An interesting article posted by Bloomberg recently highlights the challenges and commercial pressures, and public/private conflicts which are going to make bikeshare and other micromobility services a challenge to integrate into a multi-mode, multi-operator journey experience for the major-city commuter. Transport for London (TfL) recently turned down an approach from Lyft, who operate various bikeshares, rideshares and cab hires in North America but not Europe, to integrate the transactional (i.e. booking/paying) element of the Santander Cycles (owned and specified by TfL) into their own multi-modal journey planner. So, a user would no longer need to carry around a multitude of apps on their smartphone, one for each leg of the journey.
It is understandable that TfL would want to keep exclusivity on the transaction layer for their well-used and almost-profitable bikeshare system in London, but there is a big conflict – TfL is publicly funded and is acting as both the regulator (for various commercially-funded dockless/hub-based bikeshare systems) and funder/specifier (for its own bikeshare system). While TfL is presumably at pains to keep its “Chinese wall” separation between the regulatory and service-provider wings of its new mobility offerings in London, it is in practice finding this hard to do, as this case illustrates. TfL would find it hard for one side to mandate the other side to loosen control on the parts of its operations that could result it in making slightly less money – even if it would result in a much improved experience for the user.
It’s not just public bodies that are struggling with the provider/regulator split. Commercial providers, like Uber, are now making serious pushes to be the one-stop shop for people wanting to travel around cities like London, be it on their own cab service or bike fleet, or by public transport. Of course, their apps will only show services that are not directly competing with their own – so only Uber cabs and JUMP bicycles (not any of the other 8+ bikeshare providers in London) but including the tube and railways, as these are a less direct competitor and cabs/bikes can plug gaps in the way railways can’t. Their hope presumably is that if commuters start to seriously use the Uber app to check train running information, the app will be heavily suggesting a cab or bike as a more appealing alternative. Google Maps has been doing this for a long time – it has long been good on public transport, and was, for a time, making Santander Cycles docking stations obvious – now these are all but hidden by Lime bikeshare bike locations.
Unfortunately these kinds of solutions tend to be all take and no give – Uber won’t release its bike or cab locations to anyone else for free, but happily takes the open data feeds on where the tubes are and how they are running. Here, the lack of transactional capability for the public transport section is not such an issue – as users can just tap cards on barriers rather than having to buy a (virtual) ticket in another app. But it’s still an asymmetric travel opportunity. The only real solution is to mandate that all providers of MAAS have to open their live availability data. They are good at doing this in the US – sometimes too good, as companies shut down more quickly than planned as their data shows little profitable use – but it does mean that more innovation is happening there. The transactional leap hasn’t happened however, even where all operators show their assets through open data standards like GBFS or MDS. A true multi-modal, multi-operator app needs to handle the transactional (i.e. financial) part of each leg as well as the availability/discovery piece. While we are in a controlled free-for-all, with little public money contributing, the commercial operators will continue to fight with each other and keep things as siloed as possible – to the detriment of the commuter, the city, and pavement space.
East-London startup Beryl continues to expand their bikesharing footprint – their existing hub-based operations in the City of London, Hereford and Bournemouth/Poole are being joined by a 200-300 bike system in Watford next spring. Of note, this will include 100 electric bikes – a first for Beryl.
Mixed-type systems are fairly rare due to their operational complexity for both users and operators, however both London’s Santander Cycles and Edinburgh’s Just Eat Cycles are also going to part-introduce electric bikes to their fleet. Glasgow already has such a system, but the limited numbers of electrified docks cause confusion and fines for their users.
Beryl are also expanding internationally, launching an up-to-1000-bike system in Staten Island, one of New York City’s five boroughs and not currently served by the 14000 dock-based bikeshare bikes in Manhatten, Brooklyn and Queens. Staten Island has recently withdrawn the permits for Lime and JUMP, who were operating dockless systems in the borough. Beryl’s system here will presumably also be electric, due to Staten Island’s notoriously hilly topography.
Beryl was due to expand in London to Barnet, however they recently withdrew from neighbouring Enfield due to vandalism, so they may have decided that outer-London surburbia’s low density and limited existing cycling infrastructure and opportunity is not for them.
Beryl is also expanding their London footprint to Hackney, and launching in Norwich, soon.
South London looks like it will be getting an expansion of the Santander Cycles dock-based bikeshare system – eventually. Southwark council has approved an extension to Bermondsey, Rotherhithe and Walworth – 18 new docking stations, but you’ll have to wait up to two years for them to be implemented. It also has plans to extend down Camberwell and Peckham – but these further 21 docking stations may not be appearing until 2023.
The slow rollout is being funded by different parties – TfL along its “red routes”, developers at major housing projects, and the borough itself – the docking stations themselves being the major expense, as they require an electricity supply and internet connection, and have to go through the full planning process with detailed design documents.
The Santander Cycles system currently has 777 docking stations with 20495 docking points, servicing around 8400 bikes, with an average straight-line closest distance between docking stations being just 213m. The Southwark expansion therefore represents around a 5% expansion of the system.
Sooner than this expansion, it is expected that the Santander Cycles system will start to introduce electric-assist bicycles (pedelecs). These were first demonstrated at the London Car Free day in September and will likely debut in “revenue” service soon – hopefully early next year. It is unclear how these will be managed – whether they will be charged at all docking stations, at certain designated docking stations, or whether the batteries will be mechanic-replaced and the bikes will continue to use docking stations like the regular bikes. Already there are two versions of the (non-electric) fleet in simultaneous use – the original PBSC “Bixi” bikes which launched in 2010, and the Pashley-designed bikes (denoted 5xxxx) which launched in 2017.
Meanwhile, central London’s five other bikeshare systems continue to evolve and adapt at pace, with Beryl launching an electric version of their fleet next year, and JUMP, Freebike and Lime already electric.
Beryl Bikes has closed the Enfield part of its London operation on 1 October, having launched just this summer, after suffering high vandalism levels. This leaves the borough with a number of paint-marked hubs but no bikeshare service to occupy them. in London, Beryl continues to operate in the City of London and is due to expand to neighbouring Hackney (along with JUMP). Beryl is not the first operator to try and crack Enfield – Urbo also briefly operated there, before pulling out of the UK altogether.
Separately, Beryl has announced they will be launching in Norwich next spring as sole operator. Ofo previously operated in Norwich, before pulling out and then closing altogether in the UK. This will be Beryl’s fourth urban system, after London, Hereford and Bournemouth/Poole.
JUMP by Uber and Beryl Bikes have been awarded a licence to operate in the London Borough of Hackney. While Hackney is just one of 32 London boroughs, it has a well established cycling tradition, with more than 20% of residents already cycling to work in some parts, so its inclusion within the footprint of JUMP and Beryl’s London operations is significant for both firms. JUMP operates in neighbouring Islington, while Beryl operates in the City of London, also adjacent to Hackney. This means that many more inter-borough journeys become possible by bikeshare.
The council news release mentions that the operators are funding dedicated parking areas for dockless bicycles in the borough. Beryl already operate this way, with users only allowed to finish journeys at paint-marked or taped docking points, and an out-of-station fine charged to users who finish outside of these zones. JUMP however is a pure dockless system, so it will be interesting to see how they adapt to restricted parking areas – or whether Hackney will designate large parts of the borough as being a journey-end-allowed zone.
Unfortunately the news release makes the usual council implication that the borough is surrounded by an impenetrable wall and that no users would ever want to leave it (or arrive in it) by bike. It mentions that “over 500” bikes will be introduced. A council tweet mentions “500 bikes”. Having a set number (or lower/upper limit) on bikeshare bikes in a borough is nonsensical – they will inevitably get cycled out to the City or Islington (depending on permissions there). Will the operators then be obliged to come in by truck and remove or add bikes to keep the numbers in the borough at a set level?
Santander Cycles already operate in the southern part of Hackney. In practice, Lime and Mobike also operate there, although without a permit (leaving bikeshare bikes in boroughs is not currently against the law, as long as they are not obstructing pavements etc). Freebike also operate in the adjacent boroughs of City of London and Islington.
Both Beryl and JUMP by Uber are paying a permit fee to Hackney Council (it is not clear whether this is additional to, or provides for, the dockless cycle parking hubs mentioned). With the model of dockless bikeshare unproven in terms of profitability, in western cities at least, this is likely to make operating the systems even more challenging. However, if bikeshare can succeed in any one London borough, it is probably Hackney.
London’s Freebike mixed-mode bikesharing system has announced that it is expanding to the southern half of Waltham Forest, likely including Walthamstow and Leyton, on Sunday 22nd September, with plans to eventually cover the rest of the borough. Freebike’s fluorescent yellow bikes launched in June in the City of London and have already expanded to Islington, as well as parts of Camden, Westminster, Lambeth and Kensington & Chelsea boroughs, and a small part of Hackney and Tower Hamlets.
Freebike is a dock-based system – out of dock journey finishes are permitted but with a variable surcharge. Users can choose whether use the battery for electric assist, or pedal manually without any boost – the latter option is completely free for the first 10 minutes. Users can even programme the electric profile in their app, allowing for a more generous electric boost if desired.
Waltham Forest has been without a bikesharing system since Urbo and Ofo both pulled out early last year. London’s other bikeshare systems, including Santander Cycles, have never made it this far north-east. Like Urbo, Freebike’s docking stations are marked out on the ground with paint or tape and bikes are just left in the space rahter than being physically docked.
|Freebike London||Casual (Manual)||Casual (Electric Assist)|
|Usage Fee||50p/10 min||£1/10 min|
|Usage Credit||20 minutes||–|
|Out-of-Hub End Fee||£1 (£3.50 in City)||£1 (£3.50 in City)|
|Out-of-Hub Start Credit||–||–|
0.5p/min to pause rental, up to 20 hours maximum. £5 fee if paused for 20 hours. £50 fine if parking in a “red zone” or outside the operating area altogether.
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.
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.
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.