Perhaps 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? The 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.