Words of Wisdom From London’s Bike-Share Chief

London launched its bike-share system in 2010, and it looks like New York’s experience so far isn’t so different from theirs. Animal New York went straight to the source to speak with Nick Aldworth, general manager of London’s Barclays Cycle Hire, who offers some words of wisdom for New Yorkers adjusting to Citi Bike.

“I’ve read some of the things that have been said in New York, and I recognize them from when we were doing the same thing,” he said, recalling London’s own NIMBY opposition to station placement in historic neighborhoods and overblown concerns about safety.

Citi Bike’s first days have seen some technical problems with glitchy docks and stations, and some distribution problems — early reports suggest that Midtown tends to have pronounced bike shortages at times. Aldworth says London is no stranger to the occasional un-docked Barclays bike, and that the greater challenge is managing the distribution.

“Redistribution is the key,” he says. “Once you have thousands of thousands of people cycling around, I think the negativity will quickly go away, but that challenge of redistribution won’t.”

Bike redistribution is an ongoing task for bike-share systems in the U.S. as well. In Boston, the Hubway system uses three Sprinter vans carrying 22 bikes each to move bikes between the system’s 108 stations, with staff working two shifts from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Hubway general manager Scott Mullen told Streetsblog that as more people use the system over time, usage patterns begin to emerge. “Because you know what’s going on, you can set the system up for success,” he said. “You’re not putting out fires.” Mullen added that sometimes, a station is nearly empty or nearly full intentionally, because Hubway staff will move bikes in advance of rush hour or a big event.

DOT announced today that Citi Bike had passed 100,000 trips in its first ten days. As more people use the system and it expands to more neighborhoods, rebalancing will become even more important.

  • I wonder if pricing for certain high demand trips and credits for lower demand trips could help.

    Earn $2 by biking a bike from Y to Z, but if you are among the many who want to go from Z to Y there would be a cost.

    I know most people like the current structure. But at minimum credits for moving bikes when and where they need to be move might be less expensive than trucks especially if it’s a small number fo bikes that need to be relocated.

    Hmmm

  • carma

    I already see the shortages not just in midtown but a lot of places. Good weather plus a good initial public response is driving demand creating shortages

  • Other (more serious) comment. The London bike map shows that having a single big sponsor is not leading to true city-wide coverage. From my experience living there there are a lot of places on that map that could benefit from the “Barclays Bikes” but likely do not have them because they aren’t in the posh center of town.

    A big sponsor is a nice way to open the door — but I don’t think it can get the bikes where they are likely to have the greatest impact on the quality of the streets and street life.

    They are mostly just on places where they re-enforce what’s already quite strong. That’s something. But let’s aim higher.

    “Begrime” Jackson Heights, Harlem, Inwood, Washington Heights and the South Bronx.

  • Anonymous

    Paris has a system like that. There are stations with persistent shortages (mostly on top of hills) and if you dock a bike there, you get a special credit for 15 extra minutes on a longer trip for no charge.

    Personally, I would like to see something like this here, but with more possibility. Sort of a points system, where if you move a bike in contra-demand directions, you get bonus points for your account. They could let you spend these either as time credits, or redeem them in blocks for free day passes for friends, bike bags, discounts on gear, passes in other Alta cities.

  • KillMoto

    Know what else works in London? Congestion Pricing.

  • A bike at the top of a hill is worth more than a bike at the bottom of a hill due to greater potential energy.

    Credits sound like a good idea too.

    It’d be a really fun form of exercise to jog around and move bikes to get free stuff. I have been trying to come up witha a way to get “paid” to exercise for like years. It’s just too much work.

  • I lived (and cycled) in London for nine years until moving to New York last August. I’ve just had another look at the map (https://web.barclayscyclehire.tfl.gov.uk/maps) to check your assertion and I’m really not sure it’s correct. I used to cycle to work through bits of Stockwell and South Lambeth in South London that had bikeshare bikes and were also some of the most deprived places in the UK, with multiple social problems. The scheme also now covers a lot of the East End (the first of the two dips in the river right of Central London) and the Isle of Dogs (the bigger of the two dips). Although the Canary Wharf financial district is on the Isle of Dogs, much of it is pretty grim, the rough equivalent of a New York City project. The system does also cover some of the wealthiest districts in the world, it’s true. But that’s one of London’s defining characteristics – it’s a place where rich and poor live very close to each other (I wrote about how this affected the experience of cyling there here: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2012/05/why-cyclist-should-write-londons.html).

    The ultimate issue is that a program of this kind has to cover a contiguous, dense area. In many cities, that means it will also cover some of the most desirable parts. It’s also, fortunately or otherwise, the fact that better-off people tend to move around more. The biggest single source of bikeshare journeys in London is the rack at Waterloo Station, where bankers arrive from their country homes by the tens of thousand a day and increasingly hop on a bike to complete their journey, rather than heading down to the underground.

  • Some of the Brooklyn neighborhoods now covered are much less dense than places that were not covered.

    It’s not based on density in NYC at all. It’s based on assumptions about where it’s likely to be popular. And that’s OK for the piolet.

    Well I only lived in London for 1 year and it was a long time ago. (10 years) Still, I thought it would have gone out to Brixton *at least* and it doesn’t.

    and from what I know Brixton is more happening than when I was there (though I lived Camden town, being a dumb yank, and commuted down)

    but perhaps you are right.

  • Anonymous

    Distribution does seem to be a problem. Of the 8 trips that I’ve taken to date 1 station was full on return and twice I took the last dock. I haven’t encountered an empty station yet. On a sadder note I witnessed my first incidence of vandalism today at Mangin St. & Stanton St. on the LES with about 10 bikes that had punctured rear tires and/or broken pedals. I hope repair crews can keep up with the more destructive NIMBY’s, especially at stations like this one that are remote from the subway.

  • JK

    It’s more than sponsorship. A hugely important part of bike share coverage is political support from the community boards and local electeds. The challenge for Phase 2 is to have political support in adjacent areas so the network effect works. The cost of bike share skyrockets if there too many big holes in the network.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Lots of empty docks up around GCT. As I expected, the biggest market is people coming in places beyond the subway. The subway generally gets you close to your destination with a change or two. Not so commuter rail, suburban bus and ferries. And most people can’t ride their own bikes to Manhattan from that far out.

    I also noticed that while virtually everyone moving around on their own bikes is younger than me, there are plenty of people my age and older on Citibikes.

  • Well I hoe the UES doesn’t act like a wall preventing it from spreading north.

    Though, I don’t see why one could not have clusters of stations in an area even if there is a big gap between the clusters.

    Hmmm.

    I’m going to look at soem more maps.

    http://en.velib.paris.fr/Stations-in-Paris

    There are some gaps in the velib map I think they are around parks? Look at Puteaux in the west.

  • kevd

    I wouldn’t say there are any significant gaps within the ring highway. But there are a bunch of stations down in the north, near St. Denis.

  • Anonymous

    Yah, but I think they have studies showing that congestion is now exactly the same as before (but at least money is raised for public purposes now).

  • Bronxite

    Price needs to go up.

  • Anonymous

    Yah, the station by my apt (Battery Park, West Thames) is always packed at the end of the day. I’ve been taking my own bike to work lately because of it. And there isn’t another station nearby.

    We were going to have another station but some bike NIMBYS (I shit you not) put up a fit because they were going to lose their bike rack (which was for the public, but they stored their bikes there), as a result, all of BPC gets screwed.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, uh from what I’m seeing redistribution needs to start happening during the day too. I’ve seen a fair amount of near empty stations and a few empty ones.

  • Ian Turner

    The “extra time” bonus always seemed pretty lame to me. I think a points system sounds like a great idea, even if you only redeem the points for an extended membership. IMHO there is absolutely no excuse to have people driving bikes around in vans, when the bikes could be carrying someone on a useful trip.

  • kevd

    There are also political considerations.
    There is a reason 3 boroughs will be included soon – even though only a little bit of Queens. I have little doubt that more rides would happen from stations on the upper west side, but as always in NY it is important to make not just about Manhattan – or now, Manhattan and fancy Brooklyn.

  • PB

    I suspect a video camera installed at the top of the solar panel pole would not only lead to catching vandals but be appreciated by the police in catching all sorts of other criminals.

  • Daphna

    As the article says, midtown has bike shortages at times. I have been noticing this since the system launched – lots of empty docking stations in midtown or stations with only a single bike. It seems to be a lot of docking stations in the 40’s and 50’s in midtown that are out of bikes in the afternoon/evening/night. They meed bikes re-distributed to them from the full stations that others are commenting on. I understand there could be innovative approaches to give people free time or points to encourage biking that is contra to the main flow. But in the meantime, I hope NY Bikeshare gets busy with trucks or vans to re-balance. This system needs to succeed and for that to happen, re-balancing needs to be done. The re-balancing needs to be done regularly and often enough to keep bikes where needed.

  • Daphna

    I am saddened to hear of such vandalism. The East Village and Lower East Side are areas that already had a lot of biking and bike lanes prior to bikeshare. I thought those neighborhoods had already adjusted to the presence of bikes and the normalcy of it. I am surprised to hear of vandalism at Mangin Street and Stanton Street.

  • Daphna

    NIMBY types throughout Manhattan fought off docking stations at various places in different neighborhoods. As a result there are many docking stations in vital locations that have been cancelled.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Bed-Stuy Brooklyn isn’t that fancy. We got bike share before Park Slope. Nanny nanny poo poo!

  • Anonymous

    Yah, but these were fellow bike NIMBY’s. They were losing their bike rack. It was the building’s bike rack (there are others inside the complex) but it was for the public’s use and one guy in particular ran his bike delivery business off that rack. Everyone else stored their bikes there (why anyone would store their bike on the street is beyond me but yah). When they heard they were going to lose it, they put up a big stink, and that was that.

    I expect that from car owners. I thought bike people would be different. I guess not. Last night, when I tried parking at the station, countless other people kept pulling up to try to park and were miffed that there wasn’t another station nearby. Fucking selfish ass NIMBY’S!

  • Ian Dutton

    Outside the Whole Foods in Tribeca today I helped a woman use her annual-member key to take a MikeBike for her first trip. If I had to guess, she was in the neighborhood of 80 years old – and nothing was gonna stop her. A wonderful face for the city.

  • Anonymous

    That’s awesome. Last time I left an Albert Heijn, there was an old lady next to me, practically 90 degree hunch back, loading her groceries into her panniers. It was beautiful. This was in Holland of course.

  • Cycling Front

    As a regular user in london, inadequate capacity at the peak locations is a key problem in the morning -and lack of parking space key in the evening. Adds 10+ minutes each way trying to find bike or space

    Every mainline station needs a vast bikehire zone. A phone app listing locations and capacity would be good too

  • We have the phone app. I’m not entirely sure we have enough bikes covering some of the busier train stations though.

  • I’m pretty sure there are already plans to hit Harlem/Inwood/Wash Heights next year.

  • carma

    i also saw an older gentleman (70-80’s) trying to undock a bike with an annual key. he looked a little confused but im glad we are seeing seniors embrace this.

  • Ian Turner

    Drivers are no more or less selfish than others, although the consequences of their selfish actions are more pronounced; and people are more likely to act on selfish feelings when others are more remote (as outside a cage of steel and glass).

  • Anonymous

    It’s hard to know who did this. The station is about as far east as you can go, almost to FDR Dr. and deep in Projectland. It’s also the corner where my daughter goes to HS and bike share promises to cut her commute, the nearest subway being a good half mile away.

    It’s heartening that there are no other reports and that this does not appear to be a concerted or organized effort. Perhaps it’s just dumb neighborhood kids with nothing better to do in the dead of night at a remote and isolated station. Maybe they will come to their senses and realize that bike share is cool.

  • kevd

    No, but it certainly gentrifying and gentrifying fast…

    I’m just saying the politically, CitiBike needed to have stations in 3 boroughs so that it couldn’t be accused of being Manhattan-centric, even if a Manhattan centric system would generate the most rides per bike. Having stations in BedStuy instead of Park Slop makes sense both geographically and politically because CitiBike then also can be accused of mainly serving white neighborhoods – even if in Bed Stuy many non-whites are being priced out as we speak.

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