JEREMY CLACKSON, transport correspondent, on another failed council initiative
The 12-month trial in Croydon of Lime bikes, the dockless hire bicycles equipped with electric motors, has been abandoned before reaching the halfway stage. Senior Town Hall sources suggest that an unusually high rate of theft and damage to the bikes in Croydon was a contributory factor in the withdrawal of the scheme.
The Lime scheme was announced in a flurry of overblown rhetoric by Croydon Council on May 3, when it was claimed that “hundreds of dockless electric bicycles will be arriving to offer residents and visitors new greener ways to travel”, and stating that this was all “part of Croydon’s ambition to become London’s greenest borough”.
Seems that council “ambition” faded more quickly than the clunky, heavy (and expensive to use) Lime bikes ever managed to travel along Croydon high street.
The council has never managed to get Croydon included in Transport for London’s bike hire scheme, and a previous Brompton bike hire project in the borough flopped. The failure of this project hardly reflects well on the council’s commitment to cycling or cyclists.
The matter was discussed at the council’s most recent bicycle forum, held at the Town Hall. The minutes of the meeting have yet to be published – the meeting was only held on October 22; what’s the rush? – but it is understood that a council official explained that the 12-month trial was being halted because the Croydon public were less likely to use hire bikes in the cold winter weather.
“Winter doesn’t seem to reduce the demand for hire bikes in the city centre,” a local cyclist told Inside Croydon. “Not for the first time, council officials think they can insult our intelligence.
“The scheme has been pulled. Clearly, something was not working.”
Lime has withdrawn their bikes from across south London, with Bromley and Sutton also having the service stopped.
A senior source at the Town Hall told Inside Croydon: “Lime advised us they were withdrawing from south London due to uncertainty in the market and an expected drop off in usage over the winter.”
Which sounds very much like corporatespeak for Lime failing to make the sort of profits necessary for them to continue with the scheme.
That they came to realise this in less than six months would suggest that there was a significantly large margin between the kind of money that they need to generate, and the amounts they were actually managing to make from the use of their bikes in south London. At 15p per minute, Lime is reckoned to be one of the costliest bike hire schemes around.
The situation was not helped by other councils – including Richmond and Wandsworth – not co-operating with the bike scheme operators, making it less attractive for potential users and frustrating Lime’s efforts to gain scale in south-west London.
Lime bikes tended to receive poor reviews when compared with other hire schemes in operation in the capital, so anything that reduced the bikes’ range of use would have also dented their up-take in Croydon.
“I am aware that they lost far more bikes in Croydon than in other boroughs,” our Town Hall source said, and “given the bikes’ value, I suspect that was also a factor.”
Thieves would smash and break off the Lime bikes’ geo-tracking system – itself a costly piece of kit – in order to steal the bikes’ batteries.
The source also suggested that Lime didn’t get much support from the police when approached about the losses.
“We’re working hard to make greener and more sustainable travel across Croydon easier for everyone,” was the quote attributed in the council’s press release in May to Stuart King, the council cabinet member responsible for transport.
“We want Croydon to become one of the greenest boroughs in London and bringing a scheme like this into the borough is one of the ways we are trying to achieve this,” King said then.
But as cycling and environmental campaigners maintain, the real issue holding Croydon back from getting more people out of their cars and on to bikes is the absence of a proper cycle route network.
“No one is put off using hire bikes in the centre of London during the winter,” Austen Cooper, a member of the Croydon Cycling Campaign, said. “Croydon still lacks a safe, easily accessible cycle network of the quality we are now seeing in parts of the capital, such as the route along the Embankment and over Blackfriars Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge.”
A symbol of the true priority that Croydon Council is giving to its “commitment” to the climate emergency is shown in the agenda papers for that Cycle Forum meeting held in October. The climate emergency was discussed at the meeting. The subject was placed as item 11 on the cycle forum’s agenda, a little before “Any Other Business” (14th )and “Date of Next Meeting” (15th).
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