Bo-Jo has warned that his flagship bike hire scheme faces a rash of problems when it launches, after it was found that cyclists faced a shortage of bikes and problems returning them to the “docking stations”.
TfL has admitted that more than around 1 300 of the 6 000 “Boris bikes” will not be ready for hire when the scheme starts and further research also suggests that around 3 000 of the claimed 10 200 docking points will not be built in time. Insisting that it would prove a “great success” in the long run, Bo-Jo said:
“I have no doubt lots of things will go wrong. The reality is that the software issues and technical issues of getting the whole thing up and running for tomorrow has been extremely difficult.
I think tomorrow is going to be fine. It will be more of a gradual launch than a big bang. I have so many concerns it's hard to pick one out.”
Standard reporters spent three days this week looking for docking stations being installed by TfL's contractor Serco. Of 374 sites on TfL's official cycle hire map:
* 284 docking stations appeared to be complete.
* 34 were being built.
* No work had been done at 56 sites.
TfL today said it hoped to have 330 docking stations working providing “around 8 000” docking points, while Serco have began installing the vandal-resistant bikes in their stations but they cannot be ridden until the launch.
The Mayor said he was further concerned that thousands of people who have registered have failed to realise they must activate their electronic key. Not doing so means it will be impossible to release the Canadian-built bikes from their dock. About 10 410 people have applied for 12 451 £3 electronic keys but only 4 026 have been activated.
The cost of the bikes equates to around “£800 or £900” each, once taxpayer investment and £25 million of sponsorship from Barclays was taken into account and Bo-Jo added:
“It's a lot of dosh for a bike, no question about it, but it will come down as the scheme expands."
Q & A
Can anyone hire a bike?
Not yet. Only registered users — those who have signed up on TfL's website and received an electronic key in the post — will be able to remove a bike from a docking station. Unregistered casual users will only be able to hire bikes from the end of next month (simply by inserting a credit card in one of the docking station terminals). TfL is warning riders that the electronic keys have to be activated — by logging on to TfL's website or calling 0845 026 3630 — or they won't work.
How much will it cost?
There is a two-stage charging system. First, the rider needs to pay an access fee — £1 for one day, £5 for a week or £45 for a year — plus a further £3 for the electronic key. Inserting the key in a docking station releases a bike, and the first half-hour of cycling is free. Hire charges are levied after 30 minutes — £1 to cycle for up to an hour in total, £4 for 90 minutes and £6 for two hours. The clock stops on the charging when the bike is re-docked.
When will I be charged?
Registered users will have the charges deducted from their bank account. Casual users will have them charged to their credit card.
Is there a way to cycle for free?
Almost. A £45 annual subscription works out at 12p a day. Cyclists can then avoid further charges by never cycling for longer than 30 minutes at a time. Those wanting to cycle for longer can “leapfrog” their way across central London by docking their bike, waiting five minutes and taking it out again for another “free” 30 minutes (or taking another bike).
What happens if I can't re-dock the bike?
Riders who find that all the docking points are already taken should use the touch screen display on their nearest terminal to get an extra free 15 minutes to find another docking station. Anybody who fails to return a Borisbike for 24 hours will be charged £150. Failure to return it at all costs £300.
What happens if the bike is broken?
Press the button with the spanner symbol when you return it to a docking station. A mechanic will then come to repair it. In Paris, cyclists alert each other to faulty bikes by turning the saddle the wrong way round.
How does the Boris bike scheme compare to Paris?
Paris's Vélib scheme began in 2007 and is much bigger, with around 22,000 bikes (London will start with 6,000). London's scheme is almost a direct copy of the Montreal scheme.