Sunday, 20 March 2011

The trouble with Boris Bikes

A couple of weekends ago I was out in Shoreditch - the night had run its course, my body had been stuffed full of salmon and cream cheese bagels and it was time to go home. Autopilot kicked in and our little group tottered off to the bus stop. In a rather pleasant development, we noticed that none of us were shivering uncontrollably as our cerebrospinal fluid began to freeze solid. 

Let's put these bagels to use, we thought. Screw you number 35, we're getting Boris Bikes home! We felt like mavericks; drunken, bloated and slightly unstable, but mavericks nonetheless.

I assumed the lead in this getting-home-after-a-night-out epic. Out came my bank card and in it went to Boris's machine (that's as sexy as the plot gets; I'm not cheapening this blog for nobody. But feel free to click on the adverts to your right - they're what pay for my beer).

Problem number 1: cost. It took approximately four days' worth of hindsight to work out that you pay £1 per bike for 24-hour access - it's then free for an hour, but if you go over this, you get charged. 

Problem number 2: access. After the transaction goes through, you receive a receipt with an access code. You punch this in to some funny blobby things that are supposed to be buttons but don't make an impression. One receipt per bike - so if you're with a group of people and you've already paid for five bikes, each of them has to take turns putting your bank card into Boris's machine; meanwhile, person number one has already had 10 minutes of his allocation - the clock's ticking, and time is money. It's a right kerfuffle, let me tell you, especially when it's your bank card being slotted by drunkards. 

A blissful ride through London in the early hours of Sunday - minus the Kingsland Road potholes and London Bridge gusts - saw us arrive at Wansey Street docking station (that does sound a bit sexy, doesn't it?). 

It was here that our evening turned temporarily sour - the station was packed full of bicycles. TfL's Boris Bikes hotline representative suggested the following docking stations as alternatives: "Ummmmmmmm, there's one space in Borough, another couple on Old Kent Road and then about three in Waterloo." 

If we had done that, we would have cycled and walked a collective 15 miles before reconvening for Sunday elevenses somewhere near Elephant & Castle. Instead, we did what anyone would have done - raced to the nearest docking station to try and grab a space.

Then, out of nowhere, was the unmistakeable rattle of bicycles in a trailer passing over a speed bump. This was divine intervention - there he was, a lone TfL worker driving around in the middle of the night picking up bikes from docking stations (the filthy bastard). 

The youngest among us (a sprightly 23 year-old; the rest of us are creaking 25 year-olds with flat feet and receding headlines) pedalled as fast as his Boris Bike would carry him, caught up with Mr TfL-bicycle-picker-upper and made a beeline for the passenger door.
The rest of us arrived at the van a few minutes later, hearts pounding, where we were greeted with an almighty smile from a man who needed no persuasion to help us. With a voice identical to Taaj from Come Fly With Me, we had found our night's hero. 

"The great thing about theze bikes is that they is so light isn't it." 

"Yeah, they are, so er, can you free up some space at Wansey Street?" 

"You know what, yeah, 18 fouzand of these are used every single day."

"Awesome. We love them. But we'd like to go home now. Any chance…" 

"And in the summer yeah, 45 fouzand peeps EVERY DAY will be uzing them!" 

His enthusiasm would have been infectious if it hadn't been 4:30 in the morning and we weren't desperate to expel some London Pride into south London's sewers. After giving us the Boris Bikes lecture, we had a chummy game of cat and mouse to Wansey Street, where four bicycles were lovingly removed by Taaj so that ours could be deposited.

So, TfL, consider this a plea to install more docking stations south of the river. Or employ more people like Taaj (not like Taaj, although that was a comical bonus, but someone to drive around in the wee hours shifting around bicycles). Thank you ever so much. Lots of love from Charlie xxx

Pic credit: andrewasmith


  1. ... "the rest of us are creaking 25 year-olds with flat feet and receding headlines" (sic)
    Cheeky bastard! I'll have you know I was carrying a very heavy sports bag at the time. And there's nowt wrong with my hairline, it's super. And I'd only just turned 25! Unbelievable... ;)

  2. It's JP with the receding headline my darling - and we all know who has the flat feet...