A man from Shoreditch became the first person to be arrested for abusing one of ‘Boris’s Bikes’ as the new bicycle hire scheme was launched across the capital.
The 23-year-old man was seen kicking the bikes at the docking station in New Inn Yard, Shoreditch at around 2.30am on Friday morning, hours before the £140m scheme, the brainchild of London Mayor Boris Johnson, was officially launched.
The man was held on suspicion of criminal damage. Witnesses said he lashed out at one of the bright blue and grey machines. But rather than delivering a verdict on the scheme before it was even properly tested, he told bystanders he was simply angry after losing his mobile phone.
The New Inn Yard docking station is one of 12 in Hackney, out of 315 across the capital, providing a total of around 5,000 bikes for hire by the hour. Elsewhere in the East London Lines areas, there are 10 docking stations in Tower Hamlets, but none yet in Lewisham or Croydon. The majority of docking stations are clustered within central London and near landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament.
Users of the East London Line itself can get off at Hoxton, Shoreditch High Street or Whitechapel and continue their journey by bike, as this Tweeter did: petenew: @davethehowarth: “I’ve just finished my first ride. Whitechapel High street to City Uni. Knackered but 3 people asked me about the bike.”
Others in Hackney have also welcomed the scheme, which is sponsored by Barclays. On Twitter:, jmollring said: “Rode my 1st @BarclaysCycle hire bike this morning. Fun stuff. Nice staff at Shoreditch High St. Bike easy to ride. I like it.”
And UCL student Alastair Brown, 20, enjoyed taking a trip East on the hire bikes: “I would never have felt safe navigating Old Street roundabout on my own bike, but these bikes feel safe, really strong.”
Former mayor Ken Livingstone highlighted the problem of a lack of docking stations outside central London: “There remains a concern that while millions has been spent on a central London scheme at the same time Boris Johnson cut cycle funding in many outer London boroughs.”
Yet there is hope on the horizon for East Londoners. With the London Olympics drawing increasingly near, the scheme is designed to spread eastwards to accommodate demand from the surge of visitors expected in 2012.
Speaking at the launch, Johnson said: “We hope to expand the scheme, particularly going east towards the Olympic Park, so that by 2012, people will be able to use the hire bikes to get to the Olympics”.
The bikes themselves have had mixed reviews. Criticisms include the fact they are too slow, too heavy, and they don’t have a lock, a helmet, or a basket.
Also there are reports that some of the bikes have had their brakes overtightened, so that the back wheel hardly goes round, making for very difficult pedalling. This is a problem as once you hire out one bike you must wait five minutes before you are able to hire another one. Users have been advised to check the back wheel spins correctly before putting a key in to take the bike out.
Cycling in London has increased in popularity in recent years amidst frustration with an over-crowded public transport system and traffic-logged roads, despite the introduction of the congestion charge in 2003.
Roughly 500,000 cycle journeys are made in London every day and officials hope the scheme will add around 40,000 extra journeys to this figure.
Johnson said: “In 1904, 20% of journeys were made by bicycle and in London. I want to see that kind of figure again. If you can’t turn the clock back to 1904 ladies and gentlemen, what is the point of being a Conservative?”
To use the scheme at this stage, people must pre-register but in four weeks’ time, users will simply be able to turn up at a docking station and pay with a credit card.
Membership for the bikes costs £1 for 24 hours, £5 for a week or £45 for a year. The first 30 minutes on the bikes are free with charges increasing incrementally after that.
Johnson, who frequently cycles to work at City Hall, was enthusiastic: “I believe this cycling revolution will tackle all sorts of problems in society: pollution, it will help to get us fitter, it will help to tackle the scourge of obesity. I think it will be a wonderful way of getting people out of their cars.”
Find your local docking station and more information about the scheme here: https://web.barclayscyclehire.tfl.gov.uk/maps