Then There Were Eight

Freebike – London’s newest electric bikeshare system.

Two bicycle sharing systems have launched in London in the last fortnight, joining four systems already on the streets of central London and two more on the edge of the capital:

Freebike has launched an electric-assist system based in the City, Islington, Hackney, Camden, Kensington, Chelsea and parts of Lambeth and Wandsworth along the river. Essentially, central London but excluding Westminster and Bankside. There are around 200 bikes in the initial launch, painted flourescent yellow and black.

The system uses virtual docks. You can pause your journey (at a reduced rate) in the operating area, and also in Westminster and Bankside. You can also finish a journey away from a dock, for an additional fee. Hackney doesn’t yet have virtual docks. Freebike’s unique proposition is that you can do short non-electric journeys for it for free, once you have an account and have deposited £1 in it. The bikes are electric-assist, use of this is optional and if you ride under your own pedal power, it is cheaper!

Freebike is an electric version of the Homeport platform, which already runs smaller systems in a number of UK cities including Oxford, Nottingham and Lincoln, as well as in a number of Polish and other European cities.

Beryl Bikes – at the launch in central Enfield. A marked dock is on the left.

The second launch is Beryl Bikes who are now operating in Enfield in north London. They have plans also to launch in the City of London – along with Freebike, they are the two operators that the City of London have approved for using virtual docks within the Square Mile. The bikes are painted turquoise. Their initial fleet is 350 bikes, covering the full borough of Enfield but focused on the west and central parts.

The system is not electric-assist but the bikes do come with solar panels for charging the lights and also the bicycle symbol laser-lights which were invented by Beryl and appear on the larger Santander Cycles system in central London.

One of the marked docking stations in Enfield.

You can only start or finish a journey in one of 50 virtual docks. Notably, these have been marked out on the ground, as rectangles which often (but not always) surround existing bicycle parking hoops. The bays are also coloured turquoise, and can be used for any bicycles, including future virtual dock and dockless systems in the future, although Beryl do have exclusivity with Enfield at the moment. Beryl should be extending into the City of London soon – they are waiting for the virtual docks to be marked on the ground there first. Freebike will also be using these docks.

The careful and considered launch of these two new systems is a contrast to the existing “pure” dockless systems of Lime, Mobike and JUMP which don’t currently designate virtual docks at all (Mobike did briefly, a while back). It will be interesting to see whether “docks” are the future of “dockless” – whether they can provide the balance between cost-effectiveness of not needing the Santander Cycles docks with their associated planning, pavement reconstruction and power requirements, and order of ensuring that the bikes should be available only from well-marked and sufficiently spacious locations.

Along with the six systems mentioned above, ITS operate a very small two-docking-station system using Smoove bikes (a French company who also supply the Velib in Paris) between the two campuses of Kingston University, using pedal-assist to get people up/down Kingston Hill. Only students and staff can join this system. There is also a small nextbike-based system servicing mainly Brunel University and Uxbridge town centre. Unlike Kingston’s, anyone can use this one. It too is dock-based, but has no electric assist. Nextbike supply numerous systems around Europe and Asia, including the forthcoming huge Birmingham system. Confusingly, the Brunel system is also called Santander Cycles, despite being incompatible with the Santander Cycles in central London.

A quick summary of the eight London bikeshare systems currently operating:

NameSantander
Cycles
MobikeLimeJUMPFreebikeBerylKU BikesSantander
Cycles
Launched20102017201820192019201920172019
# Bikes9000160010003502003502040
ColoursRed
+ Navy
OrangeGreen
+ Yellow
Bright
Red
Bright
Yellow
Turqu
-oise
Yellow
+ Black
Red
+ White
PlatformPBSCMobikeLimeSoBiHomeportBerylSmoovenextbike
OperatorSercoMobikeLimeUberFreebikeBerylITSnextbike
Dock
Type
PhysicalNoneNoneNoneVirtual**TapedPhysicalPhysical
Extendable
Bike
Type
PedalPedalElectric
Assist
Electric
Assist
Optional
Electric
Assist
PedalElectric
Assist
Pedal
London
Area
InnerInner,
West
Inner,
NW, SE
InnerInnerNorth
***
KingstonUxbridge
Ride Cost
1×10 min

“Dabbler”
£2£1£2.50£1.60£0 (ped.)
£1 (elect.)
£1.50£1£1
Ride Cost
2×15 min

“Errand”
£2£2£6.50£4.40£1 (ped.)
£4 (elect.)
£3.50£1£2
Ride Cost
1×60 min

“Tourist”
£4*£3£10£7.60£2.50* (p.)
£6 (elect.)
£4£1£2

* Stopping/restarting the journey at intermediate docking stations will reduce this cost.
** Will also used taped docks in at least the City of London, once they are constructed.
*** Additionally launching shortly in the City of London.

Of note, Freebike is the cheapest public system (i.e. discounting the private KU Bikes) for two theoretical fifteen minute journeys by a user without a multiday membership – both in electric assist and full manual pedal mode. Lime is noticeably more expensive than all the others.

House Price Performance Variations in London Over 23 Years

This map shows how different parts of London have over/underperformed with respect to the capital as a whole, with a 1995 baseline. Green areas have increased in price by more than the London median, while pink areas have underperformed, increasing by a smaller percentage from their 1995 baseline price, compared with the rest of London. Because areas are being compared with their own 1995 price, areas already expensive back then will be outperformed by new “hip” parts of the capital.

This animation shows the data across the 23 years, on a quarterly basis: The strongest colours represent a greater than +/-30% performance difference, while white represents a less than 10% variation with London’s median.

In general, dark greens show the areas that have become more fashionable to live in, relatively speaking, and therefore have seen a greater than average house price uplift. There is clearly an inner/outer split, but established “nice” areas in 1995, such as Islington, remain relatively “average”, while their neighbours to the east – Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Walthamstow (the southern half of Waltham Forest) and Stratford (western Newham), have seen significant gains. The Stratford/Newham (2003) and Shoreditch (2007) big increases happened several years before that in central Hackney (around 2013), Walthamstow (around 2015) and Finsbury Park (2018). The southern edge of Hillingdon, blighted by Heathrow expansion plans, has performed poorly, as well as historically expensive non-central areas like Richmond, as luxury city centre living has become more fashionable than the wealthy flight to the suburbs of the 1980s and 1990s.

Key (1.0 = Proportional to the London median change from 1995)

Data from the ONS HPSSA (House Price Statistics for Small Areas) data files, mapped with QGIS and animated with TimeManager.

Mapping House Prices Across Small Areas

I wrote about a new dataset from the ONS, HPSSA (House Prices for Small Statistical Areas), a few years ago. The dataset has continued to be updated quarterly, and more recently, ONS started publishing the data at a more fine-grained spatial resolution, namely LSOAs (Lower Super Output Areas).

LSOAs typically each contain a population of 1000 people, or 400 houses, so, particularly in cities, mapping house price variation by LSOA, provides a good balance of spatial detail and ease of use. You can of course get individual house prices by looking at the Land Registry Price Paid Data, but the ONS HPSSA is a useful shortcut, particularly as it provides a rolling yearly average, so smoothing out variations caused by low transaction volumes in a small area. The ONS HPSSA data covers all of England and Wales.

I’ve therefore published an updated map of median house prices on CDRC Data, to use the latest release of data, which is Q3 2018. I’ve also extended the key, to reflect that, since 2015, more of London is now firmly above the £500k level which was the previous highest band theshold on the map. The resulting map shows a “dark red cloud” of high-priced areas across much of London, Oxford and Cambridge, with only small areas of cheaper properties standing out in bright yellows – Dagenham, Edmonton and Hayes in London, and Orchard Park in Cambridge. Strikingly, many other cities and large towns also show a small red/maroon area, typically an enclave of expensive houses in an otherwise cheaper urban area (shown with yellows and oranges) – e.g. Solihull in Greater Birmingham, Clifton in Bristol, Hale in Greater Manchester and Gosforth in Newcastle.

Remember that these are median values – so 50% of the houses in each small area, that sold between Q3 2017 and Q2018, sold for more than the value shown, and 50% sold for less. Grey areas are where there were not enough house sales in the year, for a median value to be reported. These tend to be in older inner city areas where little public property transactions take place. Examples in London include Stamford Hill, the area around the just-opened Tottenham Hotspur stadium, and the area behind Euston station in central London, which is being extensively redeveloped. Large areas of social housing, where there simply aren’t properties available on the housing market, also often show up as grey, such as the Aylesbury and former Heygate Estates in Southwark.

The colour ramp is the inverse of that used by Dr Cheshire in his book London: The Information Capital, which depicted house prices in the city using a “fire” colour ramp, with cooler reds with more expensive areas burning bright with yellows/whites, while the highest price, “unaffordable” areas were shown as being completely burnt away from the map. By inverting the ramp, my map shows light, welcoming colours for more reasonably priced areas while inflated values are darkened out.

JUMP Leaps Into London – Now It Gets Interesting

New JUMP bikes on the forecourt outside Highbury & Islington station.

JUMP, Uber’s electric-assist dockless bikeshare, arrives in London today, with a 350-bike trial in north London, focused on Islington borough. The organisation is also looking to expand to other London boroughs later this summer. Interestingly, the app right now is showing the operating area as covering not just Islington, but southern Camden, Hackney, southern Waltham Forest and the western edge of Tower Hamlets borough, as well as the City of London:

JUMP’s apparent initial launch area. If they are focusing on Islington as their operations borough, then this “buffer” of surrounding areas, that you can finish a journey in that you started in Islington, makes a lot of sense.

We’ve had quite a few dockless bikeshare operations trying to crack the London market, with its huge potential, but fragmented cooperation/approval process split between 33 boroughs – some with an existing significant cycling culture and others very much car-dominated – has meant success has been mixed. First, oBike appeared out nowhere in summer 2017, before disappearing almost as quickly as councils freaked out and impounded some. Then, later in 2017 and through 2018, Ofo, Mobike and Urbo went for a more controlled approach – however only Mobike has survived to 2019 – and only by pruning right down and then expanding to just core, well established zones. Finally, Lime launched in 2018, but have only recently, officially at least, made it to the inner city.

JUMP has bided its time, watched these other players and is coming to market in London with a significant proposition. We knew they were (probably) coming, thanks to their prominent sponsorship of a relevant trade conference in London last year year, followed a few months later by some job adverts for fleet management. Since then, it’s been very quiet, until now.

Their patience has allowed them to refine a cost model, sensible operating area and bike suitable for the London market. Islington is a great base to start with – it allows cycling into almost the centre of London (the City and the revitalised King’s Cross area both being on the border). They are not wasting time with helping boroughs with a car problem try and encourage cycling (hello Enfield, Brent, Croydon, Bromley, Hounslow, Redbridge, Newham) – something the councils should be doing themselves rather than relying on a fully commercial entity that focus on financial, not societal decisions. Unsurprisingly, the councils have then found these services disappearing soon after launch. Instead, they are starting in a place where people already see cyclists on the road (and surviving/thriving) and are therefore likely to start themselves.

They have also got a sensible cost proposition. Mobike, Urbo and Ofo all started out at a fantastically cheap 50p per bike but soon ended up having to charge £2 to start – the bus is cheaper, and Santander Cycles are the same price and more reliable. Lime launched with a fee that is quite widely acknowledged as being way too expensive – a five minute journey costs more than a bus or out-of-Zone-1 tube trip. JUMP have found a sensible medium, with £1 to start but then the first 5 minutes free, and then 12p/min. Finally, they have invested to tackle the biggest problem with London dockless bikeshare systems at present – poorly parked bikes cluttering up pavements, being an eyesore and generally annoying everyone. They are achieving this by starting with a small number of bikes – but also the bikes come with cable locks rather than the “wheel locks” seen on the other dockless systems. The lock is long enough to loop around a bike parking stand or through a fence. They are not initially requiring users to do this at the end of their journey, but I wouldn’t be suprised if they mandate this in the future, in order to better control street clutter and theft – the two biggest issues with bikeshares in London thus far.

Perhaps most importantly of all, JUMP is owned by Uber, and this means the bikes are in the Uber app as an option to booking a cab driver. This is a really big deal. In London, only dedicated enthusiasts will download a dedicated app for occasionally bikeshare usage – if you want to use Lime Bike, you have to install the Lime Bike app – but a lot of people have the standard navigation apps on their phone – Google Maps, CityMapper – and Uber. Now, one of those apps suddenly has bikeshare fully integrated in. If it’s £5 to get an Uber home but the app tells you about an electric-assist bike 100m away and that it will only cost you £2 – it’s a no-brainer. You access the bikes through the regular Uber app – press the toggle at the top and choose “Bikes”:

Choose “Bike” and see the magic.

Uber are saying that it is only possible to book a bike when you are in the operating area – this should manage usage quite effectively, particularly as the operating area is large and contains many potential trips (i.e. north inner London into the City and parts of the West End). Right now, the bikes are all reporting their location at a warehouse just off Blackhorse road in east London, but presumably they will be driven (or cycled – that would be nice) down to Angel, Highbury, Finsbury Park, Old Street and other key locations in the borough, for the formal launch later this morning:

JUMP bikes, in the morning of the launch, already spreading beyond Islington (a tall, thin borough in the middle of the marked blue operating area) and indeed one is beyond the operating area altogether (to the south-west). The ones to the north-east are in the warehouse.

From a research perspective, Uber have committed to releasing aggregated data about how their bikeshare is used, similar to what they already do for Uber cab journeys. We haven’t got live GBFS bike locations for JUMP in London, unlike for JUMP in many other cities in the US, but only because we in the UK are poor at asking operators to provide this – but you can’t have everything!

I think that, finally, we might have a dockless bikeshare in London, that works for London.

Dockless Bikeshare in London: Part 2

The Guardian newspaper has published an online article about the rise and fall of dockless bikeshare, focusing on the pure dockless systems in England (there aren’t any in the rest of the UK) that grew in 2017, and then shrank last autumn. The article extensively used some of the geospatial boundary data that I have – you can can see this on Bike Share Map. It also used some estimated counts and also looked ahead.

Meanwhile, there are various clues as to the next wave of dockless bikeshare, here in London. It looks like there are going to be at least five, possibly six players this year that will be complementing and/or competing with the incumbent Santander Cycles system that still has more bikes on the streets (10000) than all the pretenders put together:

  • Mobike, after their summer expansion and autumn radical contraction, appear to have got things under control and have started expanding again. They remain operating in two main areas – in west London (around Ealing, Acton & Chiswick) where they are not competing with Santander Cycles, and in central London (Camden Town, Bloomsbury, Angel, Bankside and the City of London) where they do. They are keeping their operating areas small, and their densities high, and are staying out of the inner city London areas where they will have had great numbers of their bikes stolen and vandalised. This is an eminently sensible business decision even if it restricts the usefulness of the system in a broader London context. Their fleet is largely upgraded to the Lite model which is much more comfortable to ride. No sign of any pedelec (electric assist) yet. They still have a very high out-of-zone charge, which coupled with their often changing operating boundaries means that users need to do some research before hiring, to avoid unexpected penalties. This lessens the scan-and-go readiness of the systems. There are around 1800 in the fleet currently.
  • Lime‘s pedelec system was looking good, with a carefully run system with no penalties for starting/finishing out-of-zone (as long as you don’t go out of London itself). Although I found the actual cycling experience not amazing, I am probably not the target market, and right now it is making a positive contribution to London’s Mobility as a Service (MaaS) options. However… Lime in the US have had a change of policy recently, switching all their pedelecs to escootershare. This doesn’t bode well for London in the long term, as the large MaaS companies are all about economy of scale. Maybe London will be quickly and genuinely profitable for them, and they’ll keep running the system here. We shall see. They currently have around 1400 bikes in their fleet in London.
  • Beryl’s Secret Cycles pedelecs remain in active pre-launch development. They are being developed right here in London and the group are taking time to get it right. The odd Secret Cycle is occasionally seen on the streets of London, and a council test is taking place in Enfield. It looks like they will, after launching in Bournemouth, be bringing their system to Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, and presumably also Enfield. There are currently around 10 in their fleet, none for public use.
  • Freebike pedelecs are currently being tested by Waltham Forest council employees, so it may be launching there at some point soon. However, a City of London decision suggests they may also be coming to the heart of the capital too. This is a small place so having all the various operators in here could be interesting. However, half a million people do commute into the so-called Square Mile every working day, so there is always going to be a big focus here. There are currently around 10 in their fleet, none for public use.
  • JUMP pedelecs are also likely coming. Their parent, Uber, had a job posting out for a London-based operations/field manager. With Lime’s US pedelec retreat, JUMP are the sole US-based pedelec system and are increasingly finding they are the only bidders for US city dockless systems. London’s competition will be harder, thanks in no small part to escootershare remaining illegal here. JUMP will likely go big when they launch. They will also be able to leverage their huge existing base of London Uber users – no separate app needed!
  • Finally, and this is pure speculation on my part, but YoBike runs some reasonably successful systems in Bristol and Southampton. The platform that YoBike is part of is SharingOS, and they are based in London. I am sure they would to have a physical system a little closer to their base.

If there are going to be 5+ systems in central London, then the authorities are really going to have to get their act together re managing parking for these fleets. A mass expansion of cycle parking hoops, or taping rectangles on pavements for them, is going to be needed.

A Beryl Secret Cycle on test, spotted in the City of London.
Photo courtesy of Angus Hewlett.

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.

A Day with HERE at CES

The HERE Technologies booth at CES 2019.

I was a guest earlier this week at HERE Techologies at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2019 in Las Vegas, the world’s biggest consumer electronics trade show. Their booth was directly right outside the main entrance to the Convention Centre, the hub of CES, right beside Google’s own huge one. The juxtaposition was interesting, the two companies competing intensely in some areas of location services (e.g. mapping APIs, journey routing and rich global POI databases) while being distinctly different in their approach – Google being very consumer focused with its ubiquitous brand, its location tools being largely smartphone based and advertising/user profile driven while HERE’s European origins are reflected in its strict user anonymisation defaults, its main datasource being car sensor information from cars (e.g. some of the major car companies are the key investors in HERE), and its mainly B2B focus which means that the UI you typically in front of HERE’s location intelligence is typically branded from the car company itself.

HERE’s location marketplace

The car sensor information drives much of the 5 million updates made every day (generally automatically) to its global master map and also means that HERE has a pretty good live traffic data stream of its own. The global master map also contains 160 million+ POIs (points of interest) – it’s a seriously large database – which HERE has collected, collated and bought from a wide variety of sources. The map is a core part of HERE’s overall location platform offering.

HERE’s booth was a hive of activity, with product demos downstairs (themed around “the new reality”) and a small stage, while upstairs, numerous meeting rooms were full all day, presumably with various meetings between HERE executives and at a guess, car companies looking for platforms to power their car/user information systems, city transportation agencies looking for new datasets to understand their city roads more effectively, and other key potential stakeholders in HERE’s location platforms. The the breakout areas were also well used and even a little outdoor cafe/terrace overlooking the main entrance to the convention centre.

The HERE XYZ developer API.

Our group was introduced to a number of people at HERE, including the CEO and various product managers. Of particular interest to me were the Fleet and Developer API talks – the former because of the “enterprise level” travelling-salesman-problem type (actually the vehicle-routing-with-prizes problem) functionality that is a core part of the platform, and the latter because I’ve already used a little bit of the HERE mapping APIs.

Fleet Management (the “travellling salesmen problem” solver)

SoMo

I also chatted to the HERE Mobility team who also had a presence in the HERE booth and also their own display in the main exhibition halls. HERE Mobility, who operate almost as a “start-up” within HERE, have the most obvious “consumer” presence of HERE, and launched their new “SoMo” app, which aims to be an “honest broker” multi-mobility navigation too. SoMo, which is short for Social Mobility, aims to offer various rideshare options from third parties, as well as transit and driving information – it’s key distinction, apart from being a platform for smaller rideshares, is to allow easy pooling of ride opportunities and friends/contacts who also need to journey to the same place.

They have identified a number of scenarios where this is useful, for example, people from a particular neighbourhood who are all planning to go to a music concert in a specific venue in another part of a city. The theory being that fans of the same artist might want to travel together and pool the costs, and find a good value or available service, where the “big two” rideshares Uber and Lyft, who are not on the platform (and indeed are building their own multimodal platforms) may be not present in a particular city or don’t have the necessarily availability or good price point on the ground.

SoMo will likely work best when you have a number of friends/contacts using it, and sufficient coverage of timely services in the cities where the users are. As such, it will live or die by the volumes of people using it, hence their big push to have the new app downloaded as widely as possible.

One HERE announcement at CES that is of immediate to me – my Alexa Echo Dot is finally location aware, worldwide – it was frustrating that it was unable to give me directions or time estimates, while my Google Home Mini was able to – but Amazon and HERE announced a partnership where the HERE location platform (with its routing capability, traffic awareness and huge map and POI database underlying it) provides location information in response to relevant queries to Alexa. This is not through an add-on “skill” (Alexa’s terminology for apps) but is built in to the core of the device’s response framework.

More map layers and location data available through HERE APIs.

Thank you to HERE Technology for inviting me to CES and organising the trip and insight day.

A Glimpse of the Future in Paris

Two Lime escootershare scooters being used on the former highway in Paris beside the River Seine that is now a peaceful, traffic-free route. The scooters are passing a rather well hidden New Velib bikeshare docking station.

I was in Paris just before Christmas, taking part in a workshop at IFSSTAR (Université Paris-Est) on innovations in flow visualisation – GFlowiz. I talked/demonstrated some old and new ways that I and others have shown commute journeys in the UK on the web, looking both at The Great British Bike to Work and TubeCreature (developed with the HERE mapping platform), as well as some tests, with open bikeshare data, of the new React/WebGL/Deck.gl-based Kepler.gl recently developed by the Uber Engineering for interactively visualising large spatial datasets locally in a web browser. Kepler.gl works well with bikeshare flow datasets of up to around a million journeys, which, as CSVs with lat/lon pairs, can be simply downloaded, dragged and dropped into the web application:

Showing the journey of a single Santander Cycles bikeshare bike over a week in July, using Kepler.gl. Journey starts/finishes are green/red and the lines become more purple as the week progresses.

I enjoyed the other talks in the workshop too, especially the introduction to flowmap.gl by its creator, Ilya Boyandin of Teralytics.

I had a few hours left after the conference to explore the centre of Paris, so I embarked on a long walk from Forum des Halles to Notre Dame, and then up to Gare du Nord. Paris has undergone a bit of a shared/smart mobility revolution on the quiet, since I last visited a couple of years back. Escootershare has taken advantage of the disastrous start to the relaunch of Velib at the beginning of 2018, and France’s more liberal traffic laws than in the UK, with numerous companies launching their operations there. Some dockless bikeshare systems have had a go, although Ofo at least has now disappeared from Paris, and the trend for the rest doesn’t look good either. 

Lime escootershare bikes available (according to the app)

So, along my walk, I noted down all the escooter/bikeshare brands in use that I could see, along with the incumbent Velib service. There were also quite a few personally owned (or possibly white-label shares) that I spotted scooting past, which I didn’t note – for scooters at least, these were in total easily outnumbered by the brands.

Escootershares are, at the moment at least, all dockless, rather than being locked in physical stations, and I believe they tend to get taken in by casual workers overnight for recharging. My walk took place between around 6pm (i.e. end of rushhour) and 8:15pm, and I saw plenty being operated even at the end of the survey interval, so I would presume that the escooters are generally collected after this time. 

Overall, I was impressed both by the uptake of these devices, and the care in which they were left after use. I saw no sign of any vandalism (although I did mostly stay in the more touristy parts of central Paris) and very few were inappropriately parked. I can’t say for sure that all the ones I marked as parked upright were not blocking pavements or crossing (e.g. tactile strips, dropped kerbs) in such a way that someone in a large wheelchair might have an issue, but on the whole I got the sense that they were not the pavement intrusions or litter that many of the London dockless bikeshares have become.

I saw:

Brand Being
Used
Left
Upright
Knocked
Down
Stations or
Groups (3+)
Empty
Stations
Lime (escootershare)191820n/a
Bird (escootershare)71000n/a
Bolt (escootershare)3411 (with 5)n/a
Wind (escootershare)0500n/a
Tier (escootershare)0100n/a
New Velib
(bikeshare+ebikeshare)
360071
Donkey Republic
(dockless bikeshare)
0200n/a
Mobike
(dockless bikeshare)
0700n/a
Five “Bolt” escootershare scooters – the only “group” of scooters I saw in Paris.

So in summary, from my unscientific survey, the dockless bikeshares are not really being used at all, the Limes and Birds are being well used, the new Velib is being used but not in the numbers I would have expected, and they are all generally being left tidily. I have no doubt that, in their current configuration/use level and street scene impact, the escootershares are a positive to the city. They are not cluttering the streets, and those that are there are being well used. There are too many operators, for sure, so some consolidation is needed – no one wants 6 share apps on their phone, but Lime and Bird at least have a good level of usage. It is very sad to see the Mobikes lying around unused, and with so few left, but they were a bike that was, initially at least, not properly designed for the European market. You can’t take shortcuts with new mobility solutions if you want them to actually be solutions. Maybe their lower profile approach will allow them to spot the markets where they can thrive, and give them the flexibility to adapt as necessary.

In London, we’ve moved on a bit from the autumn, where both Ofo and Mobike had retrenched considerably from June’s moment of “peak bikeshare”, even though we’re a long way behind Paris, thanks to escooters essentially being illegal both on pavements and public highways.

  • Mobike has expanded a little bit again, back to Ealing, although their two operating areas in London are very small. The bikes are generally now always in operator-placed groups, and while these are very visible, there are few bikes which are on their own, suggesting little use by actual genuine users. They’ve massively densified the number of bikes available in the areas, however they have attached “£20 fine for leaving bike out of zone” type stickers to all the bikes – and as these zones have changed several times since launch, I can’t blame users for not daring to use the bikes. I would not be surprised if they were seeing less than 1% of the journeys (or 10% of the j/b/d) of Santander Cycles. They also seem to struggle to monitor where their bikes actually are, or what state they are left in, as the few that are out of the operator-placed groups, are often left knocked down, for days at a time. It’s not a good look on London’s pavements, and it’s an effective way to lose the non-riding public’s sympathy unfortunately.
  • Ofo’s operating area didn’t shrink down as far, but unlike Mobike they haven’t restocked, so there are very few bikes to be seen anywhere in central London or the other parts of the operating area. It’s almost impossible to find one for a journey, now.
  • Both stolen Ofos and stolen Mobikes are appearing less often. This is probably because there are less available to steal, and the ones that were stolen are probably in very bad condition now. Occasionally you still see a youth on a stolen one, the bike sounding like it’s about to fall apart.
  • Lime has launched their ebikeshare in west London (Ealing, parts of which still have Mobike, and Brent, which was supposed to have had Mobike too but didn’t launch). You can’t officially therefore take Lime Bikes into central London. I don’t know if the motor cuts out if you do, but quite a few are appearing in central London anyway, and I think you may even be able to start from here (i.e. out-of-zone). Their starting price is very expensive though – £1 + 15p a minute. This means, after 3 minutes, it would have been cheaper taking the bus, tube or train. £1.50 flat rate for half an hour would have been better. But it’s a start, and though they are not escooters, unlike in Paris, the strength of the Paris operation suggests Lime knows something about how to run these.
  • There is also an escootershare in London! Bird have launched. However, it is only available on a single route in East London, on park land that is not covered by pavement/public road restrictions. You can scoot your “Bird” between Here East, the former London 2012 Olympic media centre which is now a start-up hub that is currently very poorly connected to tubes/trains, and Stratford station, which is incredibly well connected. Again, they are very expensive – £2.50 a ride. There is a free shuttle bus between the two points, too. So, really, it’s acting as a demonstrator. But, you have to start somewhere for escootershare in the UK and this is a start.
  • Santander Cycles are still not expanding, and unlikely to ever expand with TfL’s new financial woes and insistence on building very expensive permanent powered docking stations with card terminals, in a high density formation. But they did record five consecutive months this summer with over a million journeys each month. Their fleet seems to be in good working order and popular. I still think a redeployment of some docking stations further out, cheaper app-only stations, and an introduction of a Bike Angels style user rebalancing, would enhance things, but the system/contract is I suspect not set up to encourage radical innovations like this.

I look forward to 2019 as a year in which smart mobility technologies will continue to make cities better places. Look out on this blog for some exciting news, soon.

Journeys from/to a Just Eat Cycles docking station in early December, in the east of Edinburgh. Visualised in Kepler.gl. Translucency is being used to indicate multiple journeys between the same two stations.

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.

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.