If you’ve spent time in central London over the past couple of years, you’ll be familiar with the blue hire bikes parked up on street corners.
‘Boris bikes’ have changed the lives of many Londoners – they even got me cycling again for the first time since I was a teenager.
But there remain serious concerns about how well the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme is working – particularly with reports of people being slapped with charges of up to £150 just for a few minutes’ pedalling.
The system’s designed for short hires – so once you’ve paid an access fee (£1 for users who aren’t weekly or annual members) – there’s no further charge for rides of half an hour or less, and it’s another £1 if you ride for up to an hour. Then the fees rise sharply, to £50 for over six hours.
My horror story
I got hit myself after taking a short ride. Heading back from a party in King’s Cross, I thought hopping on a bike down the long, straight Farringdon Road would be a better option than waiting for a night bus.
But the gears weren’t working well on the bike I’d picked, so I parked it up at a docking station half a mile down the road, made sure it was locked properly, and jumped on an approaching bus.
I was a pound down for trying the bike, but thought nothing of it, until I idly checked my credit card statement a week or so later – and found a £50 charge from Barclays Cycle Hire.
I dashed off an email, and was initially told I’d hired a bike for eight hours on Bankside at the same time I was working here at MSE Towers, several miles away in Shepherd’s Bush.
I disputed this, and had a call from Barclays Cycle Hire the next day, apologising because it had called up the wrong account details.
After some to-ing and fro-ing, it became clear something had gone wrong when I docked the bike, because someone had docked it in Vauxhall several hours later, landing me with a £50 charge. That must have been some ride with those gears…
Barclays Cycle Hire is refunding my money, but I’m far from the only one to have been hit.
Other dodgy charges
Here’s a blogger slapped with a £150 non-return charge for a short ride – and a host of replies detailing more cases – and another, similar, case. One poor soul got landed with £300 of charges. Maybe I got off lightly.
Is this evidence of a wider failure, or is it just these just the kind of mistakes that happen with a growing system?
Whatever it is, if you hire a bike in London, it’s wise to protect yourself. Not only make sure the bike has docked properly (you’ll see a green light), but check on the docking terminal’s screen that your journey has ended. It might hold you up for a minute, but it could save you a big bill and lots of hassle afterwards.
Caroline Pidgeon, chair of the London Assembly’s transport committee, regularly gets complaints from overcharged users.
She says: "The scheme is not 100% reliable and I have been contacted by dozens of people who after inserting their bank or credit card have being wrongly charged, sometimes by £150."
Have you hired a bike only to find yourself landed with a big bill afterwards? Please share your experiences below, or in the forum discussion.