as status symbols for cycling encouragement. And there’s no particular reason that the scheme can’t be expanded in the way I’m suggesting in the future.


  10. Oops, sorry for the typos.

  11. Clifford says:

    All excellent points. I agree wholeheartedly on the credit card aspect in general. As for the public library not giving free access… That is news to me. i take your word for it, since i no longer live in the UK. I’m shocked. Does not seem in the spirit of the society I recall..

    On the side of the bike people… I do not know if they require credit cards in the registration process, so I will not jump to conclusions.



  12. kim says:

    lets not jump to conclusions now. My local library doesnt charge me for internet access clifford, its certainly free for everyone there!

  13. Alexander DeSouza says:

    Apparently it’s a Canadian inovation (perhaps?):

    I got a chance to test out this system while I was in Ottawa for Canada Day last year and I think it’s simply marvelous. The city had organized for the stations to be located at several major tourist destinations in the city making it an extremely convenient and really fun way of getting around to places you wanted to see.

    At the time you only needed a credit card to remove a bicycle from it’s station, so I’m disappointed to hear the system was modified somewhat for London. All the more reason you should visit here though… poutine anyone? =)

  14. Clifford says:


    Er…. According to the link you sent it was May 2009?! So not even close to being the first. The most famous system, because if its size, is the Paris Velib system, launched in 2007, but there were several systems in place operating well before that, such as the one here in Vienna, I understand,… But there were schemes tried with mixed success in cities long ago too. Lyon?

    It is quite an old idea, in essence, and has been done in various communities other than cities. I recall some clunky white bikes on the CERN grounds in the 80s but that might have been a simple central borrowing system and not a sharing/distributed system where you take em as you need em…



  15. David Murphy says:

    Thankfully when I was there in 2008, the Paris Velib system let visitors (and locals alike) use the system by just registering on the spot with a credit card. (Only certain types of American cards work, but it can be done).

    It was such a fantastic system. I’m glad London’s trying it out — but they should make it tourist friendly.

    It’d be great to see such a system in parts of the LA area some day — around downtown, USC, UCLA, and Santa Monica, perhaps?

  16. “Does not seem in the spirit of the society I recall..”

    Kim’s point is fair. I’m sure there’s variation between local authorities, and over time. My information re local libraries is at least 5-8 years old.


  17. Tevong says:

    I was in Paris for a few days recently and really enjoyed the velib bikes there for getting around, much nicer than the loud stressful underground system. I was thinking how nice it would be to have that in London when i hopped on the eurostar over so was pleasantly surprised to see the stations being prepared at my old favorite spots!

    That’s one thing i miss about Europe when I’m in the US, the dense scenic cities that’s a pleasure to walk and bike around.