Four reasons why London's bicycle renting system works

Cities around the world are looking at bicycle sharing systems as a way to extend existing public transportation infrastructure. Here's a look at why London is successful.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor on

First Paris, now London, Melbourne, Washington, Montreal, Hangzhou -- the world's biggest cities are looking for two-wheeled transportation triumph in the bicycle, and inexpensive rental systems seem to be popping up everywhere.

Joe Peach at This Big City says London's system in particular is effective for four key reasons, outlining them in a post yesterday. (Hell, even former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to agree.)

Here's his take:

  • Price. London town may be quite expensive even for Americans, but annual bike membership is £45 -- about $73 -- for trips lasting no longer than 30 minutes. To compare, it's £14 -- approx. $23 -- for an unlimited day pass on the Underground.
  • Scale. London didn't skimp when it came to rolling out the infrastructure for the cycle hire system, deploying almost 5,000 bicycles and 316 stations on the first day of operation. Now there are more than 400 stations.
  • Flexibility. From the beginning, the city prepared to scale up or back stations as needed. Since launch, it has built out service at busy hubs such as Waterloo Station or east London in anticipation of the 2012 Olympics.
  • Integration. Peach writes that London treats its "Boris Bikes" as an extension of the public transportation, inexpensively connecting existing bus or rail transit hubs.

All of this, of course, results in a lot more convenience for local residents while giving city officials an inexpensive (and flexible) way to remedy transportation issues in a growing, vibrant city. (After all, it's not nearly as easy or cheap to dig a new subway line. Right, New York?)

Peach is also critical of the London system, explaining that its advertising scheme with Barclays is too clumsy by name (true, but exposure trumps it), it fails to serve poorer southern areas of the city, and it's not yet incorporated on the Oyster Card -- the digital, contact-less fare system for the city's more established forms of transportation.

That latter point is a great one. If cities really want to make bicycles happen, a common fare standard could really lower barriers. The question: is there enough profit to be made to warrant a revenue-sharing scheme like the tube?

A video on how London's Barclay Cycle Hire works:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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