The bike, the scheme and the future of London’s cycle transport

bixi the bike used in Montreal

After sliding my credit card into a payment machine and parting with £3 of my hard earned cash the above bike is mine for 24 hours. This may soon be the reality for Londoners and visitors to London alike who wish to explore the city by bike or simply get to work.

This is all based on the way the cycle hire scheme, run by Bixi, works in Montreal which is what yesterdays news suggests will be the basis for the London Velib

How the cycle hire works in Montreal

  • After putting your credit card into a pay station there is a $1000 hold on the card. Upon returning the bike the hold is released
  • A 24 hour hire costs $5
  • Alternatively to save money you can buy a 30 day pass for $28 or annual subscription for $78
  • You can have a dedicated user card  (Currently no plans to integrate with Oyster card)
  • The 3-speed bikes used in the scheme are said to be theft proof, costing around $2000 a piece and contain a GPS chip that will make the bike unusable to a thief.
  • You can check the location of the cycle hire stands by checking an online map or consulting the map at the station


    On paper the scheme looks great as always however, there is of course controversy. The main body of this stems from the £140million cost associated with the project. That money will cover both the installation and the operation of the scheme for 6 years (All profits going to TfL). The bikes themselves should cost £7.2million if you consider a cost of $2,000 a bike and 6,000 bikes.

    Velorution, a fellow cycling blog, took a quick look at the numbers and worked out that the cost of the scheme will be around £7,000 per extra daily cyclist, an expensive price tag.

    This money could of course potentially have been spent elsewhere – the so called opportunity cost. Uses that spring to mind include new bicycle lanes, more bicycle parking or as a guardian reader suggests as grants to small businesses to provide shower/changing facilities and bike storage.

    There is also some question of the practicality to London’s cyclists. As a frequent cyclist myself I can think of few scenarios, saving for a post night out dangerous cycle back, that it would come in useful. Then again I am not in their target audience of rail commuters and bus passengers. This brings another question to mind – why will there be no docking stations close to rail terminuses?

    Despite all the controversy I look forward to the summer of 2010 and giving the new bikes a spin.

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    As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

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    8 Responses to The bike, the scheme and the future of London’s cycle transport

    1. Steve 14/08/2009 at 7:00 pm #

      $1000 deposit on a credit card – interesting. In London, this would mean two things:
      – People would get charged interest/PPI on their cards for the shortest of uses, particularly those who have higher or more ruthless cards (i.e. those who probably don’t have a car and are likely to use a hire bike).
      – Students, many of whom don’t have a credit card, contrary to popular belief, can’t use it.

      I guess they’ll have to figure out a solution to that one!

    2. Andreas 14/08/2009 at 8:30 pm #

      Hi Steve – I found this weird also. I think what is meant is that they will have the ability to charge $1000 if the bike is not returned not that they will take 1000 as soon as you register.

    3. Nicola 15/08/2009 at 1:37 pm #

      A 3 GBP price tag seems prohibitive, and why would you want to rent such a bike for 24 hours anyway? The great thing about the Paris Velib scheme is that you can pick up a bike and use it free for the first half hour, which probably covers most trips. You hop on a bike, cycle to where you want to be, find the nearest docking station (there are plenty all over the place), leave the bike there, and you’re done. If you then want to go somewhere else some time later, you check out another bike etc.
      This ensures that the Velib bikes get maximum use and circulation, with minimum “downtime”. For the user, it means great flexibility and minimal hassle and worry (no need to lock the bike to a tree and worry about it being stolen or vandalized – as soon as it’s docked back into the station you cease to be responsible for it of course, and it’s free to use for the next person). Under the Montreal scheme described here I’d be just as worried about my $1000 deposit as I would be about my own $1000 bike getting stolen, so what’s the point?

      I’m a great fan of the Paris scheme, but the more I hear about the way London wants to implement it (if they do indeed want to copy Montreal), the more worried I get that it’s being set up to fail.

    4. Paul Hodges 17/08/2009 at 10:36 am #

      Look quite good solid bikes – heavy probably though. I think the 3-speed hub, hub brakes (& hub dynamo lights I am assumming from photo) are a good city choice for easy cycling.

      The anti-theft stuff sounds good – could they market the same system – minus the auto-lock perhaps) for our own bikes? I have scannable chips in my components but that’s not as good as GPS trackers (as used in £50k+ cars)!

      Agree with the 24-hour min hire being limiting. The small commercial operation, whose name escapes me, who have set up 50 odd stations of c 15 bikes so far, mainly in West Lodon suburbs & unis, rents up to 1/2 hour. Also think they run via mobile phone credits – ideal for students. Perhaps 1/2 hour is not necessary but surely 2-3 hours / half-day is vital to attracty a casual / tourist crowd.

    5. Paul Hodges 17/08/2009 at 12:09 pm #

      London reconnections [link][/link] is quoting a $250 CC hold, which sounds much more like it. If they really are theft-proof circa £100-150 wouldn’t be an unreasonable recovery fee, providing for staff costs wihout Bixi/Serco going broke.

    6. Kat 17/09/2009 at 3:54 pm #

      There are currently match funding opportuniites for businesses in London under the ‘A New Way To Work’ scheme which can help businesses set up more facilities and resources to encourage more sustainable travel (including cycling)


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