I’m talking about the “Boris bikes” in London – though perhaps they should be called the Red Ken bikes as the bicycle sharing scheme was developed while mayor Boris Johnson’s predecessor Ken Livingstone was in office. Regardless of who deserves the credit, Boris has been a great ambassador for the new scheme. He’s well known for getting his leg over. This time the lucky bike is literally a bike.
The Boris bikes have been going just over two months. The scheme began with 5,000 bikes available at 3,000 docking stations. Journeys under 30 minutes are free. You can see details of how it works at the official site or watch this video.
Hardly any of the bicycles have been stolen so far – unlike with the similar Vélib’ scheme in Paris where hundreds have gone astray (perhaps because the French bikes come with locks and decent baskets). The London version is modeled on Montreal’s urban Bixi-bike scheme.
I haven’t had the pleasure yet myself, but London-based friends have quickly taken to the cycles and give their seal of approval. Rumours swirl around about accidents, and there is criticism that the scheme makes it easy to cycle without wearing a helmet. But so far the scheme is a success.
There’s London mayor Boris Johnson on the left. Doesn’t he look happy? It could be because he’s cycling between assignations. But I think it’s the bike that’s putting a smile on his face.
According to columnist Sarah Sands writing in the London Evening Standard newspaper, the Boris bikes could be transforming not just urban travel and carbon emissions, but also altering the character of those in the saddle.
The Boris bikes have had an unexpected social effect on London. The cyclists have taken the place of friendly policemen. For some reason Londoners and tourists seem to trust anyone on a Boris bike.
When I’m on foot I’m a sour-faced matron but as soon as I’m bike-bound, people ask me to take photographs of them, help them with directions, or hold their babies. I’ve heard of people who come to resemble their pets but it is new for humans to take on the character of a bicycle.
She could be on to something.
The bikes look chunkily cute, unlike the lean sharks cycle couriers use to cut through shoals of hesitating pedestrians. They could almost be made out of LEGO blocks. They’re friendly.
The influence of machines on the human psyche is usually thought of as malign – dark satanic mills turning individuals into cogs on the production line. Could this be a world first where a machine makes us better people?