HS2 London

HS2: The Colne Valley Western Slopes

Satellite imagery of the Colne Valley Western Slopes worksite in early April 2021, from Sentinel. The tunnel portal is at the top-left (NW corner), just before the M25 motorway. © Sentinel Hub.

High Speed 2 (HS2) will leave London by curving away from the Chiltern Main Line, across the Colne Valley on what will the the UK’s longest railway viaduct. It crosses the Greater London boundary before briefly coming back to ground level and then on into the Chiltern Hills in a long tunnel.

The place between the viaduct and the tunnels is called the Colne Valley Western Slopes. It is here that Align JV, who are building the viaduct in one direction towards London, and the Chiltern tunnels in the other direction towards Birmingham, have created a huge construction site to assist in building both. The site covers several square miles of what were arable fields, and is highly visible from Harefield, a village on the other side of the valley:

The Colne Valley Western Slopes construction site, from Harefield village to the north-east.

The Colne Valley Western Slopes site is very large for several reasons – it houses factories to construct the concrete segments both for the tunnels and the viaduct deck and also the launch podium for the tunnel boring machines (TBMs). It will also be able to comfortably accommodate the chalk spoil coming from the TBMs. Having the production and spoil deposition both on site will substantially cut down on lorryloads bring concrete in and chalk out of the site. A private “junction” has been created on the adjoining M25 motorway, to provide a suitable route for the lorries that do need to arrive.

The upper part of the construction site (focusing on the tunnel itself) viewed from the south-west. The two TBMs (tunnel boring machines) are being reconstructed by the two huge cranes on the left, prior to launching the Chiltern Tunnels boring later this spring. The large factory on the right is the concrete tunnel lining creation plant.

The opportunity is being taken, post construction, to not just restore the arable farmland beforehand, but instead create a large-scale nature habitat – to partially offset HS2’s undeniable impact on the natural environment. HS2 have recently unveiled their detailed plans for the site, which include reconnecting two public paths that have been severed, and plans for new forest to help screen noise and improve biodiversity. A number of set-piece views of the line are also being designed.

Plan for the restored and added path network on the Colne Valley Western Slopes site. Drawing © HS2.
The middle part of the site. A balancing pond, to manage drainage, is being constructed on the right. The concrete “roadway” running through the centre of this picture, with a crane on it is the route of the railway. It will launch the tunnel boring machines to the left, and the viaduct construction girder to the right. The lower part of the site (to the right of the photo) will be mainly used to place the spoil from the tunnels.

A common design style for the tunnel portals, the viaduct, and a new road bridge to accommodate a rerouted road, Tilehouse Lane, that sits in the centre of the site, has been adopted. The design is modern and sophisticated, without distracting from what should return to a natural, rural environment post-build.

HS2’s common design for the three structures in the area – white concrete structures with distinct (~30 degree) angles, forming the tunnel entrance, bridge parapets and viaduct ends and piers. Drawing © HS2.
HS2’s plan for the eventual look of the site (looking from the south-west). The diversion of Old Shire Lane, to pass under the start of the Colne Valley Viaduct, causes the U-shaped path seen at the forefront. Tilehouse Lane’s new alignment results in the new bridge, crossing the line in the distance. The tunnel portal is at th far end. Drawing © HS2.

HS2 London

HS2: The Colne Valley Viaduct

HS2 drawing of the Colne Valley Viaduct crossing the Colne River (slightly realigned here) with a planned foot crossing of the river within the Broadwater Lake Nature Reserve here, which will be added. This will be point 5 on the enumerated satellite image below. @HS2.

In the first post in a mini-series, I looked at how High Speed 2 is impacting West Ruislip and Ickenham. In this second piece, I move slightly west, to look at the Colne Valley Viaduct. At 2.2 miles long, this will be one of the biggest structures on the entire line. The viaduct is what carries the line away from the existing Chiltern Line it has been sitting beside, and outside of London altogther, into the Chiltern Hills. As a symbol of leaving/arriving in the capital, and the scenic nature of the valley it crosses, the Colne Valley Viaduct has the potential to be a “tourist attraction” of the railway – both for the people on it, and also users of the natural park that sits underneath it.

The Colne Valley is a very “wet” valley – it was extensively mined for gravel, and as a result there are numerous lakes. The viaduct crosses a number of these, as well as clipping some natural woodland that has gradually built up. A slight planned route change (moving the curve around 100m north) since the initial plans a few years ago, has resulting in less ancient woodland being destroyed, but the line does still pass close to a number of nature reserves, including through one – Broadwater Lake Nature Reserve – that it has unfortunately closed for many years, and outdoor leisure facilities (two of which are in the process of moving).

Harefield No. 2 Lake, the pylons to be moved, and Hillingdon Outdoor Activity Centre, are visible from the National Cycle Route 6 track. The viaduct will pass right across this picture. Points 13-15 in the satellite image below.

It’s not the only railway viaduct in the valley, here’s the Chiltern Main Line viaduct just to the south – incidentally the electricity pylon here will be going soon as part of a power rerouting for the new viaduct, so this particular view will improve soon:

Older viaduct carrying the Chiltern Main Line across the Colne Valley, seen from National Cycle Route 6 beside the Grand Union Canal.

Piling for the piers of the viaduct begins this month and is set to take a number of years, the work moving from west to east, with haul roads currently being built underneath the viaduct. The concrete structures are being built on site. The haul roads will build out from each end, meeting either side of the Grand Union Canal. This break will mean as short as possible a closure for the canal itself – it will only need to close when the deck building girder is directly above it.

The viaduct beside the A412 North Orbital Road, and Denham Waterski Lake (point 3). A strip of trees, forming part of Battlesford Wood, stood here once. There will be a new path and maintenance road here, formed from the haul road underneath the viaduct, which will connect across a new bridge to Broadwater Nature Reserve, opening up more walking routes across the Colne Valley here.

The large, curving and highly visible nature of the viaduct has meant that it has been possible to justify creating a design for it that is not just a simple set of vertical piers. Instead, sweeping arches will carry the line through the woodlands and across the waterways and lakes.

HS2 illustration of the crossing of Korda Lake (point 8) by the viaduct, viewed from south of point 7. © HS2.
The viaduct will cross Moorhall Road (from where this photo is taken) and Korda Lake, here, directly overhead. A test piling rig is visible in the middle of the lake. Looking towards point 8 from point 9.

The viaduct will have sound barriers but they will mostly be transparent, except for the section facing a new housing development at Denham Film Studios, so that passengers will be able to enjoy the extensive views across the lakes at ~200mph. At this speed, it will take less than a minute to complete cross the valley on the viaduct. As the viaduct is “bookended” by long tunnels at either end, it will be the most obvious visual clue to south-bound passengers that they are about to arrive in London.

Route of the Colne Valley Viaduct, on OpenStreetMap. The Greater London border follows the River Colne here and so crosses the structure.
Satellite photograph of the construction worksites along the Colne Valley Viaduct, in early April 2021. © Sentinel Hub. Number key below.

From west to east, the main crossings and affected waterways and buildings are:

  1. Old Shire Lane, a bridleway that also forms the Hertfordshire/Buckinghamshire border. It is currently closed. It will be diverted in a loop to pass under the start of the viaduct. It is due to reopen in towards the end of 2021. A diversion route is further south, via Wyatt’s Covert.
  2. The A412 North Orbital Road. An unpleasant, fast road, which is made even worse at the moment by high dust levels and HS2 construction trucks.
  3. A narrow strip of woodland beside a lake, and the Denham Waterski clubhouse, which is about to be demolished and has a brand new replacement on the opposite shore.
  4. Battlesford Wood, just north of Denham Film Studios.
  5. The River Colne, which will be rerouted slightly here to flow more perpendicularly between two piers of the viaduct. A bridge will also be built here, to connect Battlesford Wood and a new path under the viaduct to the A412 and Wyatt’s Covert, to a nature reserve and Moorhall Road.
  6. Almost the full length of Long Pond (called Long Lake on some maps).
  7. A narrow nature reserve, Broadwater Lake Nature Reserve, which is unfortunately closed for the duration of HS2 construction but will have improved access links afterwards (see above).
  8. Korda Lake – HS2 goes diagonally right across this fishing lake.
  9. Moorhall Road, which goes between Denham Green and South Harefield.
  10. A corner of Savay Lake.
  11. The Grand Union Canal and towpath. A new pier on to Savay Lake will be built here, opening up a view.
  12. A track just east of the canal, that forms National Cycle Route 6.
  13. Diagonally right across Harefield No. 2 lake.
  14. Under a line of pylons that is getting rerouted further east, as it will be too close to the viaduct structure.
  15. Right over the top of Hillingdon Outdoor Activity Centre, which is also closing and moving to an as yet announced location.
  16. The viaduct finally touches down in fields just before Harvil Road.
Here’s where HS2 crossings National Cycle Route 6, between Harefield No. 2 Lake and the Grand Union Canal. Point 12 in the satellite image.

For the last piece in this mini-series, I focus on the huge worksite for both this viaduct and also the Chiltern Tunnels – the Colne Valley Western Slopes.


High Speed 2 in Hillingdon

There’s a big building project underway at the moment, High Speed 2 (HS2), and it’s taking a big dent out of my local borough, Hillingdon in west London. Hillingdon is where the forthcoming railway line will burst out of its tunnels from central London, before curving away from the Chiltern Mainline it has been running beside, onto a long viaduct across the Colne Valley, and out of the borough into another set of tunnels by the M25 orbital road, passing beneath the Chiltern Hills on its way to Birmingham and beyond.

Related major works currently include rerouting a large power line that would otherwise run across the viaduct, rerouting gas mains and water mains, straightening and rerouting several roads, building new electricity substations, building or enlarging various access roads for the above, building a “haul road” to run underneath the viaduct for constructing it, creating a factory for the concrete parts for the tunnels and viaduct, and building a long electrical supply cable to power the tunnel boring machines. Plus associated patching up of the existing infrastructure such as footpaths, bored out earth storage and the start of post-project landscaping.

It’s surprisingly hard to find out exactly the true extent of what is going on, at the current time. It’s a hugely complex project, and HS2 comms are therefore having to run local engagement activities in many different sections, all at the same time. The Hillingdon version is a bit of a mess, with updates coming as an incoherent set of PDFs and maps of various formats.

To see what’s going on, I took several trips around the area, crossing most of the places where the line will pass. There is no unified map showing the current areas under HS2’s control, so there were some surprises, with the “orange army” and green security fencing appearing in unexpected locations.

My intention is to visit the construction areas fairly regularly over the next few years, and see how they are changing. It’s fairly easy for me to get there and it’s a pleasant enough cycle.

Starting at the point where HS2 emerges from tunnels, opposite West Ruislip station on the Central Line (and beside and just to the north of the Chiltern Mainline). There will be a tunnel portal here but work here is much less advanced than at the tunnel at the other end of the Colne Valley.

The western tunnel portal for the tunnels from Central London, at West Ruislip.

Ruislip golf course is closed, with HS2 taking a bite out of its southern edge (although the rest of it seems intact, so it’s odd the whole thing is closed). So, I took a route on the south side of the Chiltern Mainline insetad. It was rather a pleasant route, meandering through suburbia, woodland and grassy fields, passing a cricket pitch at one point, before suddenly you are at the River Pinn (of Pinner fame) and on the Celandine Route, a waymarked long distance through the borough. HS2 hoarding appears immediately on the other side of the nice bridge here, but the paths have been upgraded by the company contractors, having turned into a quagmire earlier in the winter.

The Celandine Route passes underneath the Chiltern Mainline (and then a future bridge under HS2), beside the River Pinn. HS2 have kindly upgraded the path here after churning it up.

There is a short public footpath, U46, which I took here to get onto Brakespear Road South. This footpath runs directly underneath the HS2 route, so will vanish soon and will only reappear after works are finished, rerouted slightly to the north. For now, the path has HS2 fencing on both sides, accompanied by various dire warnings about a High Court injunction being in force to stop protestor camps (re)appearing in this area.

U46 public footpath, directly underneath HS2, and hemmed in by construction fences. It’s not long for this world.

Crossing underneath the existing bridge for the Chiltern Mainline, I took another right of way (U50) which goes through rather waterlogged fields, before ending up at Harvil Road. This is not a pleasant road to cycle along, as the HS2 construction camps run for almost a mile, and the road itself is narrow and twisty (it is getting straightened and rerouted as part of the HS2 works).

Sheet piling at the beginning of the Harvil Road straightening works.

First you pass the worksite for the straightening work and a major water main rerouting, on the right. Then you pass a huge cutting (at least 20m deep) being dug out, then space for a power plant for powering the line, then the line itself, and finally further up on the left an access road being created for the the viaduct works, and one for the powerline rerouting and substation building.

There is, I think, an old public footpath that will be gone for ever, as it will sit under the line and the power plant. Another one nearby, across Harefield Moor, has been rerouted.

Works at Harefield Moor, with a half-built pylon, the start of the diversion, visible to the left of the current one. There should be a reinstated public bridleway here, soon, giving access to the Colne Valley lakes.

Finally, down to the Colne Valley itself and its forthcoming viaduct, but that’s for the next post…

HS2 in Hillingdon (west) – 1: Future portal for the tunnels to central London. 2: Existing bridge (and future bridge) on the Celandine Route at the River Pinn. 3: Path U46. 4: Harvil Road straightening. 5: Future power substation for HS2. 6: Concrete plant being used by HS2, and power line being diverted through. 7: Huge cutting. 8: Start of the Colne Valley Viaduct. 9: Access road for the viaduct construction. 10: Power line rerouting and new substation. Map © OpenStreetMap contributors.

The Withey Beds

A short visit to a local nature reserve between Moor Park and Watford, just north-west of London, proved an unexpected atmospheric delight, as can be seen from these photos, taken just before sunset in mid-winter, after a number of days of rain. The Withey Beds (named after withys, which are willow stems) is a relatively undisturbed area of wetlands, and so the main field was partially underwater and inaccessible, but the ~300m boardwalk that runs through the south of the site was just below the waterline.

The boardwalk is extremely atmospheric, particularly with the spooky submerged forest all around, and is in good condition so is an easy walk.

There is a curiosity early on the boardwalk – what looks like a simple clump of vegetation, is actually a woven willow feature, created by a local artist, which includes a tunnel – not accessible at all during the waterlogged season, but visible from a short dead-end section of boardwalk, just off the main route.

Fauna included a number of sheep in the main field, staring at me from a slightly raised (and so not submerged) section, a couple of ring necked parakeets that were enjoying unharvested apples from a wild apple tree, and most excitingly of all a Muntjac deer which lurked in the wooded section near the entrance to the reserve, before scampering off.

Access to The Withey Beds is very poor, there is only one entrance, and it is off a busy road (Moor Lane/Tolpits Lane) with no pavement. There is also no car park, although there is a tiny layby on the other side of the road a bit further down, for a couple of cars. The reserve is about a 15 minute walk north-west from Moor Park underground station, through the eponymous private estate and then around 200m on the busy road. Walking from the north, via Croxley station, Croxley Common Moor, the Ebury Way rail trail and Tolpits Lane, is not recommended, due to a long and unpleasant pavement-free section along Tolpits Lane.

It is difficult to see how this could be remedied without considerable expense – a pavement would be the obvious fix (and there is space on the far side of the road) plus an informal crossing near the entrance itself. An eastern entrance, making use of a bridge across the River Colne and an old tunnel underneath the railway, also looks feasible, but would require the blessing of Merchant Taylors School and Prep School, whose sites are on either side of the line.

The Withey Beds. © OpenStreetMap contributors.

There is however something to be said for the current, difficult access. You are very unlikely to bump into anyone else in the reserve, and so you can have all the flora and fauna to yourself.


Welcome to London

Do we get welcomed to Greater London at any of the capital’s boundary point crossings? The City of London has its dragons guarding most entrances, but the larger city area doesn’t really have such obvious symbols. Do we have any welcome signs? Do they welcome to you London or just to the borough you are entering (which may or may not mention London if you look carefully)? In most sections of the border, only the larger roads have signs, and they are almost always just for the borough. Here’s a few examples, using Google Streetview.

Harrow Borough has nice welcome signs on most larger roads, often 100m or so into the border. They do say London, but you have to look really carefully:

Sign on the A4140 in Stanmore.

This sign makes no mention of London at all, it’s at Hamsey Green, as you enter the London Borough of Croydon. It doesn’t specifically welcome you either:

Welcome to Croydon.

Here’s one that mentions London in a readably large font, although the capital is very much not the focus of the welcome:

Sign on the A30 as you enter the London Borough of Hounslow.

Waltham Forest’s are rather nice, if hard to read:

Welcome sign on Ranger’s Road in Epping Forest.

Hillingdon’s are also nice – there is a “London” therefore although it is very small. The Large City award message is in fact referring to Hillingdon Borough itself – it is large enough on its own to be a “Large City” in the awards, even though it is just one of London’s 32 boroughs.

Sign on Eastbury Road, as you enter London. There is continuous suburbia on both sides of the sign here, the border is also marked here in the north of the borough by a narrow footpath that runs along it for several miles.

The one sign you will virtually always see just inside the London border, on roads big and small, is the Transport for London Low Emission Zone sign. I guess it mentions “London” but isn’t exactly a welcome. (Sometimes this sign is quite a way into London – generally, the zone is as close to the border as possible, but allows a “dirty truck” escape route so that vehicles have an opportunity to turn back between the border and the zone start. For example, it will typically be at the first roundabout or other junction encountered:

Low Emission zone just inside the London border at Polsteeple Hill, in Biggin Hill.

Perhaps it’s just the major railway stations and airports that will give you a London welcome? Even then, I am not sure they do…!


Tier Launches eScooter Innovations in London

The Tier Four escooter, unveiled today in London and hopefully coming as part of an escootershare fleet nearby, soon.

Tier, the German micromobility company, launched their “Tier Four” scooter and their “Energy Network” initiative at an event today in London.

Tier is one of around 20 companies vying to run escootershares in parts of the UK as part of the DfT trials, and so are keen to demonstrate the unique aspects of their offering to the market. They already operate a fleet of around 45000 escooters in 70 cities across Europe, which gives them considerable depth of experience.

Tier’s indicator lights, at the end of each handlebar.

The Tier Four escooter contains a number of innovations including user-operated indicator lights, a user-swappable battery, a wireless phone charger, and a foldable helmet contained within a secure box in the scooter, for optional, free use by a user. The helmet includes hairnets for cleanliness between users. The scooter is also designed for safety and comfort with a wide footplate, good lights, dual brakes and 12 inch wheels which both have suspension.

The phone mount/wireless charger, speedometer and (below) the helmet container.

The Energy Network concept involves the operator installing a number of “Powerbox” charging units, containing four batteries, in local stores in a fleet area. Users can swap out their battery at these stores for a fully charged one, using their app to unlock the batteries. The challenge of course is finding a good network of stores willing to host the units and supply the power. If it works, it should cut down on regular operator journeys needed to retrieve scooters and change their batteries.

User swappable battery, mounted in a Tier scooter.

I took a good look at escooter at the launch and gave it a test ride around Potter’s Fields, by Tower Bridge. The scooter comes with a nice digital readout of the speed (topping at 20km/h in the demo area) and the phone mount means a map of exclusion zones and read-out of journey time should be straightfoward. The indicator buttons were a little hard to find but these are likely to be further refined before the Tier Four is rolled out into a publically accessible system.

Some technical notes:

  • 700Wh battery
  • 20km/h max speed (UK allows up to 25km/h)
  • 100kg max load
  • The formal model name is ES-400B

No word on a UK launch yet – talking to staff indicated that, despite the expedited trial process taking place, there are still many steps for local authorities and operators to complete before an operation launches here. But it’s a nice product and undoubtably a positive addition to potential options for urban travel. and I hope to see it in an appropriate UK setting soon.

Published in association with Zag.


Spin Launches UK’s First Dockless Escootershare in Milton Keynes

The UK escootershare trials are gathering speed, with the launch this weekend of Spin in Milton Keynes – the UK’s first one where journeys can end almost anywhere in the operating zone, rather than in a limited number of hubs. Ginger and Lime are to follow soon – making this a three-way competitive trial of escootershare for the first time in the UK. Ginger already have a small escootershare in Middlesbrough, and Lime already operate a (recently reopened) electric bikeshare in Milton Keynes, so Spin very much are the new kids in the UK, although they have operated various other escootershares in the world, including over 1200 currently in Washington DC.

So far Spin have deployed around 100 escooters, across much of Milton Keynes. The town is large, with a unique (in the UK) structure of 1km square communities connected by a grid of fast (typically 60mph) roads, but with an extensive but little used “redway” parallel cycle network that also joins the communities together but on more wiggly routes. Escooters in the trial can use the same facilities that cyclists can. Hopefully this will lead to a better use of this part of the town’s infrastructure – although interestingly the scooters are allowed on the grid roads too. Only the motorways and trunk roads roads (A5 and M1) are explicitly banned for scooters to go on, in the app (although this also therefore blocks some cycle paths that cross these roads). Users also cannot go in the pedestrianised shopping precient in the town centre, and can ride in, but not end, journeys in the city parks:

No word yet on the Ginger and Lime launches although I would imagine they would be pretty soon in order to not allow Spint to get too entrenched. Ginger recently announced over 15000 miles traveled on their escooters in Middlesbrough which is excellent usage levels for their 50-scooter trial there which has been running for just over a month (4o days). Assuming an average journey of 2 miles (generous – 1-1.5 miles is more typical), that suggests getting on for 200 journeys a day, or 4 per scooter per day. Anything over 2 is a good social use of the asset, and if approaching 4, then that is a good economic use of it as well (i.e. potentially viable for a purely commercial operator). This is a rough calculation, of course, and may include retrievals of the scooters by operators where users didn’t leave them in the hubs. However, with Ginger having suffered numerous operational incidents, this must have been a bit of a relief for them and also demonstrate that escootershare in the UK might well be bigger than anyone has realised. It’s going to be an interesting autumn.

London’s Olympic ParkBird15SuspendedHub-based (3 hubs)
MiddlesbroughGinger50Operating, restricted hoursHub-based (3 hubs)
Milton KeynesSpin110OperatingDockless
Currently escootershares in the UK, as of 23 August 2020.

Bike Share

Electric Bikeshare Bicycles coming to Liverpool

It looks like Liverpool’s citybike bikeshare system will shortly be boosted with electric bikes, aka “pedal assist” or pedelecs, supplied by Freebike. Freebike is part of Homeport which was also the system supplier for the existing manual bicycle fleet there. Liverpool is a hilly city so the electric assist will no doubt be very welcome.

The Liverpool citybike system has been around since 2014 and currently has 152 bicycles across 844 docking points in 93 docking stations (another 33 stations were removed a while back after being underused – since then it has continued to expand and contract). Most dock-based systems would have approximately 45% bike/capacity ration, which suggests that Liverpool is around 228 bikes short. There have been vandalism problems in the past, and also natural attrition from regular usage and weather may be to blame. The addition of new bicycles into the fleet will doubtless go some way to plugging the gap. Photos shared by the supplier suggest at least 50 electric bikes are on their way.

There has not yet been announcement from the operator, Liverpool City Council, and so there is no pricing information for the electric bikes, information on whether they will be docked like the existing ones (Freebikes are not normally a dock-based system) or a launch date.

The council recently allocated £100,000 to citybike for “upgrading infrastructure” why may be the fund for the new bicycles themselves or infrastructure relating to them.


eScootershare Trials: August Update

[Updated 11/8: Bird Liverpool demo]

[Updated 12/8: Aylesbury and High Wycombe planned trial]

[Updated 14/8: Zipp approved]

[Updated 19/8: Lime app showing Birmingham as an area of (planned) operation?]

[Updated 26/8: Beryl approved]

It’s been over a month since rental eScooters have been legal on public roads and cycle paths in the UK. Since then, one trial has started and a number have been announced, with a number of eScootershare operators also signaling intent without naming specific cities (by joining the CoMoUK charitable organisation and/or announcing that their vehicles have been approved for use with the trials by the Department of Transport.) Already, a number of differences in the implementations are appearing. To date:

Trials Launched

  • Middlesbrough (Ginger). Part of a wider Tees Valley trial. Painted hubs. Around 50 eScooters in 3 hubs. £2/20 min. Max speed 12mph (DfT allows up to 15.5mph). Over 18s (DfT allows over 16s). Helmets advised but not mandatory. Ginger were quick out of the blocks with a system based on the Joyride platform – a slightly unfortunate name. The fleets appears to be only operational from 9am to 5pm, so not useful for people commuting. Middlesbrough is not a tourist city so one does wonder who therefore is their intended use base? As the first one, there has been a lot of media attention on any “incidents” which have included under-age users in shopping centres and users on the motorway – such locations presumably fixable with more careful geofence specification. The under-age issue is trickier – Ginger doesn’t allow under 18s – so something isn’t working quite right. Perhaps more worryingly, the fleet is already shrinking, with around 25 available. Hopefully the other 25 aren’t already at the bottom of the River Tees. Or maybe they are seeing high maintenance needs.

Trials Announced

  • Hartlepool (Ginger). Part of a Tees Valley trial, however its trial has been delayed indefinitely as Ginger work out the issues raised with the Middlesborough part of the trial. There are also potential political issues, with the local MP not enthusiastic.
  • Darlington (Ginger). Part of a Tees Valley trial. Specific launch not yet announced.
  • Cambridge (Voi). £1+20p/min. Helmets mandatory (not required by DfT rules). Of note, Voi will be rolling out pedelecs at the same time. Cambridge has already had Mobike and ofo bikeshares, both of which have closed.
  • Peterborough (Voi). This has been announced by some media however I think this is confusion over the authority name that covers the Cambridge trial above.
  • Northamption(shire) (Voi). Not yet announced except by a Business Insider article.
  • Milton Keynes (Lime). 250 escooters. Lime already have a fleet of dockless pedelecs in Milton Keynes so have “on the ground” experience of the challenges of managing self-service electric rental vehicles in a UK city.
  • Milton Keynes (Spin). MK is the first multi-operator trial.
  • Milton Keynes (Ginger). (h/t Zag)

Additional Areas Interested

Noteably, almost all these areas have had bikeshare systems that have failed in the past, often due to vandalism.

Operators Approved

All the above (presumably), plus:

Operators with CoMo Membership

All the above, plus:

  • Augment
  • Bird (who until recently had a small private-land-only trial in London’s Olympic Park, and are in talks for the Liverpool tender.
  • Helbiz
  • Hive (part of the Free Now taxi platform)
  • Moo
  • Neuron
  • Tier
  • Wheels
  • Zwings “Already working with 3 councils for either e-bike or e-scooter trials”

Operators Interested

All the above, plus:

  • Knot
  • Ride Gotcha

N.B. Some operators may be planning long-term rental schemes, rather than escootershare systems.

Bike Share Data Graphics

There are .9 Million Shared Bicycles in Beijing

Recently I become part of the editorial team at the Bike-Sharing World Map (this is a new version, not yet launched) which is the world’s only comprehensive map of bikeshare systems, listing the approximately 2000 active systems along with another 1000 that are either in planning or already closed.

The Bike-Sharing World Map was compiled by the late Russell Meddin over the last 12 years and has recorded the gradual evolution of the capabilities of bikesharing systems, with Europe and Asian systems dominating, followed by a huge rise in American systems – but the massive change over the last four years has been the rise of dockless bikeshare systems, powered by smartphone apps, replacing the expensive fixed-docking-station systems, often publically financed and typically one-per-city. Instead, dockless is often entirely privately financed and the major operators run systems across hundreds of cities, often in direct competition with each other.

China invented the dockless concept and made it a “boom” industry by being able to manufacture the bikes very quickly – the timing was also perfect, with Chinese citizens, having previously cycled everywhere and quickly seen their cityscapes convert to the motorcar – perhaps were looking for a return to a simpler, cheaper and perhaps now quicker form of transport. There certainly was an investor boom-and-bust, with many cities being totally overwhelmed in 2017 with dockless bikes. Photos of huge, brightly coloured dockless bicycle graveyards became popular. Almost none of the systems were making money though, and the industry rapidly consolidated – a number went bust or were bought in 2018, the trigger being a snowballing of users requesting deposit refunds.

More recently still, city authorities started to address the problem and many of the larger ones have now introduced operator assessment and the awarding of quotas of bike numbers based on this. This means that, on the assumption that operators obey the quota directives and also maintain the largest fleets they are allowed to, it is possible to calculate the approximate number of dockless bikes in each city and by extension across the world. The operators themselves don’t typically announce their fleet sizes, for commercial reasons, and generally don’t provide public APIs either, so this is typically the most effective way to understand the numbers. The authorities don’t always publish these quotas either, but China’s local press often conducts investigations into and their local journalists are occasionally allowed access into city operations centres where sharing bicycle fleets – amongst other transport assets, are monitored.

This graphic, from a QQ article, shows a screen in such a centre in Chengdu, on which are live statistics for dockless bikeshare – one of my Chinese-speaking colleagues at UCL translated it and this is the source that Bike-Sharing World Map is using for Chengdu:

Chengdu’s transport operations centre, showing their real-time view of the competing dockless bikeshare systems in the city and surrounding area. Photo © Red Star News.

It is possible to mine Mobike’s undocumented API for bike locations, although at the centre of the densest cities, even this exhaustive approach will miss many of the bikes. Here is a map showing a snapshot of 152,300 Mobike bikes available for rent – around 1/3rd of the estimated ~500,000 strong fleet in Shanghai, earlier this month (N.B. quirks with the China datum mean the locations don’t match perfectly with the underlying OpenStreetMap map):

Some of the Mobikes in Shanghai, superimposed on a misaligned OpenStreetMap map. In the central section, the regular grid pattern is an artifact of the technique, revealing that there are many more Mobikes in this region than are shown here.

Beijing’s totals peaked in September 2017 with 2.35 million dockless bikes. In 2018 a quota of 1.91 million bikes was introduced, more recently authorities have reduced this to 900,000. The Chinese “big 3” as of 2020 are all in the capital city – Mobike (morphing into Meituan Bikes having been bought by them), Hellobike (bought by Youon, the biggest operator of docked public systems in China) and Didi’s Qingju brand (Didi is China’s Uber, it bought the assets from Bluegogo when they went bust). There is also a residual ofo presence – the app remains live and there are bikes rentable though it – although they have been largely unmanaged for a while now, the company having been embroiled in a deposit refunds scandal.

Beijing is behind just Chengdu, and possibly Shanghai, in terms of total numbers of bikes.

The industry itself continues to innovate and organise itself, with the increasing pressure from city authorities combining with the need to properly start making money. Hellobike has been one of the most nimble. It has largely avoided the investor bloat and scandals of the others by concentrating on only its home market, China, and also initially concentrating on second-tier Chinese cities, where there is less likely to be competition from Mobike/ofo/Qingju. As it has grown, it is now moving into the biggest cities and taking on all comers.

Recently, Hellobike has started to roll-out dockless hubs, which are enforced by beacons which sweep the designated areas and interact with RFID chips on the bikes. The bikes’s wheel locks will nosily unlock if a user tries to lock and end their journey outside of them. Generally, this beacon approach is much more accurate and immediate than the traditional use of GPS (or the Chinese equivalent) to enforce geofences or understand where the free bikes are for the benefit of app units and redistributors. Other organisations in China are looking at combining the extensive public CCTV camera network in many cities with China’s AI advances and machine object-detection routines, to help authorities detect which bikes are parked where and when, to help with operator scoring for future quotas.

Bike-Sharing World Map currently estimates there are 9.1 million bikeshare bikes in the world, of which at least 8.6 million (over 94%) are in China – and most of these are dockless. We are still compiling and updating the China part of the map – and the actual number could be quite a lot higher (although not as high as in mid-2017 when it was believed there were 16 million dockless bikeshare bicycles in China (10 million ofos, 5 million Mobikes & 1 million Bluegogos). The fleets may have probably halved since then, but the story of bikeshare in the world is far from complete without up-to-date numbers from China.

Terminology note: China generally refers to dockless bikeshare bicycles as “shared bicycles” or “internet bicycles” while the older dock-based systems are generally called “public bicycles” reflecting their publically owned and specified status.