Taking some Boris bikes on a continental holiday.
August 21, 2011 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Taking the Boris Bikes to Paris. One of London mayor Boris Johnson's initiatives has been the installation of a bike hire service across the capital controversially sponsored by a well known bank. Stretching the hire terms and conditions to their limit, local bloggers Ian and Tom decide to take them across the channel briefly to meet their continental cousins at the Parisian Vélib.
posted by feelinglistless (41 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I had heard that there is a place in France where the ladies wear no pants.

Was surprised these chaps did not think of it.
posted by everichon at 1:57 PM on August 21, 2011


Ah, Vélibs. They totally transformed my second year in Paris. I saw a lot more beautiful architecture (and squalor) when I biked everywhere instead of taking the subway. Also, I was a lot more muscular and fit back then.
posted by LMGM at 2:06 PM on August 21, 2011


Nice idea: I think they could have reduced the number of landmarks they hit and allowed themselves a long lunch, though.
posted by Segundus at 2:09 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really hope the bikeshare operators in the US do the obvious thing and let Boston Hubway keys work in the Capital Bikeshare scheme, and vice versa.
posted by ocschwar at 2:16 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stretching the hire terms and conditions to their limit

What? I just read the terms and conditions page, and there is no mention anywhere on them about a physical boundary outside of which the bicycles cannot be taken. They are hired by unit of time, not unit of distance. I suppose you could hire one, fly it on a plane to the US, use it there, and as long as you return it to a London hiring stand before the time is up, you'd be fine.
posted by hippybear at 2:18 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bike rental costs 50 pounds a day. This can't be that far from the cost of car rental. Certainly (bike rental cost)/(car rental cost) is much greater than (bike purchase cost)/(car purchase cost).

This seems a bit strange to me. But I'm sure it makes sense somehow. What bit of economics am I not thinking of?
posted by madcaptenor at 2:19 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Apparently Bixi Toronto has a few of the bikes in worldwide livery, so you can pretend you're on a Boris bike when you hurtle down St George. Let's hope they don't have our dismally low gearing.
posted by scruss at 2:20 PM on August 21, 2011


From the terms and conditions, you're not allowed to "load the [...] Cycle with a total weight of more than 115 kilograms".

Does this mean that if you weigh more than 115 kg you're legally not allowed to rent one of these things?
posted by madcaptenor at 2:23 PM on August 21, 2011


What bit of economics am I not thinking of?

Cost of parking / storage / maintenance / etc on owning either a bike or a car and living in London?

And yes, rental cost is ALWAYS greater than purchase cost. That's how renting works. Ever rented a carpet cleaner? WAY more per hour of usage than buying one... Ditto anything else that is for rent, even housing. (Eventually you pay off a mortgage.)
posted by hippybear at 2:25 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been meaning to work Boris Bikes into a post of my own - nice work, feelinglistless. Each bike in the system records when and where it is checked and in out: their recorded aggregate use can yeild some remarkable patterns, especially during tube strikes. You can even get real-time visualizations of the use of hire bikes use in London, along with dozens of other cities.

Open bike share/hire systems are something that make me positive about the future of the human species.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 2:27 PM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Does this mean that if you weigh more than 115 kg you're legally not allowed to rent one of these things?

I think it means you can rent it, but you can't legally ride it.
posted by hippybear at 2:28 PM on August 21, 2011


I'm not complaining that renting costs more than buying. I understand that.

What I'm wondering about is why I can buy a bike for the cost of renting it for, say, a week, while to buy a car costs the same as renting it for, say, a year. The fact that one of these time periods is much longer than the other would seem to indicate that there's some big difference between the economics of bike rental and car rental and I can't put my finger on what it is.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:31 PM on August 21, 2011


madcaptenor: It's very simple - the high daily prices are to encourage people to return the bikes to the stations at the end of every journey rather than locking them to a lamppost or whatever and monopolising them for an entire day, such that others can't use them. In other words, they want to maximise the amount of time they're ridden. That's why it's 'free' (if you're a member) to ride them for 30 minutes.
posted by adrianhon at 2:38 PM on August 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


hippybear: I meant in terms of time limit. You're allowed to have the bike for twenty-four hours and they took it to sixteen. If they're missed the train ...
posted by feelinglistless at 2:42 PM on August 21, 2011


I think it comes down to the fact that 'Grad Theft Bicycle' isn't a special class on the books, and that there are all kinds of heavy legal and security issues with stealing a car that simply aren't there for bikes. The risk of theft or casual destruction is thus much higher for bikes than cars.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:42 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, what I think you're missing out on is the concept that this particular bike rental is geared toward the short-term usage. That is, you're only keeping a bike out for personal use for an hour or less. In which case, you're paying £2 or less for your usage. You ride the bike someplace, put it back into the system, then you get a separate bike for your return trip once you're done shopping / seeing a movie / visiting your friend, etc.

The increased costs which amount up to £50/day are because you're keeping that bike held in your property for your exclusive use during that time, instead of releasing it back "into the wild" during the time you're not using it because you're at the location you used it to get to.

In fact, rides under 30 min are free aside from the £1 access fee. If you are an annual member, you pay a yearly fee of £45, and then usage fees above that, and if you're only using the bikes for trips of an hour or less, the usage fees would be £1 or free each way.

If it's truly important to you that you ALWAYS have a bike under your control, that it is NEVER released for someone else to use, and you'll be in London for a long long time, of course you'd buy your own bicycle. Paying £45/year plus £50/day is just stupid in that case.
posted by hippybear at 2:42 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Or, what adrianhon said.
posted by hippybear at 2:44 PM on August 21, 2011


It's always what adrianhon said.
posted by feelinglistless at 2:48 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are also ways to rent bikes that are much cheaper if you rent for a relatively long term, for instance, in Ottawa, where the Barclay's equivalent goes for $5/day, first 30 minutes of each ride free.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:52 PM on August 21, 2011


Not much to contribute, but I'd say that my experience with these rentals has been excellent in Montreal and that the iPhone apps that help track available bikes and open depots are excellent. I was able to rent a bike in one part of downtown, ride to the other section, and pause a moment to determine which of two or three stations in the area would have a spot for me to drop the bike back off. I probably went to a lot more places at different times than I otherwise would have.
posted by mikeh at 2:57 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think there is something to the question of "why are bike rentals so expensive". Sure, the bikeshare programs have punitive fees for keeping them out too long, and that's by design. But even ordinary bike rental shops charge $25-35 a day for $500 bicycles, when car rental shops charge $40 a day for $10,000 vehicles.

I guess it's some combination of economy of scale, more competition, or something I haven't thought of. There seem to be a few places that do weekly and monthly rentals, but at a very wide range of prices-- some very reasonable, some not. Maybe we'll see more competitive pricing as bikeshare gains in popularity.
posted by alexei at 3:39 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, the difference still exists if you compare bikesharing to carsharing (Zipcar, etc.)
posted by madcaptenor at 3:47 PM on August 21, 2011


Just to point out that the Boris Bike was part of a bunch of ideas that his predecessor, Red Ken, parcelled together when he was mayor. I expect this will be widely mooted when the two men lock horns early next year...
posted by Devonian at 3:55 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I went to try out the new Hubway system in Boston the other day. Their rates are pretty reasonable ($5 for the day if you haven't paid an annual fee, plus some extra if you take a longer trip), and I was up for some exercise.

First off, after swiping my card and selecting a few things, then entering both my phone number and zip code in, I was asked to agree to a 200 page terms of use agreement on a 4"x4" touch screen. Even if you don't read the thing, the whole process takes an annoyingly long time. Then it tried to put a $100 hold on my account. Well, many of us can't afford to have $100 tied up for 3-4 days, so I took the T for less than $2, even if it did break down. So I guess I'm too poor to rent a bike, which feels a little odd, as I own two that are both much nicer than the rental ones.

I don't think the system is bad per se, but I'm a bit offended that the city focused so much time and energy on a bicycle program that a lot of its residents can't afford to use, and which mostly benefits commuters from out of town and tourists--most residents who want to ride already have one. The mayor here talks a big game about promoting cycling and this program has been a centerpiece of that for a long time, and while there has been some real action in getting lanes put in, the bike share program is completely underwhelming.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 3:59 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just to point out that the Boris Bike was part of a bunch of ideas that his predecessor, Red Ken, parcelled together when he was mayor.

Yeah, I was going to mention that. Ken got the ball rolling but because the scheme launched in Boris tenure, and Boris' name starts with a B everyone now calls them Boris Bikes. Although, to be fair, Boris is a keen cyclist so its a natural fit.

But I'm trying to popularise the phrase 'Kengestion Charge' to balance things out.
posted by memebake at 4:12 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, San Francisco, which one would expect to be a natural fit for a bikesharing program (minus some of the hills...), has been trying for years to get anything up and running. The current plan involves a half-assed pilot program that might launch sometime next year if we're lucky.
posted by zachlipton at 4:42 PM on August 21, 2011


I've stopped keeping track of the per-mile cost of consumables and repairs to my high end road bike, but I'm not sure it's that much cheaper than driving. From a hundred plus bucks in tires every thousand miles, and chains, sprockets and pads at a slightly longer interval, to the cost of calories to fuel it, we're at tens of cents per mile. I'm not sure if it's the $.50-60 that a car costs, but it's got to be more than $.25.

When you consider that an abused rental bike would be lucky to make it to 5,000 miles, where the rental car will still have a lot of residual value at 50,000, maybe the reality is that biking really isn't all that much cheaper than driving.
posted by straw at 4:48 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


San Francisco is 47 square miles... not even quite. Barely 7 miles by 7 miles. I've walked diagonally across it at 3am tripping on 4 hits of quality Owsley. It doesn't need a bike rental program. It needs a public education program about how tiny it truly is.
posted by hippybear at 4:51 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]



First off, after swiping my card and selecting a few things, then entering both my phone number and zip code in, I was asked to agree to a 200 page terms of use agreement on a 4"x4" touch screen. Even if you don't read the thing, the whole process takes an annoyingly long time. Then it tried to put a $100 hold on my account. Well, many of us can't afford to have $100 tied up for 3-4 days, so I took the T for less than $2, even if it did break down. So I guess I'm too poor to rent a bike, which feels a little odd, as I own two that are both much nicer than the rental ones.


I decided to be an early adopter for once and got myself a Hubway key for $60. ($85 now that the promo's done.)

It's a completely different world. Pick a bike. Put a key in the dock. It pops out. Check that there are empty docks at your destination. Go. Pop it in. Done.
posted by ocschwar at 4:54 PM on August 21, 2011


These Boris Bikes, as their brethren in Melbourne, Ottawa, Mineapolis, Washington, D.C, Toronto and Boston are made here in Montreal. It's one of the few projects made here that actually turned out to be a success. Although the company did need a big loan from the city of Montreal to keep alive.
posted by maremare at 5:24 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


We have this in Dublin and it is awesome. I do not want to own a bike I will rarely use. I do, however, want to take a train from my home in Cork to Dublin, get off at the main station, bike from the adjoining cycle rack immediately outside to my solicitor's office, return the bike to the stand a block from his office, walk to dinner, walk to my hotel, and take a taxi back to the station after a leisurely breakfast next morning.

All of that - the train, the dinner, the hotel - would be a right pain in the arse with a bike of my own. Oh I know that it's no big deal to all you bike people, but I am not a bike person and have zero interest in being one. This is a very simple scheme that works very well to increase bike use as a mode of public transport. In the same way I do not want to own a tram, I am very happy to use one when available, cheap and convenient.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:27 PM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've stopped keeping track of the per-mile cost of consumables and repairs to my high end road bike, but I'm not sure it's that much cheaper than driving. From a hundred plus bucks in tires every thousand miles, and chains, sprockets and pads at a slightly longer interval, to the cost of calories to fuel it, we're at tens of cents per mile. I'm not sure if it's the $.50-60 that a car costs, but it's got to be more than $.25.

I see a few problems with this analogy, not least whether per mile cost is appropriate. My bicycle is used for a 10km round trip commute every day. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that I pay a lot more for fuel than Americans do, my car has registration and insurance costs that need to be amortised on a daily basis, not a mileage basis. Likewise, my considerable potential parking charges are a daily cost, not a mileage one.

I don't know what you're eating for energy. I can get all the extra energy I need for a normal day's 10km bike ride from less than 1 cup of cooked white rice.

If you were riding your 1000s of miles for all the same trips where other people were using a car, and for the same reasons, I'd see the mileage-based comparison as valid. Don't think it really holds if we analyse things in terms of cost for a daily commute or for short city hops.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:36 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


In Australia we have municipal bike hire schemes in Brisbane and Melbourne. Neither are proving very successful. The obvious reason behind their lack of use is the mandatory bicycle helmet law in Australia. Not many tourists or residents walk around with a bicycle helmet.

Unfortunately, the mandatory helmet law still appears to have majority support. There appears to be a weird authoritarian streak in the Australian psyche. Until this law is repealed (not likely in the immediate future) I doubt we will be able to have successful bike share schemes in Australia.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 8:55 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Brisbane ones are starting to come with helmets (it's an honour system; you're supposed to leave the helmet with the bike when you return it. I believe they started with 400 helmets. Dunno how many are left, but I saw one this morning). Or you can hire a helmet at one of several bike shops conveniently not marked on any of the CityCycle maps.

A few months ago I was chatting to a council guy who's job it was to look after the bikes. He mentioned that the bulk of his day is taken up with picking up bikes from the Gardens, Eagle St, QUT, etc. at the bottom of the hill and re-distributing them back up to Roma St, Turbot St, Gregory Tce, etc. at the top of the hill.
posted by Pinback at 10:55 PM on August 21, 2011


I've stopped keeping track of the per-mile cost of consumables and repairs to my high end road bike, but I'm not sure it's that much cheaper than driving. From a hundred plus bucks in tires every thousand miles, and chains, sprockets and pads at a slightly longer interval, to the cost of calories to fuel it, we're at tens of cents per mile. I'm not sure if it's the $.50-60 that a car costs, but it's got to be more than $.25.

The problem here is that not only are you trying to compare apples to oranges but you compared high end luxury apples to ordinary oranges. I make a daily commute of about 18km on a £10 used mountain bike and patch my tubes at least 5 times before getting a new one. My only real cost is brake pads.

So if you want to compare your high end road bike costs you need to compare it to the costs of running a similarly high end automobile.
posted by srboisvert at 3:39 AM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


But I'm trying to popularise the phrase 'Kengestion Charge' to balance things out.

I've heard some earnestly right-on types correct the term "Boris Bike" to the somewhat stilted "Ken's Conveyance".
posted by acb at 3:46 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, the mandatory helmet law still appears to have majority support. There appears to be a weird authoritarian streak in the Australian psyche. Until this law is repealed (not likely in the immediate future) I doubt we will be able to have successful bike share schemes in Australia.

Australia has American-style car-centric urban planning without the wild-eyed libertarian if-you-want-to-kill-yourself-ain't-nobody's-business-but-your-own streak that the US has. Instead, there's the larrikin-wowser dynamic, the idea of a nation of Wild Colonial Boys, who have to be kept firmly in line lest it all goes a bit Lord Of The Flies.

But yes, I imagine that the Melbourne bike hire scheme is currently being maintained as a piece of window-dressing ("see, we're a modern, progressive world city"). Chances are, once they run short of money, it'll be scrapped. Or once it becomes politically expedient for a right-wing culture-war mayor to beat up on the "cycle lobby" and tear up bike paths (as they're doing in Toronto now, I believe).
posted by acb at 3:52 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


re: pricing: The price page for the Boris Bike Ken's Conveyance scheme explicitly says "To hire for more than a couple of hours it might be cheaper for you to use a company that specialises in hiring for longer periods.", so they're definitely pricing it to encourage people to get the bikes back in the racks as soon as possible.

Another thing to bear in mind is that in London the bike scheme is conceived and presented as part of the already-existing tube/train/bus network (the logo is a blue version of the usual TfL logo, etc). Its working very well in that way, and is deliberately priced so that its cheaper than the bus or tube for short hops.
posted by memebake at 4:10 AM on August 22, 2011


I use the Bixi bikes in Toronto almost every day. They get full credit for reintroducing me to the joys of cycling -- it had probably been 10 years since I had last been on a bike. I bought the subscription, which does make all the difference.

I rented a bike in San Francisco recently. I think the daily rate topped out at about $40 but it was a much crappier bike than the Bixis, which are built like tanks. Full respect to anyone who manages to be an urban cyclist in SF... I could barely manage some of those hills as a pedestrian! I did read an article suggesting that SF was the perfect use case for electric power-assisted bicycles, however.

The biggest problem with Bixi in Toronto is the limited service area. I can only get about halfway home with it. If they don't expand next year (which seems unlikely given our current pathetic excuse for civic leadership), I will probably buy a bike instead... but the PITA of finding a place for it in my apartment, and the high likelihood of having it stolen, give me pause.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:39 AM on August 22, 2011


i_am_joe's_spleen and srboisvert, yeah all good points (my figure of $.60/mile for automobiles comes from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics), and certainly doesn't include a lot of the externalities that apply to both modes of transport. It probably costs quite a bit less than that for rental cars because that amortizes fixed and time invariant costs over mileage, and because we, culturally, tend to treat automobiles much more gently than we treat bicycles.

My point was simply addressing that there are reasons it's not necessarily any cheaper to rent a bike than a car. And that with any purchase that happens at intervals of a month or more it's also easy to discount that when mentally figuring out the per-mile cost.
posted by straw at 9:13 AM on August 22, 2011


This seems a bit strange to me. But I'm sure it makes sense somehow. What bit of economics am I not thinking of?

The stated aim of the London Cycle Hire Scheme is that the bikes are used for short-term rentals. Their website recommends seeking out alternative suppliers for long-term rents, in which case the cost drops way below that of hiring a car.
posted by alby at 6:13 AM on August 25, 2011


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