Recent figures released by Transport for London (TfL) have revealed that the number of journeys made on the capital’s Santander Cycles public bike hire scheme in 2023 is at its lowest level in a decade, with TfL blaming the recent “continuous bad weather”. for the sudden drop in recruitment – although some Londoners cited the rising costs of the scheme as the main contributing factor to the fall in demand.
In 2022, take-up of the Santander Cycles scheme, or ‘Boris Bikes’ scheme – first introduced in 2010 during Boris Johnson’s tenure as London Mayor, hence its permanent epitaph – reached record levels , as 1.3 million trips were recorded in July alone and 7,383,232 were made between January and July of the same year.
However, at the same time this year, just 4,976,813 take-ups were recorded – a 33 per cent drop compared to 2022 and the lowest figure since 4,807,338 trips were taken in the first half of 2013, when there were far fewer bikes and stations available. connection. .
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TfL’s head of hiring David Eddington claimed “a number of factors” were behind this significant drop, singling out the “continued bad weather recently” for its “significant impact on casual hiring”.
“Last year was a record year for the program and a number of factors contributed to lower recruitment numbers this year, including the continued bad weather recently which had a significant impact on casual recruitment,” Eddington said.
“We will continue to work to make cycling more accessible than ever by continuing to open and expand Cycleways across the capital and making further improvements to Santander Cycles, which could include increasing the number of e-bikes on the scheme” .
Despite Eddington and TfL’s focus on the recent bad weather, other users of the scheme noted that the sharp drop in journeys coincided with the agency’s decision to increase the cost of an annual membership from £90 to £120.
This price jump was reported to have caused a significant drop in fares last year, although this was linked by TfL to riders being unable to “auto-renew” their fares due to the new charges, forcing them to manually react to their fares for another time.
The cost of individual journeys has also changed to a flat £1.65 per 30 minutes of use, replacing the £2 access fee that gave users access to the bikes for the whole day, provided each individual journey took less than 30 minutes.
Speaking to BBC London, Daniel Berube said he stopped using the plan regularly when “the major change in pricing came into effect last year” and that “the expense reached a tipping point and outweighed the convenience of the plan”.
On Twitter, another former user of the scheme, Brian Salmon, wrote: “Since the £2 fare was abolished I now bring my folding bike every time I take the train to London. Before I always used Boris bikes to go anywhere in London. A lot of people probably do the same.”
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Meanwhile, increasing competition in recent years from rival offline e-bike companies such as Lime and Tier has also been noted by users as a possible factor in the Santander system’s sharp decline.
Last October, TfL introduced 500 e-bikes as part of the network for the first time, almost nine years after Johnson first announced plans to trial such a system in more mountainous areas of the capital. According to the government agency, over 500,000 hires have been made on e-bikes since their introduction to the network.
In June, TfL also said it would “explore the possibility, subject to funding, of adding reduced fares” to its plan “to support the most disadvantaged Londoners”.
TfL said: “This could include discounts for jobseekers and/or council housing residents – as we have done in other schemes or in other cycle hire schemes outside London and the UK. We will also explore ways to support more disabled people to access the scheme.”
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