Our transport correspondent, JEREMY CLACKSON, finds the council adding a dash of Lime to its otherwise questionable green credentials
Just as the rest of the country appears to be abandoning dockless bicycle hire schemes, Croydon Council has belatedly jumped aboard and is now back-pedalling away furiously with a dockless bike hire scheme of its own.
Lime’s day-glo coloured motorised “electric assist bikes” have been popping up around West Croydon and other stations on the London Overground line and near stations served by Thameslink.
Croydon, a council which wants to spend £10million a year on paying to use a rubbish incinerator equipped to handle radioactive waste, announced the Lime bike hire scheme last week stating it is “part of Croydon’s ambition to become London’s greenest borough”.
In truth, Lime represents the second, perhaps third, bash that Croydon Council has had at introducing bike hire to the borough. Given the success of the London-wide Boris Bike scheme, Croydon appears to want to re-invent the bicycle wheel.
For reasons best known to council officials, they ruled out being part of the Boris Bikes network (Croydon’s too remote from the city we are part of, it was suggested), thus hindering any prospect of cycling connectivity into the city centre.
A Brompton bike docking scheme, based close to East Croydon Station, was quietly abandoned the moment developers wanted to annex a bit of land that had been used for what the council had grandly titled “The Croydon Cycle Hub”.
Our council’s inability to learn from their own mistakes, or those of others, is an on-going frustration, though not nearly as annoying as Croydon’s, and Transport for London’s, inability to provide decent, safe cycling infrastructure for anyone bold enough to opt to saddle up on a Lime bike.
The council’s late-adopters, though, might find that dockless bikes become just another thing which their fly-tip clean-up squads have to cope with.
In little more than a year, other bike hire schemes – from ofo, oBike and Urbo – have all been withdrawn from other British towns and cities.
Mobike are still in London, though they have pulled out of various other locations, most recently Tyneside. “This is a real shame, but it is not terribly surprising,” said Sally Watson, of Newcastle Cycling Campaign.
“Until the council puts in more infrastructure for people to use bikes, then it is not really going to work. If there is nowhere safe to ride them, then people won’t use them.” It is almost as if Wor Sally was speaking with Croydon in mind as much as Newcastle.
Austen Cooper, of the Croydon Cycling Campaign, has been calling for better conditions for cyclists in this borough for years.
“We need Croydon Council to press ahead to build the infrastructure needed to enable people who can ride bikes but don’t currently cycle much, if at all, to see cycling as a realistic, safe and convenient means of transport,” Cooper told Inside Croydon.
While cycle superhighways and Quietways have been built across London over the past decade, Croydon has been stuck in a slow lane of its own making.
“The draft plans in Croydon’s Liveable Neighbourhood bid look ambitious, but we need this to be the start of a radical shift in helping the people of Croydon get about quickly, cheaply and safely across the whole borough, not just a one-off discreet project,” Cooper said.
Lime offers a sort of Uber for cyclists, with 200 of their bicycles being distributed around the borough this month at the start of a year-long trial. Each bike is fitted with GPS, locks, a bell and front and rear lights and reflectors. Lime, who already operate in Milton Keynes, Brent, Ealing and Islington, say that they will be able to collect and redistribute the bikes to key locations as required.
The bikes can be accessed and locked using a mobile phone app, though their prices might seem a tad steep to provide a real public transport alternative to the buses and trams, or to get people out of their cars.
Lime bikes in Croydon cost £1 to unlock and 15p a minute thereafter. A bus or a tram ride is £1.50. But it’s definitely cheaper than train journeys – £3.30 from West Croydon to Selhurst, of £2.60 from West Croydon to Waddon.
“Perhaps Lime’s real potential is to offer a fast, cheaper alternative to cars, minicabs and taxis,” Cooper suggests. “And unlike the fixed routes and stops of buses and trams, they can you right up to the door of the place you want to go.”
The electric motor is an interesting innovation, which Cooper says should enable riders to reach and sustain 15mph easily – making them potentially a quicker way around Croydon than any journey by car in the borough’s increasingly clogged traffic.
But being “dockless”, unlike the Boris Bikes which have become an established part of the street scene in central London, does present problems with Lime bikes. Manchester’s scheme was plagued with vandalism and dumped bikes, while online reaction from those who have used Lime appears to be mixed.
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