“It’s a proper transport mode, it’s not a gimmick anymore.”—Industry Insiders #4
Interview with Head of Transport at Santander Cycles: How the red bike system has grown to convince Londoners that bike-share is here to stay
We spoke to David Eddington, Head of Transport for London’s Santander Cycles, also known as Cycle Hire, which launched at the end of July 2010:
“From a concept that was only heard of in Paris, with their teething problems, it’s been great to see the way it’s been taken up by Londoners and tourists. It’s a concept that people weren’t 100% convinced about—a lot of doubters at the start. It’s been fantastic watching it grow from the very beginning.”
Are there any upcoming developments for Santander Cycles?
We just launched e-bikes, fully integrating 500 e-bikes into the dock scheme. It’s a long, long path to convince people that it’s the right thing to do, but we’ve seen e-bikes take off elsewhere in Europe and across the states. It’s a major achievement for us. They’ve been out there since October, and people are very pleased with them.
There are almost five times the number of riders on e-bikes compared to mechanical bikes, and that’s due to different factors. We needed a bike that was compatible with the current system, so they had to be docked. It’s about making the investment decision—we are funded by taxpayers so we needed to make sure that we have a business case that stacks up, to convince people that it would work. We are looking to expand it at some point.
Because the usage of the electric bikes is so much higher, are they breaking down more than the mechanical bikes? Have you encountered any operational problems in terms of electrifying current docks to charge the electric bikes?
No, the new electric bikes have proven to be extremely reliable in their usage so far. As yet, we have not integrated charging to the current docking stations.
How do you decide where to put a new station—and how often do you increase station capacity?
We know how much people in communities across the capital value having access to Santander Cycles and we are always ready to talk to boroughs about the possibility of expanding the scheme. Boroughs cover the capital cost of installing new docking stations and any future expansion would be dependent on funding from boroughs.
What’s the general attitude in London towards Santander Cycles?
I think the attitude is extremely positive, particularly in light of where we are with free-floating bikes: parking is the issue.
Santander Cycles is a fully docked scheme, we do a lot of surveys and people like the scheme, the primary reasons being that it’s ordered, measured, and reliable, and doesn’t cause clutter on the pavement.
What are the safety aspects and regulations in place to support this mode of transport?
All our bikes comply with the relevant law. Everything is manufactured to British standards and is certified as safe to ride: full lighting, normal braking, reflectors.These are robust, strong bikes, not racing bikes, not Tour de France bikes. Rigorous maintenance regime, every bike will have an annual service inspection. If users aren’t happy with the bike then they can lock it in and get it inspected—it can’t be rehired until it’s inspected. And all stations are broadly 300 metres apart regardless of their location to ease the ability to always find a bike or space.
How are Santander Cycles helping to combat concerns for the environment and sustainability?
It gives people an alternative mode of transport, some customers are substituting the car for the bike. It’s a great scheme, it’s green, you’re using your own energy instead of petrol or diesel. It’s a very viable public transport offering. Cycling is obviously environmentally sound and good for people’s health and well-being, great for the environment and great for people.
I’m proud to be part of that for so long now.
"It’s a proper transport mode, it’s not a gimmick anymore."
What is the contribution of Santander Cycles towards London/TfL’s economy?
It’s a balance. From mayors’ perspectives, we want to get people out of cars, and we provide an option for that. It helps the economy, gets people to move around quite easily. (A report from TfL shows that the NHS would save £1.7 billion across 25 years if all Londoners walked or cycled for 20 minutes a day)
Cycle Hire benefits businesses too: anecdotally, locations and shops and new building places ask for Cycle Hire to be built near them. It of course brings revenue to TfL.
Do you think free-floating operators act as competitors to Santander Cycles?
I guess they are competing. No statistics to prove factually, but most likely. We haven’t seen a hit in our numbers, we just recorded our best ever year. For the moment, we don’t see them as a—dare I say—threat. We’re in different areas, it’s yet to be seen to see if we’re in the same market.
"I’m not sure of the demographics between people who take bikes versus scooters, but anything that takes people out of cars is worth it."
What will be the key to growing bike share in the future? More stations/ more subsidies, more parking docks / more cycle lanes etc?
Expansion of the Santander Cycles scheme would need a financial contribution from boroughs and we are always happy to talk to boroughs about bringing the scheme to more people. We are also looking to increase the number of e bikes in the scheme based on their current usage.
We’re determined to make sure that everyone in London has access to the capital’s network of high-quality cycleways, which are suitable for everyone who wants to travel by bike. That’s why we’ve worked closely with boroughs across London to deliver record growth in the capital’s cycling network.
"We are making great progress towards ensuring that even more neighbourhoods are connected to the capital’s high-quality network of routes."
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