Cycle Hire Use Is Falling

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 54 months ago
Cycle Hire Use Is Falling

cyclehire_051213Fewer of us are using the Cycle Hire, with large ridership drops in October and November when compared with the same months last year.

We made 726,893 journeys in November 2012 and 514,146 in November 2013, and 856,866 journeys in October 2012 and 674,154 in October 2013. This has, obviously, sparked concerns about value for money and whether the scheme is performing as well as it should.

Mayorwatch reminds us that boroughs had to pay up to £2m for the latest extension and that Transport for London doesn't know if the cycle hire will ever break even. Barclays's sponsorship is performance-related, and the bank has already docked £1.5m of its payments. Boriswatch has calculated the public subsidy per cycle hire journey as £1.20, a sum that compares poorly with 17p subsidy per bus journey.

There was a similar spate of stories earlier in the year when figures for May showed a 20% year-on-year fall. It was impossible to compare usage over the summer because of the Olympics effect during 2012, and unfair to compare March 2012 with March 2013 which was bloody freezing. (There were around 9,000 more journeys made in April 2013 than April 2012, and this July actually compares quite favourably with Olympics July, but we did have a lovely summer.) The scheme was also extended eastwards in March 2012, so comparisons before then aren't accurate, and is due to be extended westwards from next week.

So what's causing the drop-off? Price rises at the start of the year won't have helped, and we still hear anecdotes of technical problems and full or empty docking stations. Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor's cycling commissioner, is worried that cycling safety campaigners are scaring people off their bikes. Or has the novelty simply worn off?

Photo by Rob Emes from the Londonist Flickr pool.

Last Updated 05 December 2013


I used one for the first time on Sunday when I found myself at the Oxford St end of Hyde Park with some time to spare. The first machine I used thought it was spitting out my release code receipt, but had actually run out of paper. The second rack I found afterwards worked. Then I discovered that a large number of Hyde Park's paths were No Cycling, so my ride was largely around the outside of it. The bike I had also had a broken bell and gears, but that was probably my fault for not checking it over first.

The worst thing was that the map of nearby docks was far too small-scale for working out where you could actually cycle to. Unless you'd looked up a route in advance or were familiar with the network - in which case I imagine you'd probably have your own bike with you - you just had to cycle around and hope there would be one roughly where you wanted to stop. For instance, at the Hyde Park end of Green Park, the maps didn't even show the other side of Green Park.

And yeah, £2 for about 30 minutes' use was rather excessive. It would've been cheaper for me to get the tube back to Charing Cross.

So all in all I can't really work out who the target audience for the bikes is supposed to be. It's not commuters (they'd own their bike), and it's not for tourists (£2 plus if you're not from the UK you'd have a foreign currency charge on your credit card too!). Who does that leave?

Michael Jennings

They doubled the price and usership went down. Who would have anticipated that?


I stopped because the price doubled. I only need occasional 24 hour access, and the double price to £2 made it not viable

Lydia Andrews

If they hadn't have just billed my card for the next year's service without warning, I would not have used the bikes again after the price hike. They're now far too expensive, given how the bikes handle, how poorly maintained they can be, how completely useless the brakes are, how few free docking spots I can find close to my office, etc. This morning my local stand was "not connected to the network" and the next closest had some issue with my keytag and wouldn't let me take 9/10 of the bikes I tried. I am all for flexible sustainable transport options and think the bikes are a great idea but they need a lot better management!


Or how about the heart breaking amount of cyclists dying! Not to mention the volume of silly, unjustified anger towards bikes. If TFL or the mayor actually made any serious attempts at making it safer to ride in the city, I'm sure the trends would start reversing.


I use these for commuting to work. It's a ten minute journey and easy enough to use, especially if you have a tag. You don't need to worry about your bike getting stolen, and if you go drinking later in the evening you can still grab a bike the next morning despite not riding home. I get to work very early though, so there are always free spots at the dock to park the bike. I've noticed by 8:30 or so it is full and remains full for the rest of the day. If that was when I started work I wouldn't be able to use them.

I've actually been impressed with how well maintained they are. Occasionally one might be a little squeaky or the breaks be set too tight (making riding very difficult!) but usually (and I ride these every weekday) they are good.


One positive thing that might be happening is that people are graduating from bike hire to getting a bike of their own. But yeah, the accidents might also be a turnoff, and the machines don't help. The last time I rented one it was crashing all over the place, and there are all the stupid'd be great if you could just flash your oyster card, but I suppose there would have to be bank information stored for that to work.