Towns and cities in many parts of the world, including my home town of London, are becoming littered with abandoned bits of bicycles and piles of randomly placed rental bikes. Is this something we should be concerned about, or is it the price we pay for encouragement of cleaner forms of transport?
The idea of being able to pick up a bike anywhere, click on a smartphone app and take temporary possession, is wonderful — in theory. But the reality is that our towns are becoming infested with rather nice looking bicycles seemingly abandoned and doing nothing.
At a subjective level, I see many people using fixed-location rental bikes. In London, this scheme was introduced by Boris Johnson, when mayor, and was sponsored originally by Barclays. Now Santander has taken over and the red-mudguarded bikes are very common, even in the suburbs.
No fixed abode
Bicycles of no fixed abode, on the other hand, are bringing anarchy. The orange Mobikes in the pictures and those from Lime and others are quite another bunch of spokes. The strange thing is that despite the huge numbers of these bikes lying in wait for customers, very few seem to be in use. That, again, is the result of my observations, because it’s difficult to miss a bright orange or lime-green bicycle when seen on the road. I just don’t see them in use as often as I do the Santander bikes.
Here’s the offer from Lime:
You locate the nearest Lime bike through the Lime smartphone app, scan a QR code on the rear mudguard, and the bike should unlock for you. Test the brakes, and you’re away laughing. The rental costs an initial £1 to unlock the bike, plus 15p for each minute it’s in your possession.
Riders may be laughing, but pedestrians and users of wheelchairs are not impressed. Sometimes the inconsiderate abandonment of bicycles makes it difficult to use the pavement and can lead to accidents, particularly those involving older people or those with sight problems.
Incidentally, doesn’t this seem expensive to you? £10 for the first hour and £9 an hour after that. It’s cheaper on the bus.
There’s another phenomenon: The abandoned bicycle chained to railings. You see this all over London and, I presume, in other world cities. It is growing in nuisance value by the week. In some cases, the cycles look to be in good condition, except there is just a skeleton left dangling from the fence.
Presumably, the owners came back to find the bike cannibalised and decided to cut their losses — leaving some poor local authority factotum to pick the lock or saw it off. Surely owners of such bicycles have a moral duty to at least unlock the chain and, if possible, dispose of their rubbish?
Where’s the common thread in all this? It’s the fact the bicycles are A Good Thing. If our streets and railings were festooned with abandoned shopping trolleys and cars there would be outrage. Something would have to be done. But this isn’t the case with the new breed of rental bikes because they are evidence of the good fight against the internal combustion engine. So they can litter at will.