26 May 2016 | 10 °C

03 December 2010 | By: Dean Nicholas

Cycle Hire: Casual Use Launches Today

Cycle Hire: Casual Use Launches Today

Update: As one of our commenters alluded to, a "system error" this morning affected a number of docking stations, where neither registered nor casual users able to rent the bikes (although users with annual or a pre-existing access period were apparently okay).  Around 100 of the 352 stations were affected, and Serco, who administer the scheme, have sent out engineers to fix the problem.

A teething problem, perhaps, but one that looks particularly bad coming on the day the bikes were extended to non-registered members, and it still doesn't explain why the call centre employee we spoke to (and his superior) had no idea what was going on.

Original post: TfL couldn't have picked a chillier morning to roll out the Cycle Hire scheme to non-members. Unfortunately, anybody who'd planned to rent one out using a credit card may have been left disappointed, if our experience was anything to go by.

Rolling on up to a docking station in Whitechapel shortly after the 10am launch time, we pressed the new 'Hire a cycle' button on the touchscreen, and after glancing through the two-page 'Privacy Notice' put in a credit card (specifically a Barclaycard, just to be on the safe side) as instructed so that the system could check we hadn't already hired a bike out.

After a few seconds, an 'Information for Casual Users' notice appeared, then a question about the usage period required (24 hours for a quid, one week for a fiver, same as membership prices), and finally, a question about how many bikes: it seems you can rent up to four bikes per card, which is handy for families or small groups who may wish to cycle together. Finally,  upon confirming the process, we put the credit card in again and entered the PIN number. After a wait of about three minutes, during which "Processing request" appeared on the screen, the following message appeared: "Sorry, your request cannot be processed". No reason why, only the standard Cycle Hire helpline number.

Gallery: Our experience of using the scheme.

We tried again, on a different docking station, using a different credit card. This time the system threw up the same error messaage the first time the card was entered. A phone call to the call centre wasn't much help: the operator first told us that both cards had already been registered under the membership scheme (untrue), then suggested that it might be because the system couldn't handle two credit cards from the same address, before backtracking on that point. At this stage we gave up, frostbitten of  finger and bereft of bike.

We'll try again over the weekend, but this was a pretty dispiriting experience overall, and judging by the complexity and number of informational screens that have to be navigated before a bike is (presumably) released, it seems needlessly more complex than the simple key system that members use. Has anybody else had more luck?

Dean Nicholas

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I'd like to hear the rationale behind the move not to allow registered users to hire a bike using the same credit/debit card that they used to sign up as a member.

I wish I hadn't bothered registering as I'd prefer to pay by card each time (that membership key's not convenient to carry for an occasional, ad-hoc user).

If only they'd linked to the hire scheme to the Oyster card we'd not have any of these problems.


what's happened to the look of Londonist - there is far too little screen space being taken up by pictures and far too much text - its no where near so easy on the eye!


The system crashed and each station had to be restarted manually - 68 docking stations still not working, according to the BBC's Tom Edwards.


Failed on Monday as well .. .According to TfL "system upgrade" ... BS! ... More likely a system upgrade failure .. why can't they just tell us the truth .. do they think we can't handle the truth?!


Yep, I just excitedly went to hire a bike for the first time (I'm from out of town) and had a nightmare situation that required a long call to the call centre and cold fingers... after about 15 minutes I finally was on my bike...

and I rode a few miles and parked up, and then when I came to pick up another bike again I had no luck at all - and the call centre HUNG UP on me!

My fingers were far too bloody cold and so I very disappointedly gave up and trekked a mile and a half to the tube station, only to find my oyster card needed topping up!

So nice one TFL, you have rinsed me of a few quid... I know it's probably not fair to whinge on day 1 of the system launching but bloody hell this isn't rocket science - and the folk at the call centre could not seem more clueless or careless if they tried.


What I don't quite understand is, how do the bikes get unlocked? Does the machine dispense a temporary tag? Does it automatically unlock the closest dock? And if more than one cycle is taken out, do they all have to be returned to the same one? What if there are only three bikes at the station, I ask for three, and someone (a member, say) comes along and undocks one before I can do it? (I can see this breaking the system quite easily!)

I paid £3 for my tag and don't quite understand why the non-member prices are the same, either. What did I pay for, the right to carry a piece of Barclays-branded plastic around all the time?