As we’re now nine months into the Mayor’s flagship cycle hire scheme, it’s worth having a look at what the users are saying – after all, the software bugs and unresolved operational issues should’ve been ironed out by now, right?


First, the verdict of Evening Standard journalist, Ross Lydall. Having received an erroneous bill for £644, Ross spent half an hour on Friday last week trying to find a dock for his hire bike. He visited eight different docks (some repeatedly) before he was successful. Yesterday, further problems culminated in seventeen attempts to get a hire bike to successfully release from its dock.

Users are still having problems with both the call centre and the website. The overflow call centre is still in use and operators are failing to call back hire bike users who have problems. The website is currently asking users to reset their passwords but not acknowledging when users do as they are requested.

Those who had previously been enthusiastic about the scheme are becoming frustrated with its shortcomings:

Everything from more faulty bikes, broken keys, very poor data management on my account, incorrect billing. Final straw today was when I noticed they have removed the call centre telephone number from the contact us page on the main website. When I asked why I was told ‘too many calls’. It’s a pity that what could and should be a flagship scheme filler London is heading down the tubes (pun intended)

The unofficial “Boris Bikes” forum reports:

I think the over-riding issue, when you look back at posts over the recent months, is that loyal users and supporters have seen a significant deterioration in the service. Whether it’s a system that has already reached its capacity, is developing faults, was built to be obsolete within a short period of time (IT companies do this to keep the money coming in) – it doesn’t really matter. Perhaps additional investment is needed. To talk about extending the scheme when the existing one is now unreliable is silly.

A trawl through Twitter in the past few days reveals the following comments from frustrated users of the scheme:

Always rhink its just a ten min Hop skip jump to selfridges from work. Its not. Espec when boris bikes fail as always. Its a right ol shlep 6:49 PM Jun 1st via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Whole rack of Boris bikes and none letting me have a go, this makes me RRAaaaaaaaarrrrrgggghhhjh. I need to be exercised :( 6:26 PM Jun 1st via Echofon

Boris bikes have allowed me to see more of Ldn… because of hours spent walking looking for working terminal or docking station with bikes 6:23 PM Jun 2nd via Twitter for iPhone

Boris Bikes are broken – so it’s a walk down South Bank on a sunny London afternoon. about 5 hours ago via TweetDeck

Why are no Boris bikes working in victoria?? #tflfailsagain about 6 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone

@BarclaysCycle Increasingly unimpressed with tech side of Boris Bikes. 2 stations out of order yday, now can’t register online for a key. about 13 hours ago via TweetDeck

Boris bikes not working again #fail 6:41 PM Jun 3rd via Twitter for iPhone

Barclays cycle hire, you never fail to disappoint me… 9:12 AM Jun 1st via Echofon

mint day at the cricket…properly sunbaked. Tedious journey back after boris bikes failed us… about 2 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone

#GFilm is over for the day. What the hell has been up with the Boris bikes recently? about 2 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone

Boris bikes not working…. about 3 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Tech side of Boris Bikes is utter crap! about 3 hours ago via Twitter for Android

Got charged £50 by Barclays Cycle Hire’s incredibly confusing scheme for a day ride! Awesome. No, thank you. Next time I’ll drive. 8:02 PM Jun 1st via TweetDeck

Barclays Cycle Hire website is useless. No error messages just constantly loops back to login page. #tfl #borisbikes #fail 4:14 PM Jun 1st via web

MY OPINION: The Cycle Hire scheme is getting more and more unreliable as the weeks go by. 6:29 PM Jun 3rd via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Should have known not to trust #tfl, casual user cycle hire doesn’t work, on a bus, jealous of sunny cyclists. 8:32 AM Jun 3rd via Mobile Web

No Cycle Hire bikes at the docking station even though my iPhone app says there are three. Fuck you #Boris! 7:48 PM Jun 2nd via HootSuite

On every level the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme gets a #tfl #fail #fail #fail . Useless. Not fit for purpose. 6:57 PM Jun 2nd via Mobile Web

2nd & 3rd attempts at different places also failed. With this level of reliability the cycle hire scheme should be sponsored by Orange. about 4 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone

Cycle Hire is a great idea but Boris’s just doesn’t work *at all*, does it? I’ve just given up trying to use it cos it’s always broken. about 5 hours ago via TweetDeck

TFL Cycle hire #FAIL today, it seemed to be server issues. No one had a bike from 4pm + about 3 hours ago via Twitter for Mac

tried to hire on of those bikes in london yesterday, the terminal didn’t work, ruined the day for family #FAIL @MayorOfLondon 9:38 AM May 31st via Twitter for Mac

@MayorOfLondon – Major #borisbike fail @ Waterloo this evening – no spaces, no staff. Really needs to be more consistent! C.40 ppl angry! 7:18 PM Jun 3rd via Twitter for iPhone

@MayorOfLondon not a single borris bike is working anywhere near hyde park!! Sort it out borris ! 7:02 PM Jun 3rd via Twitter for BlackBerry®

@MayorOfLondon your cycle hire scheme is driving me mad, 25 minutes and 3 docking stations later I finally get to hire a bike 6:53 PM Jun 3rd via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Missed my train because no space to park my #borisbike Sort it out @MayorOfLondon please! #total #fail 4:50 PM Jun 3rd via Twitter for iPhone

@MayorOfLondon poor show on the boris bikes today, awful service on a lovely sunny day in LDN about 4 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone

@MayorOfLondon tried to use your Boris bikes 6 times today and each time it didn’t work…on a sunny Saturday in London, not cool. about 4 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone

Been trying to use these Boris bikes for about 45 mins. Could of got a tube in this time. Upset @MayorOfLondon. Might get a taxi in spite. about 5 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Oh, and @MayorOfLondon your BoJo bikes failed big time this afternoon… 1hr to get your friggin bikes……….?! about 6 hours ago via Twitter for Mac

@MayorOfLondon bikes are slow today Boris, 10 mins to print a code about 8 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone

@MayorOfLondon well I was singing the bikes praises earlier but your cycle hire terminals are absolutely rubbish! #borisbikes about 9 hours ago via Twitter for Android

@MayorOfLondon we are processing your request #borisbikefail about 4 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone

There we see the disadvantage of having your name associated with a product or service – “Boris” evidently means unreliable, frustrating, untrustworthy, not fit for purpose and not working. If I were Barclays’ marketing department I’d be none too happy at having my name endorsing such a service, either.

UPDATE: The BBC’s Tom Edwards has reported on the continuing problems with the cycle hire system and has also discovered that £5m has been withheld from Serco by TfL; Assembly Members’ previous requests to the Mayor for this information resulted in them being told it was unavailable due to “commercial confidentiality”. The BBC report includes some good shots of cyclists riding straight through red lights at pedestrian crossings at high speed – a phenomenon which I observe on every trip to central London.


8 Responses to Barclays Cycle Hire – What Are The Users’ Verdicts?

  1. Darryl says:

    I was in Paris for a day last week and had a go on the Veli’b system – and fell foul of a few problems myself (lack of free spaces, wonky docking stations, broken terminals).

    I’ll try to post on it in the next few days – but I wonder if cycle hire systems are just inherently prone to cock-ups.

  2. Mathew says:

    cash flow problems for Bixi in Montreal / and that’s after selling London dud software.

  3. Steffan says:

    Scheme works well if you understand it’s limitations and use an app like spotcycle. The call centre staff have been very helpful each time I had to call. I also was delighted that when I dropped my key set in the street I got a courtesy call from them saying my house keys h ad been handed in . The bike fob had enabled the police to notify BB and they used the barcode number to identify me. That was exceptionally helpful! so I think your review is unbalanced sorry.

  4. James says:

    Two of the three times I’ve gone to use a bike, I’ve ended up walking a third of the way there because of these problems:
    * No bikes in the docks in the evening
    * The bikes that are there are broken
    * Someone with a key took the last bike just as I’m getting a code from the terminal
    * The terminal was broken so I couldn’t take working bikes

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  6. Patrick says:

    A copy of my e-mail to Barclays cycle hire.
    The flakiness of the system (from bike to web site)
    is driving me up the wall.


    Dear Madam, Sir,

    I’m sending this as an e-mail, since your web “contact us” form
    does not work (no matter what I try, it always returns the same
    page with the word “Invalid” in red letters under my message):

    I’m a professional software developer, and am amazed at the poor
    functioning of this part of your web site.

    A complaint, March 14, 2012:
    Dear Madam, Sir,

    Just now I tried to take out a bike at Notting Hill Gate.

    After a few tries (!) I found a bike that gave me a green light.
    As I tried to pull it out, the light immediately turned yellow, then red.
    Other bikes there gave me an immediate red light.

    I walked to the next station (Palace Gardens Terrace), where I could not
    take out a bike. I called, spent 10 minutes on the phone with one of your
    people, who couldn’t fix the problem.

    Because of this I wasted a lot of time, money, and I missed an appointment.

    I’m not happy that frequenty I have to try multiple times before
    I get the green light.

    I would appreciate it if you would let me know what went wrong.

    In addition: I sent an enquiry about a week ago, and have not yet received a reply.

    best regards,


    incident date: 14/3/2012
    time: 17.48
    station: Notting Hill Gate

    A second enquiry, sent March 2, with no response from you:


    Yesterday morning I biked from Notting Hill Gate to Cardinal Place Victoria
    (arrival approximately 10.45, March 2). If I remember correctly, my bike number
    was 14784. When putting it back in the slot, the light came up red.
    I also can’t find this trip in my recent activity list.

    I tried taking the bike out again, and putting it back in, but the light
    again came up red.

    What exactly happened here?



  7. […] Mayor’s flagship cycle hire scheme was riddled with software problems for at least a year after its launch so it remains to be seen how well TfL’s latest electronic payment initiative will work. […]

  8. […] of refunds is not the same as the apparent volume of complaints as outlined eloquently on Boris Watch. Anecdotally, I have heard that there isn’t an occasion that goes by where you don’t […]

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