Avoid this bike hire rip-off

27 July 2010


There’s nothing quite like racing through the open air (and air pollution of a city) and burning off your breakfast by the time you reach the office. So to encourage Londoners to cycle more, London Mayor Boris Johnson is launching his much feted cycle hire scheme at the end of July.

London lags far behind continental cities when it comes to cycling. Paris, Toulouse and Lyon in France as well as Copenhagen in Denmark already run successful cycle hire schemes, and there are more bikes than cars in Amsterdam. 

Even British cities have adopted cycle hire schemes, with Blackpool starting their own and Cardiff and Reading offering the OYbike rental scheme.

But not for much longer will London be the slow cousin of its neighbouring cities. After finding a much-needed advertiser in Barclays bank, the cycle hire scheme looks set to revolutionise the way Londoners travel around the city from the 30th July. Or will it?

At first glance, Transport for London’s (TfL) website shows prospective cyclists have to pay both an access fee (liken it to a membership fee at the gym) and a usage charge - every time you use a bike. 

Mercifully, TfL points out the first 30 minutes are free, similar to other city schemes. “Casual use” of the bikes isn’t available until the scheme launches, so subscription is mandatory at the moment - although TfL say that the cost will still be the same. 

Let’s break down the access fee for being a member: you pay £1 for 24 hours usage, £5 for 7 days and £45 for an annual membership. 

Then there’s usage charge, which you pay on top of the access fee. For the first 30 minutes, it’s free; for an hour, £1; up to one and a half hours, £4; and up it goes to £50 for 24 hours. It’s not especially cheap.

Then there are the “other charges”: the membership key, which you have to buy if you're a member to “release the cycles easily and quickly” for £3.

Then late return charges are even steeper: £150 if you return the bike after the access period has expired, or £300 if you don’t return the bike at all. 

It works by taking your credit or debit card details online, or when you first hire the bike. So if you don’t return the bike in time, your card will be charged the penalty fee. That’s quite a price to pay for a bike that (again, going by continental standards) is purpose built with a heavy frame that undoubtedly doesn’t cost much to mass-produce.

The bikes are a clever idea in theory. Get an annual membership and only make journeys under half an hour, and you’ve got yourself a year’s worth of travel for under 50 smackers. But, pay the £1 access fee daily and lose it, return it late or use for hours each day, and it won’t look that easy on the purse strings.

It works in the same way that budget airlines make their money. Play the game well, and you can really benefit. After all, a good second-hand bike will probably put you back somewhere in the region of £100 – which with the cycle hire scheme, works out at a month and a half of cycling for an hour a day. 

Chances are it’ll be very successful, as it has been in other European cities. Just remember it’s all about the long-term investment, and working out how much you will use the scheme.

Myself, I’m going to stick to my battered Raleigh bike and use the cycle hire scheme only when the last train has stopped running. 



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