Boris gets on his bike

LAST UPDATED: 11 Jul, 2009 @ 17:18
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Boris gets on his bike

As London embarks on its first ever bike scheme, we asked Trevor Baker why the highly successful Spanish version, Sevici in Sevilla, actually works

IT’S not always easy to feel sorry for Boris Johnson.

London’s Mayor, with his wonky-halo of blonde hair and sheepish grin, has the permanent air of a schoolboy who stuck his hand in the biscuit tin and found a scrunched up copy of top shelf magazine Razzle at the bottom.

However this summer, as he puts the finishing touches on the plan for London’s first public bike hire scheme, it is possible to feel some sympathy for him.

When he took office last year his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, had already announced plans to copy Paris’s Vélib. The scheme, originally pioneered in Lyon but since imitated in numerous cities across Europe, has been hugely popular. Essentially it’s all the joy of cycling without the tedious, time-consuming business of actually having to own and maintain a bike. Paris has over 20,000 of them available at convenient staging posts across the city at a very low cost.

Unfortunately for Boris, after being greeted with almost universal hurrahs, the Parisian Vélib has recently run into problems. It has emerged that over half the fleet has had to be replaced because of theft and vandalism. On top of that, the company that runs it, JCDecaux, have been grumbling that it’s too expensive to keep providing new bikes to replace the ones that end up in the Seine.

Some have even turned up as far afield as Eastern Europe and Africa. It’s also been pointed out that, while in Paris the scheme is partially paid for by advertising hoardings at the docking stations, there’s no room for them in London’s narrow streets and the British version (also to be run in association with JCDecaux) will need to make money entirely by rental.

“Sevilla does have one big advantage that London may struggle to match and that’s the attitude of other road users”

In which case perhaps Boris needs to take a trip to Sevilla. There are no advertising hoardings at the bike docking stations in the pretty plazas of La Macarena or Santa Cruz but, nevertheless, Sevilla’s version of the scheme, the Sevici, seems to work pretty well.

It’s only ten euros for a year’s pass and, as long as you only use the bike for up to 30 minutes each time, there’s nothing more to pay.

Of course there are problems. They fix damaged bikes first thing in the morning so, late at night, many of them have dislodged chains and other technical issues. Also there is the occasional frustration of cycling for 29 minutes to your destination and finding that the docking station you were aiming for is completely full. Still, even if you can’t get to where you’re going in 30 minutes (and who wants to cycle for longer than that?) it’s only an extra 50 cents for the next hour.

However, Sevilla does have one big advantage that London may struggle to match and that’s the attitude of other road users.

In London, buses, cars and bicycles exist in a permanent state of cold war, each resenting the other. There’s an expectation that people should be polite and considerate and when that expectation, all too frequently, isn’t met, the result is often a row or worse.

Sevillianos are not the most polite people in the world but that does mean they don’t get upset or angry if other people are similarly brusque towards them. So cyclists zoom along the pavements, buses rumble through streets barely big enough for a Mini, and drivers just de-stress every now and then with a satisfying blast of the omnipresent car-horn. It’s noisy and chaotic but, Boris take note, it works.

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