Category Archives: London

Lime-E Bikeshare: London Test

A puncture on my own bicycle on my way in to work this morning found me grinding to a halt outside Manor House station – not the worst place to have a flat tyre, as the tube from there will take me into work in around 20 minutes with just one change, for £2.40. (The other option was a single bus for £1.50, taking 30 minutes – although easily longer if it gets snarled up in traffic). But as I dropped my bike off in the bike stands beside the entrance, I noticed another bike – a chunky, green-and-yellow coloured beast. It was a Lime-E bike – London’s only (so far – others coming) electric bikeshare, also parked beside (but not chained to) a stand:

Surprise mobility option, sitting at a bike stand in North-East London.

It was well out of zone but Lime (currently) allows hires starting and finishing out of zone – a pragmatic decision presumably based on the lack of cross-borough policy, the bikes being relatively well managed by the operator, and there not being too many of them cluttering up and causing non-user complaints:

Plenty of out-of-zone Limes available…

I hadn’t tried Lime so far, although it launched last December – I was put off by the £1/hire+15p/minute cost – that adds up quickly. But, I needed to get to work and it was right there. Surely this bike could prove to be an effective alternative mode of transport, for my immediate commute requirement?

I already had the app installed on my Huawei smartphone, but had not put in payment details – only when trying to scan did it prompt for a payment card. Android Pay stepped in to automatically add my credit card details, however Lime didn’t like the two-digit year supplied by Android, requiring a reenter of that section.

The app confirmed that this was a hireable bike and that it had a decent amount of charge on it – 86km! I could almost get to Oxford with that:

My ride. Looks good on the app and in real life.

Then, a rescan and the bike unlocked with a click in a couple of seconds. (Interestingly, the wheel-lock was quite a small one, not the chunky ones that appear on Mobikes now to try and stop rampant theft of them.) Something (the bike, battery or the app – not sure!) played a jolly tune to indicated success, and I was off. Unfortunately I quickly noticed the bike loudly jolted with each wheel turn – possibly a buckled spoke or other problem with the wheel – it was not enough for me to abandon the journey, but was not something I would leave before fixing. Later on, something else made a plastic rattling noise at the back of the bike every time I pedalled. Maintenance (or lack of it) was a problem with the non-electric dockless bikeshares in London. I was hoping that the more expensive electric bikes would have a more rigorous repair regime. Maybe they do and I was just unlucky.

The initial acceleration boost given by the battery was great – straight across the lights and down to Finsbury Park. However, almost immediately it just felt like a regular bike – there was still a boost at faster speeds, but it felt like it was just countering the heavy battery, rather than genuinely making it easier than a regular bike. I didn’t feel slower than my regular bike – but it didn’t feel like it was any less effort either. There is only one gear, so the only thing you can do other than pedal, is to ring the handlebar bell. The gearing is OK – it’s certainly better than the Mobike/Ofo/Urbo ultra-cautious setting.

I was keen to measure the “configuration” for the electric-assist, so stopped after around 3km, at the bottom of the main remaining uphill on the route – up Camden Road past the old Holloway Prison – to attach my Beeline smart compass – not for its primary navigation purpose, but to get an idea of the speed I was travelling at. The speedometer function has rather nice analogue-style needle, and was a useful way to see my speed without looking at my phone, even if it is based on my phone’s GPS and therefore lags by a few seconds.

Beeline smart compass on a Lime bike – testing the electric assist at different speeds.

It was undoubtably nice to accelerate up the hill with the battery doing the initial work. It seems that, between 0km/h and around 12km/h, the battery does most of the work. From around 12km/h to 20km/h (my normal peddling speed) it gives a slight assist – not really noticeable but presumably useful for longer journeys. From 20km/h to the legal maximum 25km/h I’m not convinced the battery was helping at all – or if it was, it was just partly countering the weight. It was hard to pedal the bike above 25km/h even downhill on a clear road – but that’s presumably by design – bikeshare is generally meant for quieter roads and less experienced users, where a slower speed is safer, rather than me trying to match the vehicular traffic on a sometimes busy “red route” major road.

However, it would be nice to have a much bigger boost between 12km/h and 20km/h, so that you only have to be doing significant peddling work at the top of the range. I feel more tired out than I would have on my own normal pretty cheap road bike. It took me 22 minutes to get in – exactly the same amount of time as my own bike would have. Average speed 19km/h according to my smartwatch – pretty standard for me. Certainly my fastest journey on a bikeshare bike in London.

Journey’s end, at the Santander Cycles rack near UCL. Note also the Mobike.

I parked my bike alongside a Santander Cycles rack. There was also a Mobike there. I really like the idea of dockless cycling bikes being available at the “empty” ends of Santander Cycles docking stations – it seems an “obvious” place to leave them, it’s also a good place to “advertise” to people who are in need of a bikeshare of some sorts. (Incidentally, the poster in the Lime basket refers parking in the “sidewalk” twice – needs some UK localisation here, we call them pavements!)

My fare. This is expensive for a Zone 2-1 journey in London.

A bit of bill shock though – £4.30, as it was a 22 minute journey (£1 hire + 15p/minute for 22 minutes.) The £1 was, at least, waived as this was my first ride and I was on a referral (btw use my referral code RVDG4MS if you want your own). The pricing structure means that the temptation to (safely) jump red lights was strong – much more so than on my own bike. There are a lot of traffic lights on the route and everytime I hit red on one of the bigger junctions, it will have cost me 15 pence. That’s, unfortunately, a pretty powerful financial incentive to break the law. I didn’t (obvs) – but I can sympathise somewhat with the Uber Eats and Deliveroo cyclists who are numerous in London but aren’t the greatest at obeying the rules… for them, like the many delivery vans in central London getting tickets for illegal parking, the speed/penalty balance is tilted towards bad behaviour.

Also, my suspicion is that Lime are making the same cost-saving/risky approach that Mobike/Urbo/Ofo et al have done so – they don’t use have GPS on the bike itself, but are primarily using the GPS on your smartphone. In Lime’s case they may have a SIM card or emergency GPS for retrieving a missing bike – but not in regular operation. When I stopped at the bottom of the hill on Camden Road, I switched away from the Lime app (but had it open in the background) to the Beeline app, to activate my device’s functionality and start sending it GPS information. Unfortunately, it looks like this stopped the Lime app from recording my location – although the clock kept ticking. So, it looks like I only did a 2.5km journey, not the full 7km:

Journey of 2.5km according to Lime app – the “finish point” being where I paused to put on my speedometer and switched to another app in the foreground.
Actual journey on the Lime bike – 7km.

This issue may be a Huawei/Android 6.0 thing – it could be because the Lime app doesn’t have permissions to access the GPS in the background – or Huawei’s battery “optimisation” cuts off its connection in the background anyway – this has already caused me problems – but it should have been clear to the app that if it wasn’t getting GPS information from my phone, it should be using the bike’s – so I don’t think the bike has any, or it’s not used.

I also didn’t switch back to my Lime app immediately on finishing the ride – I just drew the lock catch back and felt a buzz from the phone that was confirming the ride was finished – a couple of Lime notifications on my lockscreen also indicated that it had detected the journey finish. But – I only unlocked my phone and switched to the app once I had walked ~200m further into the UCL courtyard. The app has then marked the bike as being in the UCL courtyard, not where it actually is (which I am showing here as the green pin to the north):

Wrong location…

This might be quite tricky to someone trying to find the bike – they’d need to head out of UCL, along Gower Street, and then up Gower Place to find it. It looks like Lime again used my phone GPS as soon as it could – well after the ride finish – so has recorded the wrong location.

It may be that it will later use any SIM card on the bike to triangulate its location correctly (or even its GPS if it has it – I suspect not) and snap back to Gower Place. But, this kind of asset tracking trouble is a nightmare both for users (they can’t find the bike) and the operators (they can’t find it either!). This is one of the reasons Ofo essentially failed – they couldn’t find their own bikes but with the higher costs of electric bikes, I’m really suprised to see it again. In mitigation – there are very tall buildings here and the street is narrow – so it could be a simple GPS error too. Indeed, as well as the “lime symbol” (bike location) being wrong, the blue dot (my location) is also wrong – I’m standing at the “crosshairs” symbol on the map above when I took this screenshot.

(Update: As I suspected, the bike does have communication capabilities of its own – it has “phoned home” after an hour or so, and the location has updated to be much closer to its actual location)

So, to conclude, getting a Lime-E to work didn’t work out for me – it cost more than the tube, and took longer, and still required a lot of pedalling. However, I’m not the target user I suspect – it’s people who wouldn’t be cycling anyway, and just want an easy way to get around, not in a great rush, and maybe with a little bit of exercise but nothing too strenuous. I don’t think most parts of London have enough hills, to make the relatively high cost of Lime worth it here – although I would love to try it out on Swains Lane. Maybe a user-configurable app option could change the profile on the bike, to allow a decent boost between 20-25km/h.

I think electric bikeshare has a place in London. We aren’t quite there with Lime. They are doing a lot of things right – not overwhelming the streets, looking after their fleet fairly well (I never see them knocked over) and allowing sensible usage anywhere – but they are also making some of the mistakes which the older dockless companies (Ofo/Urbo/Mobike) also made in London. They are also, like almost all the other companies in the space here, not sharing their bike locations publicly/openly. You either have to open the specific app for the operator, or happen to see a bike when you weren’t expecting it (like me today). If Google Maps, Transit or CityMapper had told me of these, then surely they would be used more and more effectively. Get your GBFS feeds out there, bikeshare companies, regardless of if you are mandated to (big American cities) or not, and let people find your fleet in new and better ways!

I’m not quite convinced we have arrived at the future of smart Mobility as a Service (MAAS) just yet, at least in London, but at least there are various companies working on it. It’s going to be an interesting summer.

Visit the new oobrien.com Shop
High quality lithographic prints of London data, designed by Oliver O'Brien

London’s 9 Million Day – Delayed

I’ve been keeping an eye on London’s population projections, and indeed have featured them in a couple of presentations recently – at a TedX event and also a CRUK data visualisation conference at The Crick. By taking the most recent mid-year population estimates for London, and the annual population change, I can simply linearly extrapolate forward to see where it hits 9 million.

When I first put my presentations together, I was working off 2016 mid-year population and population change estimates. Since then, the 2017 estimates are out and have dramatically changed London’s “9 million day”.

Here’s the daily population change in London, inflows and outflows based on natural factors (births/deaths), internal migration (from/to other parts of the UK) and international migration (to/from the rest of the world) –

Before:

Now:

Daily numbers are a simplification – through the year, the rates vary hugely, particularly at the start of the summer holidays and autumn term, where large numbers of interns and students, respectively, move into London. The numbers do however take care of short term migration, as they only reflect those who intend to stay (or leave) for at least a year.

The reasons for the change are not clear, I suspect it’s a combination of Brexit making London less attractive for international migrants, and increases in violent crime, house prices and home working, all three factors making it less attractive for internal migrants (i.e. from other parts of the UK). Or at least, after staying here for a while, people are more likely to move out than try and stick with London as a place to live and raise a family, even if it’s still a good place to commute in to work (or at least, the location of a head office to remotely dial into).

London’s 9 million day was to have been the 27 October 2018, i.e. this weekend, based on the 2016 numbers and a linear projection. Now, it’s moved right back to 25 September 2020. I am sure that a linear projection is an oversimplification, there is clearly a slowdown, and I am sure that the impact of Brexit (i.e. spring 2019 onwards) may further hasten the slowdown – so we will be well into 2021 I suspect before the number is finally hit.

ONS publish their mid-year estimates a year after the date of the estimate, so we can expect to see the mid-2018 estimates and changes, in the middle of next year, at which point I will recalculate the 9 million day again.


Visit the new oobrien.com Shop
High quality lithographic prints of London data, designed by Oliver O'Brien


Bikeshare in London – The Last 12 Months

I recently presented at the CoMoUK Good Mobility Conference in East London, looking at the story of bikeshare in London over the last 12 months ago, touching a little on other systems in the UK.

Here are my slides, slightly updated from the conference itself:

While the core of the presentation was a timeline, numbers and data from London’s bikeshare between last summer and this summer, I took the opportunity to also rate the various UK offerings on their open data provision, and offer some of my thoughts on round 2* of dockless bikeshare which took place this year.

It was great to hear a wide range of presentations at the conference. I particularly liked the Derby presentation. Thanks also to Tim, operator of Derby, for sorting out the GBFS feed. Thank you to CoMoUK for inviting me.

* Round 1 being oBike’s “forgiveness” model back in summer 2017, and round 3 being, I’m sure, American dockless providers “getting it right” next summer.

Making Bikeshare Pay

Dockless bikeshare has been out in London for around 10 months now (not withstanding the brief but spectacular oBike launch and burnout in mid 2016). It looks like the operators are getting serious and trying to get dockless bikeshare to pay for itself – starting a transition from a “growth” to “profit” focus:

Mobike has introduced an out-of-operating-area fee of £10 for London (left). Interestingly, this is only £5 for Oxford (right), where arguably the competition is even more fierce:

It isn’t clear whether you can continue to start journeys from outwith the operating area, but you must finish within them to avoid the fee. However, you can also get the fee waived by taking any Mobike from outside the operating area, back inside it, within 12 hours. It could be the bike you took outside, or another one. This is interesting – let the user help the system work better. You either fix the problem (bikes outside areas the operator can manage effectively, or don’t have permission to be in) or pay the operator to do it for you.

Mobike is making a bigger deal of its hubs now, showing the numbers of bikes currently available at them. Bikes in a circular buffer around each hub are reported as at the point in some cities (Oxford – left) but individually in others (London – right). This makes them a little more like a hybrid system, with certain locations generally having a reliable pool of bikes available, but with out-of-hub parking still available to keep the system flexible. At this point, there is no user incentive for hub-based journey finishes or starts.

Mobike have also shrunk their operating areas – in Islington, it now doesn’t extend north of Holloway. Presumably Mobike are tired of moving their bikes back up the hill to Archway and Highgate, only to have everyone cycle them back down. However they have extended into a small part of Hackney – the De Beauvoir Town area. They have also shrunk their Southwark footprint, so that the bikes can only be used north of the South Circular, and their western footprint has also shrunk – no service in west Hounslow, Feltham, Southall or Greenford now. They has also completely pulled out of Newham. Looking at their app, it never looked like there were many bikes available for use there anyway. You can see the area of operation here (orange border).

In addition they have significantly increased their usage fee. Initially it was 50p for 30 minutes. Now, it is 50p for 20 minutes on the smaller-frame bikes with black baskets (show as orange on their map), or £1 for 20 minutes on the larger-frame bikes with orange baskets (shown as white on their map). [Updated 12 July – now £1 for 20 minutes for all their bikes.] [Updated 1 August – now 99p/20 minutes.]

Ofo has also increased their usage fee, it is now 70p for 30 minutes. [Updated August – now £1 for 30 minutes.] So, in places where both systems operate, the small Mobikes are cheaper for journeys up to 20 minutes, the Ofos are cheaper for 20-30 minute journeys, the small Mobikes are cheaper for 30-40 minute journeys etc etc…

Single Journey

Ofo Mobike Small Mobike Big Santander Cycles
15 min 70p 50p £1 £2
25 min 70p £1 £2 £2
35 min £1.40 £1 £2 £4
45 min £1.40 £1.50 £3 £4
1h 15m £2.10 £2 £4 £6
1h 45m £2.80 £3 £6 £8

Subsequent Journeys in next 24h

Ofo Mobike Small Mobike Big Santander Cycles
15 min 70p 50p £1 Free
25 min 70p £1 £2 Free
35 min £1.40 £1 £2 £2
45 min £1.40 £1.50 £3 £2
1h 15m £2.10 £2 £4 £4
1h 45m £2.80 £3 £6 £6

Ofo and Mobike are also now showing specific forbidden areas on their app. This is interesting, because I assumed that all areas outside of their operating area were forbidden. Presumably these are extra-problematic areas for the operators. Ofo has marked various royal parks as forbidden areas, while Mobike has marked canal-sides, the London Bridge station complex, and large public parks, as forbidden. Mobike’s out-of-operating-area areas allow journeys to finish but the user (only) is then encouraged to move the bike back into an operating area within 12 hours, it is locked out of use for others.

This means that in effect there are five types of dockless system geofences, with four being shown on the maps in the Mobike and Ofo apps:

Ofo Mobike
Hub area Shown in app as points overlaid on green-bordered rectangles. Parking here encouraged, occasionally incentivised with free next ride coupons. Shown as points, but a blue circular buffer is shown on clicking it. Parking here encouraged but not incentivised.
Operating area Show as green-bordered areas Shown as blue shaded/bordered areas
Out of operating area Shown as regular map. Parking locks bike for user-only redistribution back. Shown as regular map. Parking results in fine, unless it (or another) is taken back in in 12 hours by the user, but still available for use.
Forbidden area Shown as red shaded/bordered areas. Parking may result in credit drop or penalty. Shown as grey shaded/bordered areas. Parking may result in credit drop or penalty.
Out of region Not shown by either. But I assume there is a distance, out of the operating area, beyond which the operator would not seek to recover the bike into the operating area, but might sanction the user instead. For London, the GLA boundary might act as such an area

Meanwhile, the third dockless player in London, Urbo, has announced it is quitting the three London boroughs it is operating in – Enfield, Waltham Forest and Redbridge. Enfield will announce a replacement “soon”, Waltham Forest is getting Ofo in instead, and Redbridge already has Ofo. The numbers don’t sound great – only 6000 journeys in Waltham Forest in 5 months, on a fleet of 250 – so 20 journeys a day, or 0.16 journeys/bike/day, and 3000 miles clocked up in Enfield, again in 5 months, on a fleet of 100 – so (assuming average journey of 1 mile) 0.2 journeys/bike/day. This means these bikes are spending 99.8% of their time not being used (assuming an average journey of 15 minutes).

Barnet had just announced that Urbo was coming there, and Barking & Dagenham was due to sign-off Urbo coming there in July – I would speculate that these launches may be off. Urbo, an Irish company from the start, has just been bought by the operator of several bikeshare systems in towns in Ireland, and it has just launched Dublin, where it has access to the whole of the city. Just like in London, Dubliners likely want to cycle throughout the urban area and not within arbitrary political boundaries. So that would likely be where the London Urbo bikes are going.

Numbers of bikes and journeys are generally hard to come by for dockless bikeshare – the companies themselves have good commercial reasons for being coy with the numbers. In some cases, the operator will have fewer bikes out on the streets than they say – as they just don’t have that many (working) bikes – Santander Cycles have consistently overstated the numbers of bikes out there . The opposite can also be true – where dockless operators have agreed maximum numbers of bikes with boroughs, and then see these numbers be exceeded as users cycle over from neighbouring boroughs, or operations necessitate. There is little data, so we generally have to go on press releases:

Number of Ofos, Mobikes and Urbos in London

I am adjusting the following table as I get better information:

Ofo Mobike Urbo Santander Cycles
September 2017 200 750 250 9514
November 2017 400 (a + b) 1150 250 10038
December 2017 1000 1150 250 10211
February 2018 1000 (38km2) 2000 (130km2) 350 10513
March 2018 1350 Ann: 2200
Obs: 2616
475 10651
April 2018 1400 (a + b) Ann: 2200
Obs: 3315
475 10441
May 2018 2800 Ann: 3000
Obs: 3072
475 10279
June 2018 3000 (253km2) Ann: 4000 (68km2)
Obs: 1980
475 (177km2) 9716 (112km2)
July 2018
(provisional –
will be updated)
Obs (I): 1783 Obs: 1069 (68km2)
Obs (I): 889
CLOSED 9151 (112km2)

In better news, both Ofo and Mobike are both continuing to expand in London this summer, in areas where they do think dockless bikeshare will work. Mobike should be coming to Haringey soon, while Ofo have today announced their forthcoming expansions – Camden launches this week, with Waltham Forest following shortly (this week, says the borough at least), followed by Wandsworth and Hammersmith & Fulham. This means yellow bikes will soon be appearing in Bloomsbury, Fizrovia, Camden Town, Kentish Town, Highgate, Belsize Park, West Hampstead, Walthamstow, Chingford, Leyton, White City, Hammersmith, Fulham, Putney, Wandsworth, Battersea, Balham, west Clapham and Earlsfield.

Population Analysis of London Bikeshare Systems

Mobike, one of London’s four bikeshare operators (with Urbo, Ofo and Santander Cycles) as today expanded to Newham. The operators are being driven by different borough approaches and priorities, which is resulting in a patchwork quilt of operating areas, although the London Assembly is today pushing for a more London-wide approach to regulation of the field.

Over and above the map linked above, I’ve done some population analysis to look at how the four different operators compare in London. Demographic figures are from the 2011 Census so total population will have gone up a bit, and cycle-to-work population up a lot. Nonetheless, the figures still allow for a useful comparison. The populations here are working age (16-74) populations. The differences across the operators are dramatic:

Operator
 
# of
Boroughs
Area
/km2
# of
Bikes
Average
Day/Night
Pop
Bikeshare
Bikes per
Person
Pop
Density
pax/km2
Cycle
To Work
Pop %
Santander Cycles  5, + 6 (part) 112 10200 1,520,000 1:150 13500 4.8%
Mobike  6 196 1800 1,425,000 1:800 7300 3.5%
Ofo  5 123 1300 1,040,000 1:1000 8500 4.0%
Urbo  3 177 500 570,000 1:2800 3200 1.2%

I have calculated the populations by averaging the day-time workplace population and the night-time residential population, making a very rough assumption that people spend their waking hours split roughly between work and home. Santander Cycles, the dock-based system, has been around since 2010. The others are all dockless operators and launched in 2017.

The high population density where Santander Cycles works in its favour, as does its high bikes/population ratio, with one bike available for every 150 person who lives and/or works in the area. Urbo, on the other hand, is mainly targetting populations that both have a low population density, and a low cycle-to-work percentage – two factors that would work against it. Mobike and Ofo sit in the middle, with the former quite a bit larger than the latter at the moment, but the latter operating areas with a more established tradition of cycling (using here the Cycle to Work population as a proxy for cycling in general).

FOSS4G UK 2018 Meeting and OpenLayers 4

I attended and presented at the FOSS4G UK conference in central London, in early March. I was scheduled to present in the cartography track, near the end of the conference, and it ended up being an excellent session, the other speakers being Charley Glynn, digital cartographer extraordinaire from the Ordnance Survey, who talked on “The Importance of Design in Geo” and outlined the release of the GeoDataViz Toolkit, Tom Armitage on “Lightsaber Maps” who demonstrated lots of colour compositing variants and techniques (and who also took the photo at the top which I’ve stolen for this post):

…and finally Ross McDonald took visualising school catchment areas and flows to an impressive extreme, ending with Blender-rendered spider maps:

My talk was originally going to be titled “Advanced Digital Cartography with OpenLayers 4” but in the end I realised that my talk, while presenting what would be “advanced” techniques to most audiences, would be at a relatively simple level for the attendees at FOSS4G UK, after all it is a technology conference. So, I tweaked the tittle to “Better…”. The main focus was on a list of techniques that I had used with (mainly) OpenLayers 4, while building CDRC Maps, Bike Share Map, TubeCreature and other map-based websites. I’m not a code contributor to the OpenLayers project, but I have been consistently impressed recently with the level of development going on in the project, and the rate at which new features are being added, and was keen to highlight and demonstrate some of these to the audience. I also squeezed on a bonus section at the end about improving bike share operating area maps in London. Niche, yes, but I think the audience appreciated it.

My slides (converted to Google Slides):

Some notes:

  • My OpenLayers 2/Leaflet/OpenLayers 3+4 graphic near the beginning was to illustrate the direction of development – OpenLayers 2 being full-featured but hard to work with, Leaflet coming in as a more modern and clean replacement, and then OpenLayers 3 (and 4 – just a minor difference between the two) again being an almost complete rewrite of OpenLayers 2. Right now, there’s a huge amount of OpenLayers 4 development, it has momentum behind it, perhaps even exceeding that of Leaflet now.
  • Examples 1, 3, 4 and 5 are from CDRC Maps.
  • Example 2 is from SIMD – and there are other ways to achieve this in OpenLayers 4.
  • Examples 5, 6 and 9 are from TubeCreature, my web map mashup of various London tube (and GB rail) open datasets.
  • Regarding exmaple 6, someone commented shortly after my presentation that there is a better, more efficient way to apply OpenLayers styles to multiple elements, negating my technique of creating dedicated mini-maps to act as key elements.
  • Example 7 is from Bike Share Map, it’s a bit of a cheat as the clever bit is in JSTS (a JS port of the Java Topology Suite) which handily comes with an OpenLayers parser/formatter.
  • Example 8, which is my London’s New Political Colour, a map of the London local elections, is definitely a cheat as the code is not using the OpenLayers API, and in any case the map concerned is still on OpenLayers 2. However it would work fine on OpenLayers 4 too, particularly as colour values can be specified in OpenLayers as simply as rgba(0, 128, 255, 0.5).
  • Finally, I mention cleaning the “geofences” of the various London bikeshare operators. I chose Urbo, who run dockless bikeshare in North-East London, and demonstrated using Shapely (in Python) to tidy the geofence polygons, before showing the result on the (OpenLayers-powered) Bike Share Map. The all-system London map is also available.

FOSS4G UK was a good meeting of the “geostack” community in London and the UK/Europe, it had a nice balance of career technologists, geospatial professionals, a few academics, geo startups and people who just like hacking with spatial data, and it was a shame that it was over so quickly. Thanks to the organising team for putting together a great two days.

Bikeshare in London – Borough Update

While TfL ponders London-wide regulation and freezes Santander Cycles, borough-by-borough rollout of dockless in London continues. I’ve rated each borough based on its provision – current, announced and rumoured (so likely some errors) of this all-important last-mile mobility addition to our streets:

Key

    • A – 2+ operators in/confirmed, at least 1 of which covers/allows >75% of borough and the other covers/allows >25% of borough
    • B – At least one operator, in/confirmed, covering significant part (>25%) of borough.
    • C – Operator(s) only covering small area, and/or only rumours of new operator.
    • D – No operators or positive news.
    • + – Improvement expected soon.
    • * – Simple projected % for 2018, based on Census data – 2011% and 2001-2011 rates of change

I intend to keep this table up to date as things change, and make corrections where I discover things are wrong above. In case it doesn’t view correctly for you, you can see the full table on Google Sheets here.

A summary of recent news:

  • Wandsworth has a forthcoming pilot, and has published the responses to a questionnaire given to six potential operators (although, some blank lines suggest that some interesting rows, e.g. cost to the councils, may have been censored to spare commercial blushes.)
  • Nearby Richmond is also planning on trialing dockless “by April”.
  • Redbridge is bringing Ofo and Urbo in on 2 March. This will give Urbo a contiguous area across three north-east London boroughs, however all three are outer boroughs with generally lower existing cycling journeys or infrastructure than the inner city.
  • Ofo was in to the eastern half of Camden last week, but then abruptly withdrew back to the Islington border.
  • Ofo are also strongly rumoured to be arriving in Hammersmith & Fulham, soon.
  • Southwark borough is also bringing in two bikeshare operators, per their recently published strategy document – Mobike are hinting that they are one and I understand that Ofo is likely to be the other. For both Ofo and Mobike this makes a lot of sense – Southwark is a big inner city borough only partially served by Santander Cycles, and importantly for these two operators, they already are in place in the City immediately to the north. The launch date is unconfirmed but believed to be in March.
  • If you have any corrections, updates or tips please let me know via email (o.obrien (at) ucl.ac.uk) or Twitter DMs (@oobr).

Current (January 2019):

Previous (October 2018):

Previous (June 2018):

Previous (May 2018):

See also my thoughts on the future of bikeshare in London in general.

Future Transport Report and Bikeshare in London

The GLA published an interesting report last week: Future transport – How is London responding to technological innovation. It focused mainly on drones, driverless cars and app-based services (as an example, CityMapper’s experimenting on turning its huge desire-line dataset, created from the data of its millions of users and their journeys, into a group-based taxishare service), but also included some details on bikeshare, and in particular the dockless “revolution” that is currently underway in the capital.

Not Looking Good for Santander Cycles

Some tidbits from the report include some depressing news from Transport for London regarding future of the Santander Cycles dock-based bikeshare system – “the scheme is also limited geographically to central London, with TfL having no plans to extend it.” Ouch.

Well, that’s a pity, but not entirely surprising. The reason are both political and financial:

  • It was a system launched and promoted by a previous mayor, of the “other party”, who was more focused on cycling and also less afraid to challenge the status quo. The existence of the system (despite its problems), and the associated disruptive – but brilliant – segregated cycle lanes – have been revolutionary. But they will be ever associated with a previous mayor.
  • Also despite the system being almost eight years old, TfL is still subsidising the system by over £3m a year. Too much unnecessary redistribution going on – using vans – presumably because they always have done it or other schemes have. Vans and drivers are expensive! And they clog up the streets. Incentivise users to do their own distribution – by using the bike itself – for rewards – much cheaper! The New York City system has “Bike Angels” (pic below) which actually has pretty decent rewards for riders who rebalance. There has also been an, I think, frankly misguided focus on keeping docking station density unnecessarily high throughout the area, and a focus on journey numbers over user utility, means the main beneficiaries are city workers getting from Waterloo to the Bank during weekdays and tourists circling Hyde Park at the weekends. Both groups have numerous other options, so the bikeshare here isn’t really solving any “last mile” mobility problems.

A flat rate of say 50p/20 min or £1/30 min, similar to the dockless systems (generally 50p/30 min), and moving the 20% least used docking stations so they were outside every tube/train station and inside every park and larger open spaces in Zone 2 to provide a ready source of obvious rides, would probably end up being more profitable, as there would be a massive surge in usage (right now it’s cheaper to get the bus!), particularly if it was integrated into Oyster card/contactless and was covered by daily/weekly capping. Why does it need to be profitably anyway? The buses (in London) aren’t, and the bikes encourage healthier outcomes, both to the user and surrounding pedestrians, than sitting on a bus emitting pollution.

London-Wide Regulation of Dockless

One important point from the report is suggesting that TfL should take the lead in regulating and so controlling the provision of dockless bikeshare systems on London streets, instead of the individual boroughs as present. This is an “obvious” thing to do – it is time consuming and inefficient for each operator to, assuming that they want a pan-London rollout, have 33 sets of negotiations with the 32 separate borough councils and the City of London, when much of London’s other transport operations are specified, operated or regulated by one entity – Transport for London. It also slows the rollout, makes the systems very expensive for operators to maintain if they are fragmented, particularly if each borough has slight differences in their specification (e.g. on maintenance response times). More importantly, it makes it less useful and more confusing for the user – both the start and the end of an intended journey need to be within an operating zone. Borough boundaries are somewhat arbitrary to most people living in London, and not easily noticed when crossing them. “London” is a more familiar area. Most commute journeys in London are radial – going towards or away from the centre (see pic below). The reluctance of many of the operators to even publish their operating zone except on their individual apps, also makes discovering the allowable area of a system – let alone using it – a challenge.

Curiously, a lot of the press leading from this report seemed to suggest that the recommendation of TfL taking on regulation of dockless bikeshare in London was in some way a clampdown on their operations, or a tightening of the environment, and would be therefore bad for the operators and presumably therefore good for those wanting to see these bikes off the streets. Rather an odd, negative spin. I don’t think it’s not that at all. Having TfL specifying and setting operational parameters for dockless systems, rather than 33 geographically limited entities doing so, can only be good for everyone concerned.

Smarter City? It’s All About the Data

My own take is that TfL regulation would be welcomed, but it should be linked with an incorporation of data into TfL’s own open data platform. A smart city is an open city, one where availability data on useable assets in the public realm is accessible to all, not to those tied to a particular platform (even if the transaction part needs operator control) or hidden to hide poor public value for money or failing/missing assets, as is happening for a system in a certain city up north. There is a need to democratise the information, in order to digitise the city. To this mind, dockless operators should be mandated to open up data on the location of bikes available to hire, hubs (preferred parking areas) and operating zones. This kind of information has generally always been made available by dock-based systems, dockless systems have so far not been compelled to release this as open data yet – at least in the UK.

To this mind, I am contemplating launching an operator data openness scoreboard for the UK – similar to one that was unveiled at a recent bikeshare hackathon event in Washington DC. I’ve also put together an interactive map showing the current coverage in London of the four active systems (Urbo, Ofo, Mobike and the dock-based Santander Cycles), plus known “hubs” where you are most likely to find bikes available for hire – N.B. not all the operators are using a hub-based approach across their whole areas. Because of the lack of open API data from most of the operators, much of this map is manually put together and so may be a little out of date – I will do my best to keep it current. The crucial data missing here of course is the current locations of bikes available to hire. For now, you’ll need to use each individual app.

How Dockless Might Work in London

Personally, I think that hub locations are one of the most important features of the new dockless systems. They can act as a point that is regularly stocked with bikes, meaning that regular users might not need to keep doing different journeys on foot to hunt down a bike. They also help the system keep order – they may help to minimise the amount of inconsiderate parking. Currently, the reward for finishing a journey at such a hub is minimal. Operators will have to be more ambitious if the hub-inducement model work. Something like halving the fee to finish a ride in a hub, and doubling it to finish a ride outside of an operating zone altogether. It should also be possible to have hubs outside of operating areas, for example, on specific pieces of private land where access has been granted, but the local authority has not granted permission.

More generally, I think, for large western cities like London, where pedestrian space will always be at a premium, the dockless model, as it stands, will not work. Either there won’t be enough bikes, so that no one uses the system, or the labour costs will be too high for the operators, or there will be too many bikes causing clutter. The system for London that I envisage, will work, is that Zone 1 gets around 1000 “mandatory hubs”, boxes painted on the ground, each around the size of a car parking space but mainly on the pavement, where any cycles from any of the dockless cycles may be left. TfL or boroughs get tough with the operators and users and impound bikes left outside of these zones by users, with operators getting fined for each impound and the operators passing on these fines (should they choose) to the delinquent user. Outside of Zone 1, the system could work as present, with recommended hubs. However boroughs/TfL need to stop operators creating hubs branded with only their own logos and signs, and instead create generic hubs. They can still just be painted lines on the ground – the bikes themselves should be all the branding needed.

See also my borough by borough scores, or the interactive map.

Three Bikeshare Systems now Competing Directly in London

[Updated] Following Ofo’s recent expansion to Islington and the City of London, Mobike has also expanded to Islington and the City – here’s a set of operator-placed bikes outside Cally Road tube station:

This presumably means that you can now cycle from Acton in Ealing, the original London location for Mobike, to Islington, for 50p/half hour. You can’t end your journey in between the two boroughs, though. It would probably take you over an hour, so it would work out the same price as getting the London Overground between the two (£1.50 off-peak via Willesden Junction), in a slower but more healthy way.

The bikes have registration numbers starting “A02”, I think this means they are unfortunately the same design as the cramped and uncomfortable Manchester bikes (which are, I understanding going to be replaced soon with new European-market-designed bikes). Mancunians presumably would have been unimpressed with London getting the new ones first!

The new bicycles are not appear in in the Mobike app yet, although this may just be because the app is a bit flakey – you have to pan and zoom very close to the location to see it on the map, and the app regularly reports “servers busy”. Now if they just released an open bike location API it would make it a lot easier for everyone to find their bikes…

Just down the road, here’s another operator-placed set of Ofo bikeshare bikes, near Mount Pleasant, right on the borough boundary line between Islington and Camden:

The latter location is also served by the dock-based incumbent, Santander Cycles, for example seen here a few hundred metres further on, in Holborn Circus:

Ofo and Mobike bikes are allowed to be parked in the City, along with Santander Cycles (at docking stations). Only Santander Cycles can be parked in Camden borough, but that hasn’t stopped many Ofo bikes appearing available for use in Camden borough anyway – in theory, all of these users would get a penalty:

In practice, Ofo (and the other operators) want to expand, it’s the boroughs that are moving slowly (with good reason, after the oBike debacle) so I would imagine they will be slow to penalise such out-of-zone journeys. It’s all a bit confusing for the average person who just wants to do a quick one-way journey on a shared bike.

The bikeshare wars continue, meanwhile, plenty of London’s 33 boroughs* still don’t have any bikeshare system in them (see map at top, which shows grey shading for areas with an established commute-by-bicycle residential community).

Surely it’s only a matter of time though…

*Including the City of London which isn’t technically a borough.

Five Bikeshares in London


Bikeshare system coverage in London, November 2017. Shading: Proportion of people who cycle to work.


Updated map showing bikeshare system coverage in London, June 2018

There are now five bikeshare systems operating in London:

Santander Cycles (Central London)

Photo: Copyright TfL.

Santander Cycles are red, they launched in July 2010 and currently have 9500 bikes on the street (around 12000 in total), covering an area of 110km across 11 boroughs and the City of London – this sounds impressive, but it is only 7% of London’s area (based on a 500m station buffer), and equates one bike for every 950 people in the capital. You can see the live state of the system (in terms of empty/full docking stations) on Bike Share Map. As a publically funded system, Santander Cycles have an excellent open data policy and release live docking station data which can be readily mapped, location information and historic journeys through TfL’s Open Data Portal.

Santander Cycles last week unveiled their “50000-series” bikes which are part-manufactured in the UK, with smaller wheels, bluetooth asset tags and a number of other enhancements, although in technology terms they still very much third-generation bikeshare bikes (“dumb” bike, smart dock) and the system remains expensive to use with a complicated pricing structure (£90/year or £2/day membership for journeys under half-hour, £2 per extra half-hour), with any expansion hamstrung by the very expensive docking station installation costs – so its footprint has only slightly expanded in the last few years. There have been some other innovations, such as widespread use of Blaze laserlights, and its current sponsor has also invested considerably in promoting the system. The Santander Cycles system looks expensive and rigid, particularly compared with the newer alternatives. It is, however, in terms of bike quality, maintenance and use, and public acceptance, the “gold standard” of bikeshare in London.

Mobike (LB Ealing)

Mobike (orange bikes) were the first dockless fourth generation* (smart bike, dumb dock) compliant (working with local authorities) system in London, which launched in Ealing in July this year – a far from obvious place to launch, as Ealing has a very low tradition of cycling in general (no dark areas in the map above). However, Mobike did have UK experience before, having had a bigger and higher-profile launch in two of Greater Manchester boroughs. Mobike persevered through initial bad publicity due to vandalism and can be seen on many streets of the city. Personally, I found Mobike extremely uncomfortable to cycle – their bikes have been shipped from the far east with little customisation, and their frames are designed for the far eastern rather than the European build (Europeans are typically bigger!) At its maximum extended saddle position, it was uncomfortably tiny to pedal one. This is a pity, presumably the extremely cheap mass manufacturing costs of sticking with their global design were too tempting.

The Ealing launch had a reported 750 bicycles although as ever you have to take the numbers with a pinch of salt. A quick look at the app reveals around 160 bikes in the preferred zones and around 10 parked elsewhere. Mobike is very cheap and has a simple to understand pricing model (£29 joining fee then 50p per half-hour ride). One nice touch is that if you have a membership of the Manchester system, it will work fine in London too. Ealing is not a densely populated inner-city borough and the 750 bicycles serve a huge 56 square kilometres – in practice, as shown on the app map, the bikes (and zones, shown with a “P”) are clustered in the eastern edge of the borough, around Acton. I wish Mobike good luck but they need more comfortable bikes and to get into a borough with an established cycling tradition, and operate around a larger area than the few square miles in the eastern end of this borough. Mobike, as a fully commercial operation, does not release bikeshare open data for Ealing (dockless bikeshare data does have theoretically considerable economic value), although they have plans to release it for Manchester (likely a stipulation from the local authority there) so maybe it will come here too in time.

Ofo (LB Hackney, LB Islington and City)

Ofo (yellow bikes) are, like Mobike, a big global player in dockless fourth generation bikeshare. They launched in Hackney – London’s spiritual home of regular cycling – in September, and have just announced (this week) an expansion to the neighbouring borough of Islington and the City of London, meaning serious commute potential of these bikes.

I have ridden an Ofo bike (a one-off in Manchester) and found it extremely comfortable – it felt like riding a “real” bike rather than an approximation of one. Like Mobike, Ofo have a low joining fee, a flat rate for usage and the membership can be used in their other systems (including Cambridge in the UK). Ofo has targetted boroughs with a good cycling tradition and also is, in some parts of the boroughs, in direct competition with the incumbent Santander Cycles – the only one to do so (see map below). Hopefully this competition will lead to innovations on both sides and not damage either.

Urbo (LB Waltham Forest)

Photo: Paul Gasson on Twitter.

Urbo (green bikes) are another dockless fourth generation bikeshare operator. They are an Irish company, although they are buying the bikes and technology (e.g. the smart lock and the apps) from China and customising locally. Their bikes are the most attractive of the new dockless bikeshare bikes I have seen (with a nice curve design on the frame) and appear (I haven’t ridden one yet) to be similar in overall build style, and so hopefully comfort, to Ofo’s bikes. Waltham Forest (39 sqkm in east London with some tradition of cycling, on its western edge) is their first system and it has only just launched this week. They also do not yet release open data (although they have only just launched). Ofo may be most useful for residents of Higham Hill, Poets Corner, the top of Walthamstow Village and certain other parts of the borough to get quickly to the stations on the efficient Victoria Line or Overground to central London.

Like Ofo and Mobike, Urbo have designated zones in their host boroughs and induce users (via cheaper journeys) to end their journeys in these zones (shown with the STOP icon on their app’s map, here). These zones come with a bespoke street sign erected by the local authority, as well as the usual taped/painted markings on the ground. It is a little surprising that Waltham Forest have included the operator logo on the signs (presumably to Urbo’s delight) as there is no good reason why other dockless systems, when they inevitably arrive here too, should use these spaces too. It is kind of like the council painting new car parking spaces on a street and putting up a sign, with the Ford logo, saying they are spaces for Ford cars only. They are just spaces on a road/pavement…

oBike (Withdrawn)

Then there’s oBike (orangey-yellow) which launched in July without coordinating with boroughs (using the Uber-style “forgiveness is easier than permission” modal), had a number of its bikes impounded by Wandsworth borough and withdrew from the capital – almost all of its bikes are lurking behind locked gates in an industrial park in Rainham so they aren’t included on the maps here. There is the odd one that got away from the purge and remains in central London. They will return, I’m sure, once the company has a strategy for compliance with TfL and the boroughs. oBike did at least wake up authorities to the fourth generation revolution, and force some much-needed policy documents to be hastily released. I rode a few oBikes and found them more comfortable than the Mobike but not as good as Ofo, Urbo or Santander Cycles.

November 3rd Snapshot

System  Type            Locations Area
/km2
Launch
Date
Reported
Bikes**
Available
Bikes
(Estimates)
Santander
Cycles
 Dock
 -based
Central London 110 July 2010 12000 Was 10800
now 9600***
oBike  Pure
 dockless
All London,
but withdrawn
1570 July 2017 400 initially
5500 planned
Was 1500
now 6
Mobike  Zoned
 dockless
West: Ealing 56 July 2017 750 160
Ofo  Incentive
 dockless
North: Hackney,
Islington & City
37 Sept 2017 300-400 Around 200
Urbo  Zoned
 dockless
East: Waltham
Forest
39 Nov 2017 250 40
(so far)

Of course, it’s hard to know how well these systems are being used, particularly as dockless systems don’t generally release this information (except if the numbers are particularly good, as occasional press releases). Santander Cycles reliably gets around 20000-40000 usages a day (i.e. 2-4 usages/bike/day), and certainly, on the more central parts of the Cycle Superhighways during rush hour, there is a sea of red Santander Cycles amongst the other cyclists. Anecdotally, I’ve a couple of Ofo bikes in use, but this is a bit unfair on Ofo and Urbo – I regularly cycle through Hackney on my own bike, but don’t generally pass Waltham Forest and Ealing. My sneaking suspicion is that Ofo will do quite well, by targeting the boroughs where there are going to be a lot of cyclists, and that Mobike and Urbo will either have to expand or will stay irrelevant in London’s overall cycling picture. This sounds harsh, but, as DataShine Region Commute and TubeHeartbeat show, Londoners move beyond their borough boundaries a lot. We shall see, we live in interesting times for bikeshare.

This map (an inset of the map above) shows the reach of the four systems (excluding oBike) in London. The shading behind shows the proportion of residents there who cycle to work (2011 Census data, Copyright ONS) and therefore likely enjoy good cycle infrastructure and community (e.g. cycle cafes, cycle repair workshops) that would help integrate bikeshare. Parts of Southwark and Lambeth look woefully underserved.

* The first generation of bikeshare systems were free bikes, left on streets for people to use. Inevitably they were stolen or broken. Second generation bikeshare systems used “dumb docking stations” where cash was used to release them. Users were therefore only out by the cash amount if they didn’t release them, and operators didn’t know where they were without visiting the docks, so again they got stolen and/or broken. Third generation bikeshare systems require the user to use credit cards (and so charge a large amount for non-return) and use smart docking stations which can report the status of themselves and their bikes. They have been very popular for the last few years, but require a large up-front investment and are very expensive to operate and maintain, so most are publically subsidised. Minor advances to these (such as GPS on some bikes, or integration with transit smart cards) are sometimes termed as fourth generation but are actually really just usability tweaks to fundamentally the same third generation concept. I am terming the new dockless systems, where the bikes know where they are (through an app, or their own communications) as fourth generation. Physical docking stations can still exist on the ground, to manage the bikes or provide a known starting location, but the bikes don’t have to be left there, if inconvenient – the “hybrid” model, as used in Brighton. Zoned dockless systems (Urbo, Mobike) have tapes on the ground as “preferred” docking zones, replacing the physical docks. Incentive dockless systems (Ofo) don’t even have the tapes – just virtual locations that appear in the app). The Pure dockless systems (oBike) don’t even have anything – inevitably resulting in bikes being scattered through an area.

** These numbers, reported in media and press releases, will invariably be higher that the “available bikes” currently on the streets (or visible in the app, in the case of the dockless systems). The difference can typically be explained by bikes will be in repair or reported broken, some will be in active use (although generally I try to measure at night to avoid this) or in redistribution, some will be in the warehouse, ready to come out in the near future. Ultimately though, if the bikes aren’t available for use, then they aren’t really any good to anyone, so bikes on streets is the number the operators should be reporting!

*** For larger, commuter heavy systems (like Santander Cycles) that are dock-based, there are good operational reasons to slightly reduce the numbers of bikes available during the winter months (where the commuter mode share will be higher) as the flows are more undirectional and therefore full-dock pressures are otherwise worse. In the summer, tourist use acts as a natural rebalancer.