Ofo bike
200 Ofo bikes have been left around the borough of Southwark (Photo: Noya Fields Family via Creative Commons)

Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark councils could collaborate on a hire bike service for south-east London this summer if a trial in Southwark is a success, Greenwich councillors heard on Wednesday.

Southwark is currently trialling two “dockless” hire services provided by private firms – Ofo and Mobike – with 200 bikes from each company placed across the borough.

Users hire bikes through apps on their phones, which unlock the cycles so they can be used. This means riders can use them without the need for operators building expensive docking stations, as used in the existing London Cycle Hire scheme – making them very attractive for councils, who have been lumbered with big bills for bringing “Boris bikes” into their boroughs.

Greenwich has previously baulked at the £2m cost of expanding the London Cycle Hire scheme into the borough, leaving the nearest docking stations at Island Gardens on the north side of the river. South of the river, there is just a single docking station east of Tower Bridge.

Transport cabinet member Sizwe James told councillors that Greenwich was monitoring Southwark’s trial and wanted to “explore opportunities” to expand the scheme into “parts of” the borough as soon as June.

Mobike is also taking part in the Southwark scheme (Photo: Montgomery County, Maryland, via Creative Commons)

Bikes piled up on pavements

Dockless bikes first appeared in a big way in London last year, when operator oBike left bicycles across the capital, including across Lewisham borough and western parts of Greenwich.

But they hit trouble in Hammersmith & Fulham and Wandsworth, where councils seized bikes after piles of them were left blocking pavements.

Since then, councils have worked with different, exotically-named operators to plan schemes in their boroughs, including Urbo in Enfield and Waltham Forest; Ofo and Urbo in Redbridge; Ofo alone in Hackney and Mobike in Ealing and Newham.

One issue with the current proliferation of schemes is that bikes are meant to stay in their host boroughs. James told Conservative councillor Matt Clare – himself a keen cyclist – in a written response that south-east London councils wanted to provide a seamless experience so riders could stick with one operator.

“The council has been working more closely with the south east London boroughs, including Southwark, Lewisham and Lambeth to develop a joint approach to Dockless Cycle Hire in the south east,” he said.

“The aim being to create a consistent service area across the south east of London, making it easy for residents and visitors to travel freely, without having to change bikes at borough boundaries for example.”

He continued: “On Monday 12th March the London Borough of Southwark launched a dockless trial with two dockless cycle hire operators – Mobike and Ofo.

“It is the council’s intention to closely monitor this trial whilst working with both Lewisham and Southwark to explore opportunities to expand the Southwark launch to incorporate parts of the Royal Borough [sic]. This approach would be developed as a 12 month trial.”

Asked when he thought the scheme would be expanded, James told the the chamber: “June – as quickly as possible after the election.”

He added that Greenwich would look at commissioning its own scheme if Southwark’s did not expand, but added: “I don’t think we’ll need to.” (watch here)

London Cycle Hire bike
TfL’s own cycle scheme is heavily subsidised and costs councils to install

Expensive TfL scheme

While London Cycle Hire only launched in 2010, expansion has been relatively slow in recent years, with Lambeth Council recently forking out £750,000 for a small extension to Brixton.

Transport for London subsidises each ride by £1.25, compared with 31p for each bus ride, which has led to suggestions the scheme could be scrapped.

The dockless schemes are also cheaper for users: both Ofo and Mobike cost 50p per half-hour, with the latter charging a £1 deposit. The TfL scheme starts with a £2 access charge and 30 minutes’ free riding, followed by a £2 charge per extra half-hour. It has also proved difficult for TfL to integrate cycle hire with its other fare systems.

Meanwhile, TfL has released results of its consultation into the new cycle superhighway that could link Southwark, Lewisham and Greenwich boroughs – Cycle Superhighway 4 between Tower Bridge and Deptford Creek Bridge.

83% supported the proposals, although there was opposition from Southwark Council on air quality and congestion grounds. It said the proposals “could be improved”. Both Greenwich and Lewisham councils supported the scheme.

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