The Cycle Hire network made its first major expansion this morning, grinding its gears into new territory across much of Tower Hamlets. There are also new stations in Camden and White City. Another expansion in south London is expected next year.
The map on Transport for London's website has been updated with all the new docking points. An additional 2,300 bikes have been deployed to serve them, bringing the total across the capital to 8,000.
We took a ride early this morning around Wapping and Shadwell, the streets of which are now festooned with docking stations, and had a trouble-free time. The mobile apps all appear to have been updated with real-time information about the new docking stations, although on the TfL website there is currently a message stating that "a number of stations in East London located east of the Royal London Hospital docking station are being tested... please do not use them".
The expansion is unlikely to make many people change their minds about the scheme's worth (unless a docking station has emerged right outside your house, of course). The Mayor hails it as the crest of his 'cycling revolution' and that it is making bike travel available to the masses; critics say it is a costly bauble used mainly by the wealthier classes.
The truth, as ever, is somewhere in between. The bikes have proved popular — 10 million hires thus far — but the teething technical issues that blighted the system in the early days have never entirely been resolved, and many casual users, this writer included, have found themselves using the bikes less than anticipated due to inconsistent performance. As for the cost, what was initially mooted as a project to be met entirely by private sponsorship has proved anything but: on the Guardian's website Dave Hill breaks the numbers down and finds that the bikes are actually gouging a pretty slice out of the budgets of both TfL and local councils.
Lib Dem Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick has also criticised the scheme, saying that it is being subsidised by London's Tube and bus passengers, and arguing that the system should have been improved and made easier to use before it was expanded.
Still, the bikes, with their informal "Boris" soubriquet, have become part of London's transport fabric. Our recommendations for the near future are to fix the technical glitches once and for all, make it compatible with Oyster, and perhaps rethink the pricing strategy in order to help balance out the costs.