I earlier this week spoke at a Cycling@Tea-Time seminar, on the impact of lockdown on bikeshare, looking at London, the UK, and the world in general. The talk was based on some very preliminary crunching through some CDRC datasets to see how usage has changed, both in volume and time-of-day, for how people are using bikeshare systems.
I also offered some thoughts on bikeshare’s role in a post-lockdown world, where social distancing concerns about public transport may result in a spike in bikeshare usage but also more congestion.
The talk also paid tribute to Russell Meddin, the “godfather” of bikeshare, who sadly passed away last month.
I met up with Russell regularly over the last 10 years to talk bikeshare, and we would typically spend hours over a hot chocolate, catching up on what was happening in the industry, in the USA, the UK and elsewhere. Russell also was the driving force behind many of the changes to Bike Share Map I made over the years. He will be greatly missed.
Amongst many other societal contributions, Russell spent the last 11 years curating the Bike-Sharing World Map, a huge Google Maps site showing the latest news and status of around 2100 active bikeshare systems around the world, along with notes on the 400 proposed and 500 closed systems.
There is no other resource that comprehensively maps bikeshare throughout the world, including my own Bike Share Map that only shows the larger systems with live data. I am sure I am not alone in wanting this resource to live on and continue to be the definitive source of bikeshare’s world “footprint” and would like to explore some ideas about this could happen.
My talk only touched about the impact of lockdown and there is much data that needs to be crunched so I am hoping to spend further time on looking at this shortly.
I was invited by organiser Landor LINKS to speak at the Walking and Cycling Conference which took place in Manchester last month. The conference included a good focus on bikeshare, and it was a good time for the UK-focused bikeshare industry to pause and take stock of a busy 2019. Three UK-focused bikeshare operators – Freebike, Beryl and Nextbike UK – were present, and it was good to chat with the respective teams and find out how the year had gone and their thoughts for the following year.
MicroMAAS and the UK
I presented on “MicroMAAS” data – first defining MicroMAAS as mobility share services that you can pick up (i.e. bikeshare and escootershare) and outlining the different types of bikeshare popularly available:
I then talked about the “why” of open/standardised data in the sector:
and the “where” – Europe is well behind the US here:
I mentioned CDRC’s excellent and huge collection of largely dock-based bikeshare dock data, available through the CDRC Data Service:
The last part of my talk touched on managing such systems, including key players in analytics platforms:
I also outlined and bemoaned and the (little) progress towards fourth generation bikeshare systems where payment is fully integrated into how other transport modes are paid for, rather than being app-siloed. Right now we are in a commercial battle, with providers looking to integrate vertically rather than horizontally – largely due to the weak management of the sector by local authorities here in the UK – who seem happy to take money and less happy to regulate the sector properly and effectively so that MicroMAAS will actually be a net benefit to the wider UK streetscene:
Of the other talks, I was particularly interested in Beryl’s – especially they included some data on their first half-year of operations. UK bikeshare usage data is still rather sparse so it was good to see these numbers in a public presentation. The London operation is very small – they quickly moved out of Enfield after the system was heavily abused and little used there – and the City of London “square mile” only has limited need for journeys within it:
London’s on-street available fleet is typically around 144 (and around 100 currently) rather than the 400 mentioned here. With approx 5 months between launch in July and the early December presentation, this suggests around 30 rides a day or just 0.2 rides/bike/day (as a rule of thumb, for a non-electric system, over 1 is just about OK, over 2 is good and over 3 is really good – for electric you need 2+ due to the extra costs of the bikes and retrieving them to charge). As you can’t really do a point-to-point journey in the City that is longer than a mile and a bit, this would explain the average journey being just over a mile – half that of Bournemouth.
This may improve with their extension to Hackney that is happening now – so far they have moved into Shoreditch and Hoxton in the south of the borough, but in time if they move into parts unserved by Santander Cycles then they become the cheap, manual alternative to Uber’s JUMP here.
However their numbers for Bournemouth and Hereford – the latter helped by a generous public subsidy – are much more positive. Bournemouth launched in mid-June and averages around 300 bikes (although 140 bikes currently) – so 1 t/b/d, and Hereford launched at the end of July, averaging around 160, or 1.3 t/b/d. Bournemouth is suffering from theft though.
I’m also hearing good numbers coming out of Uber’s JUMP system in London – so it is possible for commercially-led bikeshare systems to work here in the UK, it just takes a lot of experimentation, effort and investment.
See also Bikesharp, which is my blog exclusively dedicated to the minutiae of the UK bikeshare market.
This is a draft piece of commentary and I will evolve it in response to any feedback and further analysis I am performing.
A bylaw is being drafted between the 32 London borough councils (and the City of London) to introduce a coordinated approach to managing dockless micromobility sharing, such as bikeshare and (should future national legislation permit it) escootershare, across London.
Currently, each council sets its own policy with regards to dockless cycle operators in their area, making running a pan-London system painful for operators, and resulting in a number of inconsistencies. The matter is further complicated by the parking of a bicycle on a pavement not actually being illegal currently, as long as it is not obstructive, and by “red route” roads in London – the larger roads, which are generally managed by Transport for London and not the councils – and which in some cases have good segregated cycle lanes installed by the transport authority which is more focused on getting people travelling efficiently throughout London, rather than entirely within small borough boundaries – some councils tend not to consider than someone would ever want to leave the borough, as evidenced by mandating max/minimum bike numbers on operators who then watch as their users head, like everyone else, in the direction of the City/Westminster/Canary Wharf, in the morning.
At the same time, there are currently 7 operators in central London (3 free-floating, 2 hub-based and 2 dock-based), a mix of bike types (3 electric systems and 4 manual ones) and yet, while some areas have 5 operators, a third of boroughs have none.
The bylaw will ask each council to outline its policy of where parking of dockless bicycles is allowed, the policy then applied consistently to all operators who want to be in that borough. This potentially could result in huge variations – some, like Islington, may be happy to allow parking whereever, as long as basic sensible parking considerations are taken into account. Some may designate only a small number of hubs, perhaps far away from their local commercial centres and bus/rail stations, where they are out of sight and with little impact, but not useful for the great majority of people. And some may take a balanced approach, like the City of London which has designated (and marked) a number of hubs throughout its area.
My personal view is that one size does not fit all, and in fact there are five distinct categories of publically accessible “realm” in London which all need different approaches to how dockless micromobility should be parked on them.
For outer London boroughs (Z5-6), with low population density, the designation of hubs is I think vital for a bikesharing service to ever be viable. But these should be recommended rather than mandated. There should not be any specified exclusion areas, instead, users should follow “common sense” principles.
For inner London boroughs (Z3-4) where cycling to the centre of London is viable – on a pedelec at least – it is important to allow the operators to position their bikes where they feel they can provide a service that is viable for them. Councils should publish geo-files containing exclusion areas, such as the busiest pavements in their urban centres, while still allowing the parking of free-floating bicycles close enough to them. If an inner borough is very keen on having designated hubs, then they should either exist on an optional basis (like for the outer boroughs) or at the density of the city centre (i.e. with no part of the borough more than a ~400m walk from one). Hubs must be outlined in brightly coloured paint and with a generic caption like “dockless parking”, and ideally with a metal sign to increase visibility. As below, hoops/fences are an alternative.
For the city centres (the area covered by Santander Cycles, roughly Z1-2) free-floating will not work – there just isn’t enough pavement space. A high density of hubs should be made available – these should – as a minimum – include the ends of all the existing Santander Cycles docking stations, as these have a good density throughout the city centres and almost always have space at either end for at least 3 or 4 dockless bicycles – parked at right angles to the Santander Cycles. I regularly see them being used in this way already. Other hubs should either be as rectangles taped/painted on the ground, or designated fences, cycle hoops and other structures to which the bicycles can be secured (using cable locks present in the JUMP system – other operators would need to adapt their bikes to have cable locks).
Royal parks (and other urban parks) should adopt the city centres approach of having mandated docking areas within each park (although not at city centre density) – a suitable number around the perimeter of each park, but also one at all their park car parks. If people can drive into a Royal Park car park, why shouldn’t they also be allowed to start or finish a bicycle journey there?
Canal towpaths (and the Thames path) are generally linear and cramped, and the adjacent water is always a tempting target for vandals, so bicycles should continue to be not be parked on these – although allowed to move along them. Generally, the nearest designated hub will only be a short distance away from the tow path. Similarly for railway stations and markets.
Docking station/hub density
Suburbia, Urban parks
Hubs, ~ max 500m walk.
Dockless. Some hubs in retail/office areas.
City centres, Railway stations
Existing docks (where present) plus “infill” hubs, max ~300m walk.
Canal towpaths/ river walks/ highwalks
Operators should pay a fully refundable deposit for each bike, to the body managing the bylaw, which should be refunded when the bike is withdrawn from operation. This would ensure that operators, to the best of their abilities, retrieve broken bikes and remove them from circulation. If an operation folded, then the deposit can be used by the councils to remove the bikes themselves.
Operators should not be charged by the councils (i.e. should not have to pay for permits to operate), except on a cost-incurred basis.
Operators must publish the live locations of their available bicycles (when they are not in active use or transport), regardless of whether they are in a hub or not, on a timely basis (e.g. updating every minute) as open data. A suggested specification would be GBFS.
Councils must publish the spot locations, names, geographical extents and capacities of their hubs (where designated) and their exclusion zones, as open data. A suggested specification would be GeoJSON. These should be published to a central location, e.g. the GLA Data Store, and kept up to date.
A standard way of reporting mis-parked bikes should be adopted, such as FixMyStreet.
Councils should have the right to fine operators for mis-parked bikes but only if they have been demonstrably not made an effort to retrieve a bike after it is reported to them by the council, that it is a legitimate report, and after a reasonable amount of time (at least 12 hours from the report being passed on), and on a per-issue basis. The level of the fine should be two-tier based on whether the bike is in an obstructive position or just in an excluded area.
Boroughs should fund the cost of marking hubs.
Hubs can be on both streets and pavements – if the former, they should be protected from errant car tyres by using “armadillos” or similar equipment.
If operators want to fund hubs, that’s OK, but there should not be operator-branded hubs.
Finally – London’s bikeshare operators are actually, generally, providing a good service now. We aren’t seeing the huge levels of complaints about poor parking which were seen when the larger Mobike, ofo and oBike operations were running. JUMP are reporting great usage rates, and the smaller hub-based operators (Freebike and Beryl) have tightly managed fleets. Even Mobike’s much reduced fleet seems to be operating in a less intrusive way, and although data on Lime is difficult to get, it too appears to be operating effectively, in terms of rides vs complaints.
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.