The launch of a city-wide cycle sharing scheme in New York this June is the perfect opportunity to look back at London’s Barclays Cycle Hire programme. Both schemes share a few similarities – sponsorship by a major banking group and a controversial launch among them – but despite the teething troubles, three years on the capital’s “Boris bikes” have achieved considerable success. Will New York’s follow in London’s footsteps?
The Big Apple’s Citi Bike scheme went into a pre-launch phase on May 27th, which allowed early adopters to get access to bicycles from hire stations around the city. One week one, the scheme was expanded to the general public, providing Manhattan and Brooklyn’s residents with around 5,500 bikes at 300 solar-powered stations – although this is just the beginning, and Citi Bike intends to make some 10,000 bikes available by when the scheme is fully implemented.
Although some New Yorkers have voiced concerns about the practicality of a public cycle hire initiative, the polls show the scheme is generally viewed favourably, with a 70 per cent approval rating. Citi Bike works on similar principles to the Barclays Cycle Hire programme, with users buying access keys on a one-day, one-week or one-year basis – but it remains to be seen whether it’ll be as successful as its counterpart in London.
Data from international hotel booking service HRS shows that, in spite of some initial cynicism, the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme enjoyed a great deal of popularity in the first few months after it was launched. The first month, July 2010, saw just 12,461 cycle hires overall, but this exploded to 341,203 the following month as Londoners got to grips with the concept. By October 2010, there were more than half a million monthly hires.
Hire rates have also steadily increased year after year – in 2011 there were seven million hires overall, followed by 9.5 million in 2012. Of course, the 2012 Olympic Games were a massive boon for the scheme, as Londoners frustrated with congested streets started beating the traffic on a bike instead (or perhaps they drew inspiration from Team GB’s impressive 12-medal performance in the cycling events!). The Olympics saw the scheme’s busiest-ever day, with a record 47,105 bikes hired in a 24-hour period.
Another milestone of the scheme occurred a few months earlier, when the service area was expanded to cover North Shoreditch, Tower Hamlets and parts of Shepherd’s Bush in March 2012. This also led to a huge boost in uptake, with a 70 per cent increase in hires between February and March.
The data also revealed a few things about how Londoners use the bikes. Since the launch of Barclays Cycle Hire, average journey times have remained fairly constant at 18 minutes, although the warmer months of spring and summer seem to encourage users to take longer journeys at a time. Each winter has seen a drop-off in usage, although the most recent figures show that this trend is decreasing over time. There was a 37 per cent drop in usage between November and December 2010, compared with just 29 per cent in 2012.
The New York cycle scheme has faced a rocky start, both in the form of local opposition and delays caused by Hurricane Sandy. Some protests have been organised at docking stations by groups who are concerned about the scheme cutting into parking spaces and blocking access for emergency vehicles. Citi Bikes has even suffered its first bike theft. However, it’s worth remembering all the troubles its counterpart in London went through, and now “Boris bikes” have become part and parcel of life in London. Let’s wish New York every success with its own scheme, and hope it encourages more people to ditch the car in favour of exercise and pollution-free transport.