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TfL cycle hire ridership at lowest in a decade

Usage has declined by a third in the first seven months of 2023 after hitting a record high last year, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Santander cycle hire scheme (credit TfL)
Santander cycle hire scheme (credit TfL)

Journeys made using Transport for London’s (TfL) cycle hire scheme this year are at their lowest in a decade, with the organisation blaming recent bad weather as a potential cause.

Having achieved a record number of hires in 2022, the latest statistics show that the bikes’ usage has declined by a third in the first seven months of 2023, compared with those same months last year.

While some 7,383,232 journeys were made from January to July 2022, just 4,976,813 hires have been recorded in the equivalent period this year – a drop of 33%.

It is the lowest number since January to July 2013, when 4,807,338 journeys were made, at a time when the network of docks and availability of bikes was smaller than today.

David Eddington, TfL’s head of cycle hire, said “a number of factors” were to blame, though he picked out the “consistent bad weather recently” as having had “a significant impact on casual hires”.

The year-on-year decline appears to have started in September 2022 – the same month that TfL increased the cost of an annual subscription to the scheme from £90 to £120.

There were reports at the time of a big drop-off in subscriptions, in part because the new charges meant that the “auto renewal” system could not operate and riders had to manually reactivate their membership for another year.

The pricing for single journeys was also changed to become a flat rate of £1.65 per half-hour of use. The scheme previously charged riders £2 for a whole day of access to the bikes, so long as each journey lasted less than 30 minutes.

Commenting on the decline in usage, Eddington said: “Last year was a record year for the scheme and a number of factors have contributed to a lower number of hires this year, including the consistent bad weather recently, which has had a significant impact on casual hires.

“We will continue our work to make cycling more accessible than ever by continuing to open and extend cycleways across the capital and making further improvements to Santander Cycles, which could include increasing the number of e-bikes in the scheme.”

The bikes were first introduced onto London’s streets in 2010, during Boris Johnson’s time as mayor – though plans for the scheme began under his Labour predecessor, Ken Livingstone.

They quickly became known as ‘Boris Bikes’ and were initially sponsored by Barclays. Since 2015, the scheme has been sponsored by Santander. In recent years, the bikes have faced stiff competition from a number of dockless e-bike companies – including Lime, Dott, TIER and Forest.

In June, TfL said it would “be exploring the possibility of adding concessionary fares” to its scheme “to support the most disadvantaged Londoners”, including job seekers and council house tenants.

Under its cycling action plan – which covers cycling in general across the capital – TfL wants to grow the number of daily bike journeys made in London to 1.6 million by 2030, up by a third from 1.2 million in 2022.

In October last year, TfL introduced 500 e-bikes to its hire scheme, though unlike the push-bikes, they are only accessible to the scheme’s registered users – equipped either with a membership key or having signed up through the app.

The organisation said more than 500,000 hires have been made on the e-bikes since their introduction to the network.