A competitor to the Santander Cycle Hire (a.k.a. Boris Bikes) has appeared – these yellow cycles, provided by oBike, are dotted along Lavender Hill. Unlike Boris Bikes, these don’t use a docking station – being controlled (locked and unlocked) by phone signals. They can be picked up and left anywhere it’s legal to park bikes. The scheme has not been without controversy – the Evening Standard reports that Hammersmith & Fulham were not impressed to see these appear without warning, and experience in other cities suggests this business model still has some way to go before it really works, with bikes ending up in huge clusters and / or rather stranded in isolated suburbs – but it’s an innovative approach nonetheless.
Who knows whether this will work in London – they do seem to be getting some use, though ominously we found one bike was parked on Lavender Hill just east of Battersea Arts Centre with the GPS tracking system and solar panel damaged and partly missing, and the sophisticated remote controlled lock apparently sawn through (right hand image above)! A disappointing development just a couple of weeks after the scheme was launched, suggesting that maybe the current design isn’t quite tough enough to prevent abuse. We did tell oBike they might want to come rescue this poor bike before it vanishes (but haven’t heard from them yet).
Santander Cycle Hire clearly knew these were on the way – they’ve added stickers to Lavender Hill’s existing cycle hire stand to (in only slightly more words) say “don’t park an oBike in these stands”…
Update (6th August) – Well that didn’t go too well, with reports that Wandsworth has seized over 130 of these cycles on the grounds that they’ve been dumped all over the Borough without any advance warning or consultation and are causing problems at the stations. I quote from the FT –
[Obike] has said it is “disappointed” after Wandsworth council seized more than 130 of its cycles and described them as a “yellow bike plague” […] Wandsworth council said it had started removing the bikes since they first started appearing last month, saying that “masses” of the bikes were found outside Clapham Junction train station, causing problems for pedestrians and especially for people in wheelchairs and parents with buggies.
This was always a risk with the scheme design, and the problem of masses of bikes piling up at stations is consistent with reports in other countries with similar schemes. There are of course a huge number of Santander cycles already at the station, but the docking system means they are sensibly placed and don’t block the pavements.