I’m moving away from the whole chronological order idea – it’s evidently not working for me, so I’m going to take a step back in time, back to when I was working in London. To set the scene, I have by now become addicted to cycling, having made the move from London Underground to folding bike but, to my dismay, my beloved Joel is out of action. The rim of the rear wheel is broken and the bike shop I got it from have had to request a new one from the manufacturer. My childminders have moved house meaning I now have to drive my boys to their house and can no longer walk to the station. Part one of the solution is to dig out my old mountain bike and sweet talk my childminders into letting me store it in their garage overnight so I can leave my car there during the day and use my bike to get to the station in the morning. Part two is Boris Bikes.
Boris Bikes are fantastic! They are wonderful, and we are very lucky to have them. I would love to see the scheme extended to other British cities (if there already are, I would be interested to know about them). They are heavy, clunky and, to a certain extent, used and abused. The first couple of times I rode them I didn’t even realise they had gears (twist part of the right handlebar one way to change up and the other way to change down) and even after I found them, the gears were very low meaning I had to pedal very quickly when at the time I preferred power to speed. But Boris Bikes are there! They are there for you, for me, for anyone who wants to use them (more or less), and I love them for that. Plus every time I use one I appreciate my own bikes even more afterwards.
So I would ride my trusty mountain bike to the station and lock it up there safe in the knowledge that if someone wanted to steal a bike from there they probably wouldn’t pick a ten year old, poorly maintained mountain bike. I would then take the train into London and find a docking station with bikes in it. For a little while I was trying to use an app which gave information about bikes and spaces at docking stations but it didn’t load well on the train and after a week or so I stopped being able to use it at all until I paid for the full version. Considering the connectivity issues with the free version I decided to save my money.
I don’t recall ever having a problem finding a bike at the start of any of my journeys but a couple of times I had trouble returning one at Charing Cross. Fortunately, if you arrive at a docking station which turns out to be full you can register that you tried to return the bike and they will extend your usage time to let you try somewhere else. I am aware that there are an army of people in vans with trailers whose job it is to redistribute bikes between full and empty docking stations, compensating for directional trends in commuting at different times of the day. If any of you are reading this blog, thank you; your work is appreciated.
I didn’t use Boris Bikes every day, although I should have. Some days it just seemed easier to head straight down to the underground instead. I had already lost the convenience of being able to step out of the station and jump on the bike; now it was a choice between walking down the stairs to the platform or walking around the corner to the docking station. But the important thing, the whole point of the bikes, is that there is a choice. Besides; riding across London two or three times a week is still significantly better than not doing it at all.
The biggest problem with the system is the issue of keeping the bike out beyond the end of your access period. I used these machines to commute with and, with my use being a little sporadic, I was paying for 24 hours at a time so if I was a little late getting to the docking station one day and started my access period at say 8:20, then the next day arrived at 8:10, I would have to either sit around for ten minutes until my previous 24 hour access period expired then buy a new one or suffer a £150 hit to the bank account for the privilege of getting into work a little earlier. This happened to me a couple of times (standing around that is, not paying £150) and I found it very frustrating. I think it should be possible to extend your access period so I could put my card in at 8:10 and extend by 24 hours to 8:20 the next day, or even just overlap the periods as I would happily pay twice for that 10 minutes if it meant not being late for work.
If you want to know more about Boris Bikes and how they work, go to the TfL website and click on Barclays Cycle Hire (http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/14808.aspx). They have evidently made a huge effort to make the site friendly and appealing.