Santander Cycles Expands to SE London – Eventually

London’s main bikeshare system, Santander Cycles, is looking like it is finally going to grow again, after London’s Cycling Commissioner has announced a small expansion, covering the Rotherhithe and Bermondsey areas. Despite being close to the centre of London, this area has not had Santander Cycles before. The system last expanded in February last year, to Brixton. Since then, the mobility-as-a-service industry has continued to evolve, and in the absence of eScooter systems (not allowed under UK law), there are now five other bikeshare systems operating in central London, including two virtual-dock-based systems (Freebike and Beryl Bikes) and three dockless systems (Mobike, Jump and Lime), providing some competition to Santander Cycles, although it still has more bikes (and, likely, more journeys-per-day) than the rest put together.

The expansion will happen once the latest Cycleway, C4, has been fully constructed, and as this doesn’t have an exact end-date (Spring 2020 is the current plan), it also means there is no date commited to the corresponding expansion of the bikeshare. However, as TfL has said several times that there were no plans for expansion, while equivalent systems in New York and other major cities have continued to grow regularly, the change of policy is encouraging.

Rotherhithe and Bermondsey have long asked for bikeshare. Mobike has intermittently operated in the area, but there are many possible journeys that would integrate with the existing Santander Cycle docking station footprint.

Lincoln Goes Electric

Hirebike, the bikeshare system in Lincoln, has announced that pedelecs (electric bikes) are joining its existing manual system. A number of docking stations have been converted to take electric bikes as well as manual ones, and at least one electric bike is available for hire, along with the existing non-assist bikes. Lincoln is a small city surrounded by a number of villages, some with docking stations, the distances mean it makes a lot of sense to have some electric capability in the fleet. Although the area is mainly flat, central Lincoln is on a hill – indeed the street between the old and new towns (and depicted in the graphic above) is called “Steep Hill” so, for example, students getting to the cathedral area, from the university campus on the waterside, will no doubt appreciate the easier pedalling.

Lincoln’s system is quite small (around 90 bikes, including 1 electric currently, across 26 docking stations) but usage will no doubt be boosted by this innovation.

Brighton’s Popular Bikeshare Sees Charges Increase

BTN Bike Share, an electric hybrid system launched in the tourist and student city on 1 September 2017, has increased its fees for the first time. Previously, casual hires were £1 for up to 35 minutes and then 3p/minute. They are now: £1/hire + 3p/minute. Annual subscriptions are now £72/year with 30 minutes/day ride time (down from 1 hour).

From 1 August 2019 (changes from previous shown in brackets):

CasualAnnual Membership
Membership Fee£0£72
Start Fee£1£0
Usage Fee3p/minute3p/minute
Usage CreditN/A
(was 35 minutes/jny)
30 minutes/day
(was 60 minutes/day)
Out-of-Hub* End Fee£2£2
Out-of-Hub* Start Credit£1£1

* Bikes parked near hubs (e.g. if the hub is full) are not considered to be out-of-hub.

The changes in charges seem designed to encourage shorter journeys, which, as this is a popular, well used system, is likely to make it more efficient. BTN Bike Share may in fact be the UK’s most well used bikeshare system.

Trip Numbers

Some data on usage between the launch and July 2019 (i.e. 22 months):

  • 1.25 million miles travelled (2 million km). With an average of 320 bikes over 570 days that means each bike does an average of 11km a day – impressive!
  • 650,000 journeys. This suggests an average journey of 3km and a typical 3-4 trips per bike per day (t/b/d). 3km is higher than the ~1-2km average distance travelled on a bikeshare bike across other cities, but then research does suggest electric bikeshares typically do result in longer journeys.
  • 80000 subscribers. This sounds like a hugely impressive number considering the population of Brighton – so I wonder if this is actually the number of distinct users, including visitors taking one-off trips. I can’t believe that 80000 people are paying the annual membership fee.
  • As of July 2019, the system reports they have 570 bikes and 68 hubs. On Bike Share Map we’ve seen a maximum of 459 bikes available for hire, seen at the end of May 2019 – a discrepancy of 24%. However, the number of hubs is correct.

Our own t/b/d research, looking at docking station data, suggests:

Q1Q2Q3Q4
2017No data2.3
20181.54.75.43.0
20192.83.9

We detected approximately 690,000 journeys which is broadly consistent with the published number. We notice that Brighton sees around 10% more journeys on weekdays than weekends.

(Data courtesy of James Todd.)

The system is publically funded, with the council investing £290,000, and the national government investing £1.6 million. The council receives back 50% of profits above £330k made by the operator.

BTN Bike Share is operated by Hourbike on behalf of Brighton & Hove City Council. It uses Social Bicycles pedelec bikes, an older version of those used by JUMP systems. Social Bicycles subsequently created the JUMP brand for their electric bikes and were then bought by Uber.

It remains to be seen if the fees increase will dent the popularity of the system, and whether it will cause a shift towards being more tourist used – a less price sensitive segment. Any weekend/weekday t/b/d change should be detectable in due course.

Exeter’s “Co Bikes” Electric Bikeshare Relaunches with a Larger, Hybrid System

Exeter’s bikeshare, Co Bikes, relaunches on Friday, having been suspended in early June – thus missing the peak summer season.

The system was, and still is, an electric system supplied by nextbike and operated by a local cooperative (hence the co- in the name), and promises a substantially larger system of “just under 100 bikes” and 14 docking stations. Nextbike appears to be handling telephone support as their London number is listed as the number for users to call with queries.

Bike Share Map is already showing a couple of bikes available and 7 docking stations operating, ahead of Friday’s launch.

The main change from the older system which ran from October 2016 until June this year, is that it is hybrid – it has the ability to allow journeys to start and finish away from the docking stations. It will also, according to the publicly, be much larger – up to 5 times the size. The older system had a maximum of 20 bikes available, scattered across 7 docking stations which were well placed at railway stations, university campuses and key civic points but ultimately limited the possible journeys. Bikes in the older system could in fact be left out of docking stations but this was not encouraged by the operator.

The combination of expensive electric bikes which can be left anywhere in any British city always brings concerns about theft and vandalism, but hopefully Exeter will succeed where Derby, Manchester, Stockport and Newcastle have failed.

West Midlands Bikeshare Collapses

The West Midlands Bikeshare is no more, after Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), part of the West Midlands Combined Transport Authority (WMCTA), cancelled its contract with nextbike, the provider and operator, citing persistent breaches of contract – this likely relating to delays to its wider rollout of 3000-5000 bikes and proposed changes to the system such as increasing fees, not covering the full TfWM area, and struggling to find technological solutions to integrate with the region’s “Swift” multi-modal transit card. The bikeshare had been operating on a trial basis, covering just 25 non-electric bikes across 5 docking stations in a small area in central Wolverhampton in the north-west of the proposed operating area, plus a single docking station in Birmingham itself. The system had already been delayed from late last year. It had been announced in a blaze of publicity by West Midlands elected major Andy Street, at the beginning of 2018.

As recently as a week before the collapse, nextbike had announced that it had resolved issues with not finding a major sponsor of the system and a parts shortage, and that the larger rollout was imminent. The docking stations have already had their bikes removed, and the stations themselves, which are placed on the ground, will also be shortly removed. The system had seen around 7 journeys a day during the 6 months of the trial – that’s 7 in total not 7 per bike. One issue was that the docking stations were placed close together, only allowing journeys between points in the compact city centre that could be easily and probably just as quickly walked. Smarter placement, such as by the railway station, tram stops, football stadium, main public parks and suburban community hubs, would have created more journey opportunities.

Bikesharp tried out the trial system in Wolverhampton a couple of times, and was impressed by the quality and condition of the bikes (helped perhaps by their very low usage rate). The system was relatively complicated to use, however, with a cable lock that needed to be stowed and journeys that could not be finished simply by docking the bike. There were also some issues with GPS accuracy – a bike that was incorrectly docked was shown on the app’s map to be on the other side of a main road:

The two parties have both taken to the press to explain their views on the reasons for the collapse. WMCTA is saying it is looking for another provider, but the omens are not good. The West Midlands area, with Birmingham at its heart, is a large, low density urban area, bisected by motorways, with few current cycling journeys and high private car usage, compared with many other cities in the UK. This is despite its relatively flat landscape and a large network of canals, with corresponding towpaths, making for an ideal cycling network. Certainly, a bikeshare system could work in small, targetted parts of the region, if target sites are well chosen.

Lime Bikes Now in Google Maps

The Google Maps Android app now shows the locations of available Lime bikes, which, in the UK, operate in much of London, Milton Keynes and Oxford. It is, for now, quite well hidden.

The app shows the bikes as a potential option when planning a journey, although not as a dedicated entry in the mode choice “band”. Instead, they currently appears as:

1. A sub-option when you choose cycling (which you would probably only do if you had your own bike). “Your bike” is the default, but Lime appears as a toggle at the bottom of the app.:

On selecting it, it will show the route to the nearest bike, and also other nearby Lime bikes:

2. An “also consider” option when looking a public transport options – interestingly this one picks a slightly further away Lime bike, but one which results in a much shorter overall journey (7 minutes here) than the “dedicated cyclist” option above:

3. A suggested alternative “route” when looking at the walking route map, which also picks the shortest walk/cycle combination route:

The data displayed includes the number of bikes “nearby”, the walking time to the nearest one, a confirmation that it is an “electric bike” (i.e. pedelec), its battery range, a guideline journey length and time, and an estimated cost.

Google does know Lime’s operating area – if you choose a origin or destination that is outside of it, then the option doesn’t appear. However, it doesn’t show this boundary in the app itself. Lime’s boundary is fairly nebulous – it has two official operating areas in north and south London but in practice currently allows journeys to start/end in the central area between the official areas, without penalties being applied.

One thing to note is, the bikes don’t appear in the app if you are not planning a journey. So it is, for now, rather hidden away. However, the general public will probably not think of using a single-mode app for their journey planning, no matter how each of the operators would love them to. So, having this information on Google Maps is a really big deal for the 99% of people who would see bikeshare as an alternative rather than the first choice mode in their mind. Especially as the other 5 systems currently operating in central London (Santander Cycles, Mobike, Jump, Freebike and Beryl) are not currently offered as an option. Google Maps does show Santander Cycle docking stations (if you zoom right in) with the current number of bikes there, but doesn’t appear to suggest journeys with these.

CityMapper continue to also map Lime bikes, along with Mobike and Santander Cycles – so 3 of the 6 central London systems:

In both Google Maps and CityMapper, the app will switch away to the dedicated Lime app (if you have it installed) when you start a transaction (i.e. hiring the bike).

Lime announced the tie-in on their website. It looks like it is a direct partnership by the two. Lime data is available for some areas in the US (e.g. New York City) via an GBFS-format open data feed, but this does not include London.

TfL’s own journey planner suggests Santander Cycles, but none of the other five, on the journey planner section of its website. Uber’s app is having a go at trying to be a multi-modal planner by including TfL rail/bus options, but of course only its own “Jump” bikes for its bikeshare options. It currently feels like the rail/bus information is only there to highlight how much better/quicker its own options may be.

So, multi-modal journey planning continues to make small improvements, but we are still a long way from any one app showing all the options. Meanwhile, on the City of London/Islington border, six separate systems, all with different operating areas, fees and rules, fight it out, while for large parts of London, only driving, expensive cabs or slow buses remain the only option.