When running a fleet of dockless bikeshare bikes, one of the potentially most costly problems is theft of the bicycles. They aren’t attached to anything if they are dockless, even if they are in a marked “hub”, and, even if the bikes are typically heavier than a personal bike, they can still be easy targets for theft. There are six operators in central London currently and each of these operators has to consider whether it is worthwhile operating in a particular borough – whether the profit to be made from legimitate hires outweights the costs involved in replacing stolen bicycles.
With the news earlier this month that Beryl is suspending operations in Enfield due to vandalism after just three months of operation, and following Urbo’s similarly rapid arrival to and departure from the borough (and indeed all of the UK) last year, I’ve done a simple analysis of the risk/reward of operating in different London boroughs. This analysis is an alternative approach to a previous model that looked specifically at general vandalism rates and usage rates, because it looks at the daytime as well as nighttime populations.
I’ve used the Census 2011 Travel to Work counts, comparing the full 16-74 population with that that travels to work mainly by bicycle, looking at both the Workplace populations (i.e. daytime/evening) and the Residential populations (i.e. nighttime/weekends). A simple approximation of the populations is achieved by equally weighting both figures. This means that Croydon’s average population more than halves its nighttime population during the day, while Westminster’s triples. I also only looked at bikes being used to regularly travel to work, as these are the ones that are most likely on the streets, and therefore much more vulnerable to theft.
I also use the Police data statistics on cycle theft, for 2018-9, looking across the Metropolitan Police, City of London Police and British Transport Police force data. I only considered bicycle theft rather than vandalism, as the latter is not broken down by object type, and I believe that general bicycle theft is a good proxy for vandalism and theft of dockless bicycles – with vandalism often occurring as a result of attempted theft. Dockless bicycles are probably not numerous enough in London yet (there are maybe around 3000 available) compared with the ~200000+ private bicycles that are used to commute to work daily with many left in public parking facilities, albeit almost always chained to an immoveable object.
I was keen to not map areas of high cycle theft or use – but rather map one compared to the other. Some places see very little cycle use – the low green numbers – e.g. Harrow and Havering. But they still see some cycle theft – the red numbers – and so the average number of thefts per bicycle is therefore high. On the other hand, Westminster, the City and Islington also see high theft rates but these are more than balanced out by very high usage rates. Only in Hackney, does the very high cycle usage rate (84 bikes/1000 people) still suffer from the also very high theft rate (12 bikes/1000 people). In Hackney, you’ll therefore probably suffer a stolen bike every 7 years on average. In Redbridge though, it’s 1 every 4 years – there aren’t very many bikes in the borough at all, but the few that there are often victims of cycle theft.
This is a really rough study – it could be improved by using more recent population/cycle usage data (which is available for residential areas but not work areas), by looking at vandalism as well as cycle theft, and by more carefully modelling the 24-hour population. But it’s good indicator of why Islington, Westminster and the City of London are so popular with operators, despite a high “headline” rate of theft when looking at the raw Police numbers, and why Greenwich, Newham and Kingston have no operators at all, despite plenty of regular cyclists. It is also why boroughs that sit in the middle – Enfield, Croydon, Southwark and Hillingdon – are probably only going to succeed with dock-based approaches, and so likely require council capital funding rather than hoping that dockless operators will be able to run a successful commercial service for making bikes easily available to those that don’t own one or have one handy – which is what bikeshare is.
Mobility is a complex and important topic in geography, planning and technology. My research only touches on a small part of the field, namely automated micromobility services (aka micro-MaaS?) such as bikeshare and escootershare, so it’s always interesting to see a wider viewpoint.
As such, I was interested when an acquaintance at HERE Mobility, an autonomous part of HERE Technologies (a major location platform provider), mentioned a new report they’ve recently published, the State of Mobility 2019. While there’s a myriad of information sources on mobility, which has evolved rapidly the last few years, with increasing urbanisation and big technology players funding driverless car research, a single document is a helpful read to keep track of what’s going on.
I’ve used the report to frame some of my own observations of the mobility space, as it stands, rather than a simple review of the report. So, to see HERE Mobility’s own take, you’ll need to download the report (signup link above).
Mobility + Cities = MaaS, Right Now
The report is clear that Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is the current driver of mobility research. That is, shared assets are the way of the future. When living in a dense city of the future, only the lucky few will have space for a car, an electric bike (and easy access to a workshop to fix it). Moreover, even if you do, parking it at the other end of your journey will be increasingly tough.
As a personal example (not in the report), 22 Bishopsgate in London, a tower under construction in the City of London, will have a daytime population of 12000, but will have 4 disabled car parking spaces, no regular ones, and 1700 bicycle parking spaces. The other 80-90% will arrive by public transport. Great – but the trains and tubes of London don’t have much in the way of spare space for the extra people at this and other developments. So, MaaS will become increasingly important in such an environment. You need a bike or would prefer a private ride to a meeting? A fleet of cabs or electric bikes are at your service. The system is patchy now, with rival operators of both modes not particularly integrating well – but the options are there and will only become more important – and their integration is crucial for a useful system that serves all. This is an obvious point but also one that HERE Mobility’s business is staked on – as it aims to become an honest broker of MaaS services rather as a provider itself.
The report emphasises that while MaaS technology is going to have to get smarter – we are going to have to get better at utilising the newer ways of moving through the urban environment, too. The report points out too three technology components of MaaS – the backend crunching big data to create a smart fleet and smart usage of it, a mobile app so the user can get information on MaaS options and perform transactions, and the asset itself having technology, being aware of what it is, where it is, and what it is capable of doing – a so called Internet of Things (IoT) platform. For example, your electric bike (aka pedelec) needs to have a good idea of its remaining battery range and whether it is inside an allowed operating area.
Design Globally but Think Locally
Another key point as that the US is not Europe (and neither are Asia, I would add) – and so MaaS solutions in one of these regions is not necessarily going to ride in the other. Another personal example would be bikeshare.
In Europe, we had Asian-origin bikeshares arriving in 2017-8 (Ofo, Mobike and oBike to name but three) but European and Asian cities and city cultures are fundamentally different. European cities tend to not have the huge pavements of Asian cities or huge roads of American and Asian cities, but we do tend to have a problem with vandalism and theft at a level that is less seen certainly in much of Asia. So, a one-size-fits-all bikeshare is not going to work here.
Similarly we are currently having a wave of US-origin bikeshares and escootershares (Bird, JUMP and Lime). Again, narrow pavements may struggle with the physical equipment, although at least technologies have improved to secure assets more effectively.
HERE Mobility’s report uses the example of the fundamental difference of European and US transport networks – with US cities typically being more car-designed, with wider, straighter roads, while European cities have often had a bigger focus on public transport, such as bus lanes or subway networks. If MaaS is going to come in and act as a complement to both types of cities, then it has to be adapted accordingly. Regulatory differences in the regions are also a factor – while the US has been keen to lead on autonomous vehicle research but introducing sections of public roads in some cities an states where such vehicles can be trialled, European cities often restrict cars of all sorts from large parts of their city centres.
The report’s most interesting section disseminates a survey of over 20000 people, around 50% in each of the US and Europe. Within Europe, they split out northern Europe (UK/Scandinavia/Netherlands) from the big continental players (France/Germany/Spain).
The differences between US, northern Europe and southern Europe are noticeable. Unsurprisingly the car dominates as the “primary” transportation mode in all three regions. In Europe a significant minority use public transport, and in continental Europe in particularly, micromobility also makes an appearance, indicating that Germany, France and Spain are ahead of the game not only with respect to the US but with their more northern neighbours. The other modes in the survey: car rental, ride hail and rideshare, have very low usages throughout the surveyed regions. The survey also breaks down by age group across each region and mode type, with the only significant difference being the youngest group (18-24) using public transport a lot more than the other groups – and US 18-24 year-olds using rideshare/micromobility noticeably more:
Transport App Consolidation
As mentioned above, HERE Mobility is aiming to be a “neutral” MaaS marketplace and so the final part of the survey focuses on the current situation on many people’s mobile phones – multiple apps needed for utilising all the transportation options in a city, along with measuring the desire for such a consolidation for service discovery and payment:
The final part of the report summarises the survey looks to the future. The authors note that it’s not all about price and that a more expensive but higher quality commute, if suggested by an app, might win out. Users generally also are not going to keep multiple transportation apps on their phones although they may try them out for a limited amount of time. And finally, private car usage is very much expected to continue to decline. The report sites Whim, a Helsinki based system that integrates all MaaS modes, from multiple providers, into a single app, is resulting in some very positive outcomes after only its first year of operation.
Here in London, and again focusing on the bikeshare services here, we are seeing some limited horiztonal and vertical consolidation, but we are a long way from rival services sharing their provision data. In terms of apps showing multiple services:
Uber has its JUMP bike service, and Transport for London (TfL)’s open data public transport information, integrated into its main app.
Google has included the TfL public transport data along with TfL’s (open data) bikeshare (through an ITO data brokerage agreement) and Lime bikeshare, and Uber and a couple of other cab and rideshare servies, into its app, although not Uber’s bikeshare. Apple Maps is similar.
CityMapper has Mobike, Lime and Santander Cycles bikeshares, but not Uber’s JUMP, along with TfL data but no cabs.
TfL’s own journey planner just includes its services.
A number of smaller services (e.g. London’s Beryl Bikes) have started to publish location information in open data formats but these are generally below the radar of multi-option aggregators and so have not yet been adopted.
Transactions (i.e. payment) involve, in almost all cases, the user getting redirected from their planning app to the providers app, with the notable exception of CityMapper and TfL services – but if you are signed up for their “CityMapper Pass”
So, a long way to go in London and – indeed – the rest of the world.
Thanks to HERE Mobility for sending me a copy of the report.
Last week I was at FOSS4G (Free and Open Source Software for Geo) 2019 conference, in Bucharest, Romania. It was the second time I had attended the global conference, the first being back in 2013 in Nottingham. There are also country and region “mini” versions of the conference, including FOSS4G UK which I have also been to a few times. Relatively cheap airfares and hotel costs in Bucharest, along with the conference fee itself being low for early birds, along with the theme focusing on open source geo software that I use heavily (e.g. QGIS and OpenLayers) meant this was an obvious summer conference to go to. As it is the “canonical” conference for the industry, it means that many of the key technologies have core developers attending – and speaking. Hearing insight from the creators – rather than just vendors – is invaluable.
I attended the main conference days on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It was a packed event, with 11 simultaneous streams of talks, starting each day at 9am, and with social events in the evenings too. Two smartphone apps for the conference were a must – Attendify was a good interface work out which sessions to go to when. The app is full of annoying quirks, and ironically lacking on the map front, but does have a bookmarking system which was invaluable. Telegram was the other app, as there was a FOSS4G event group chat which was lively and frequently updated. Around a third of the 1000 attendees were on the group chat. Unfortunately I had to find out about both Attendify and Telegram from other attendees – registration didn’t tell me about these. You would have had much less of a conference experience without these apps.
Day 1 – Wednesday – was the best day for me, as it included core developer talks on GDAL, OpenLayers 6 and QGIS.
The GDAL talk included mentions of ndjson (and so ndgeojson), whichI hadn’t heard of before but is being supported in GDAL 3. It also touched on PROJ 6 and TileDB.
The OpenLayers 6 preview gave a good insight into the main optimisations and improvements being made – faster Vector Tiles, high-volume point-based vector rendering and arbitrary HTML elements as part of the map, to name but three. At the 2013 conference, OpenLayers 3 Beta was released – we’ve come a long way.
The QGIS talk previewed some of the work in progress in 3.10 and the next LTS release. QGIS 2 was launched at the 2013 conference – again, we’ve come a long way.
But the biggest surprise for me was one of the first talks – on bikeshare data visualisation, by Oslandia, detailing their python-based web application showing flows. My own Bike Share Map won Best Web Map back at FOSS4G 2013, and since then the industry has evolved a lot, and my map with it. I wasn’t expecting to see much in the way of bikeshare at FOSS4G, it being very much a technology rather than transport conference, so it was a nice surprise.
Day 2 – Thursday – was not quite so unmissable for me, although this may perhaps have been due to the icebreaker event at Bragadiru Palace, following by a long walk back through central Bucharest in the evening heat – stopping off at Caru’ cu Bere, an intricate neo-gothic pub/restaurant that reminded me of the Cittie of Yorke in London.
Anyway I enjoyed the talk on PGRouting although I would have loved to have learnt about the differences between the main routing algos that have recently been added to it.
The best talk (for me) of the whole conference was on this day and was one that I hadn’t even been planning on attending. It was “Analyzing floating car data with clickhouse db, postgres and R”. It only had a teeny bit of R in it (I’m a python person) and was a great example of crunching a big dataset (all major road vehicle speeds and weather conditions grid data) using a specialised database, and visualising effectively.
Day 3 – Friday – kicked off with “What’s new in PostGIS” was another unmissable talk – PostGIS’s importance in the FOSS4G community being acknowledged by it being a plenary rather than parallel-session talk, and so hosted in the 1000-seat National Theatre auditorium. Unfortunately this meant it was on at 9am, and so I opted to watch this one on the excellent, high-quality live stream being broadcast by CCC, from my hotel room, before checking out and going to the remainder of the conference. CCC’s production quality and coverage is perhaps one of the best things of the entire conference.
QGIS on the Road sounded promising, but was a little too contrived (using QGIS to plan a bee-keeping hobby) and also too long – it was a triple-length session unexpectedly without breaks and was more of a tutorial. I was hoping there would be a demonstration of QGIS on mobile devices.
Finally a talk on GNOSIS style sheets – I certainly think any consideration of good cartography is a good thing, but feel there are already excellent ways (e.g. SLD, or Mapnik/CartoCSS) of standardising cartographic style sheets on the web.
As previously, there were some themes that I would have liked to see more of such as on advanced Mapnik usage. There was also little on Leaflet, which was a surprise. Heavy users of the open source geo-toolstack didn’t have a huge presence – e.g. Mapbox. Indeed, Google and ESRI, two non-open vendors, were more visible. Like back in 2003, there is little if anything on D3. I was also surprised to see little mention of MapShaper or Shapely.
The other thing was that the OSGeo AGM sessions, representatives of the many incubator and other supported projects had around 30 seconds each to introduce their work and progress in the last year. I hadn’t heard of many of these, and ideally, every OSGeo incubator and supported project would have a least one 20 minute talk during the main conference itself, as an audience education. Perhaps something for the future conferences.
So overall another excellent, well organised conference with many good talks and also excellent community networking opportunities. The facilities were good (even if the hotel changed the names of some of the rooms after the programme went to press!) and there was something for everyone in the community. I don’t know if I’ll make it to FOSS4G Calgary in 2020 – I probably should start writing some open geo software first – but hopefully I will make it to another FOSS4G before too long.
Micro-MaaS in Bucharest
A note on Bucharest’s micro-MaaS options – it currently has a third-gen non-electric bikeshare, L’Velo Urban although it covers very little of the city, and requires potential users to go one of two manned booths during working hours to get a pass to operate it. So hardly user-friendly. I saw a grand total of one person using the system during my entire 3 day stay.
The other option is eScooters – Lime and Wolf-E are both present. Lime is surprisingly expensive – the equivalent of 60p to start a journey and then 12p/minute. Nearly as expensive as London, in a city where food, drink, the metro and taxis are far cheaper. Indeed, it’s probably about double the rate of getting an Uber. Despite that, there were loads of people using Lime – I didn’t see anyone using Wolf-E. So, Lime may be on to something – there are plenty of people who are brave enough to scoot on the roads (which are dominated by traffic bombing along a way that London traffic doesn’t) and happy enough to pay for what seems like an expensive option – perhaps because it is the only fast option that doesn’t get held up in the pretty bad traffic the city has (there are not many bus lanes either).
Bucharest itself was a pleasant city to visit. Once I had got used to the traffic, it was quite nice to walk around, particularly in the evening-time when the worst of the heat has passed, and it still felt safe to walk around. It is a city with a recent history, with much graffiti (including on historic buildings), crumbling pavements with mysterious holes, and an oversupply of administrative buildings, a place where the car is king (some pavements are unwalkable due to parking on them) – but also a busy, bustling place full of interesting cafes and bars.
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.
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.
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:
Red + Navy
Green + Yellow
Yellow + Black
Red + White
Optional Electric Assist
Inner, NW, SE
Ride Cost 1×10 min “Dabbler”
£0 (ped.) £1 (elect.)
Ride Cost 2×15 min “Errand”
£1 (ped.) £4 (elect.)
Ride Cost 1×60 min “Tourist”
£2.50* (p.) £6 (elect.)
* 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.
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.
Data from the ONS HPSSA (House Price Statistics for Small Areas) data files, mapped with QGIS and animated with TimeManager.
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, 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:
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”:
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:
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.
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 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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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!)
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:
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you to HERE Technology for inviting me to CES and organising the trip and insight day.