26 June 2011

Boris Bikes... Ltd.

Having turned into a London salary-man, I had to try a Boris bike.  I mean, you arrive to Euston and the options are to join the medieval melee of peak-time tube travel, negotiate the bus network hoping you don’t end up in Watford, walk – which is fine but time consuming and, at certain points, just as competitive as boarding the tube – and cycling.  Many have their own cycle – indeed some carry it in the train, and Euston has notably increased the number and sophistication of its cycle parking points.  For those who don’t  or won’t, the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme (to give it its proper name) offers a great alternative… some of the time.

The theory of it is great : within the area served the stands are indeed ubiquitous.  The prices are very reasonable – first 30’ free, a quid for 24h, a fiver for a week:  how good is that!?  The bikes look well designed – why, they even have gears (3-speed hub gears – I believe they are Sturmey-Archer: a true British classic). 
The reality is more mixed.  The booking process is reasonably straightforward, but nobody tells you that the first time you ever hire a bike you need to go through it twice – once to register your card, the next to actually obtain the release code and take a bike.  I stood there for 10’, waiting for something to happing at first, then poking alternatively the machine and various bikes, then rang the helpline where, unsurprisingly, the first thing you heard was a recorded message related to this problem – so, alone I am not. 

Then there’s the vagaries of usage patterns.  Yesterday, for instance, the whole thing worked a treat – I took a bike from near work, made it to Euston in twenty reasonably pleasant minutes, parked easily in one of several empty bays, and away I went.  

Today, by contrast, I arrived to Euston to find a lone bike left in its stand.  I obtained a release code and, alas, a red light in the stand showed me this last remaining bike was in fact a dud.  I rushed to another cycle point to find none left.  Then another where there were many – but when I put my card in, after a long delay the machine displayed an error message.  This happened a second and then a third time as I tried successive cycle hire points, so I gave up and walked the rest of the way, having squandered a precious half-hour trying to get a Boris-bike.

Boris, by the way, didn’t actually father the creature, so to speak – not this one, at any rate.  Not only were other European cities (like Paris and Barcelona) quicker off the mark, I am reliably informed the ball for this scheme got rolling on Red Ken’s watch, even if the bikes (unlike Barcelona’s) are blue – or rather, the livery on them is, for the bikes have the sort of grey-brown finish of 1970s office furniture.

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