It's been just over two weeks since London opened it's version of the Montreal designed Bixi-bike sharing system. With 6000 “boris-bikes” on the street (nicknamed after mayor Boris Johnson) it's double the size the Montreal system was when it began. All the same, it is going through the same growing pains.
From comments on the londoncyclist blog it seems like things are off to a relatively good start - with one exception: parking. There are reports of people having to bike for blocks and then take a cab back to their destination because central docking stations are overflowing. Two geographers at UCL have produced this mash-up of traffic flow over a typical 24 hour period that shows the issue pretty clearly (red = full).
Parking shortages and other early problems in the London system will be familiar to Montrealers. Malfunctioning docking stations, unexpected overcharges, and minor mechanical problems with some bikes are other common issues. Londoners also seem uniquely peeved that the commemorative t-shirts given to early adopters are a bit on the tight side. All of these were quickly addressed in Montreal. (Except for the tight shirts; I think Montrealers like their shirts a bit tight.)
This year Bixi Montreal responded to complaints about overfull docking stations (similar to those happening in London) with an impressive increase in installed parking spots. I chatted with Bixi's Bérengère Thériault at the end of last week and she explained to me that the magic number seems to be 100 parking spots for every 60 bikes. They try to keep that ratio at all the stations as well: 40% of the spots free for parking at any given time. They've also added another two thousand bikes to the system to ensure availability.
Currently London is running more bikes that Montreal, but with the same number of docking stations. It's not surprising that they are having some congestion problems. But I wouldn't expect the problems to last. As a planner friend of mine noted, you can change the whole configuration of the network more or less overnight - unlike, say, a metro system. This may be slightly more difficult in London, where the stations are wired to the electrical grid rather than solar powered. (Does anyone know why that is?)
Last week BIXI Montreal logged its two millionth trip and had over 25,000 registered users. That is more than double the 10,000 users that subscribed by the end of the 2009 season. That rapid growth is made possible by the flexibility of a system that can easily expand and morph to meet the needs of its ridership. Numbers may also have increased because Montreal has made a concerted effort to tie Bixi into other modes of transportation: stations are clustered near transit hubs, and transit pass holders receive discounts on both BIXI and the Communauto car sharing network.
Here's hoping we see similar growth in London – and that people keep mashing up the data. There is something fascinating about watching a transportation system evolve right in front of your eyes.