I love Boris Bikes. Having suffered bike thefts and vandalism, nearly 18 months ago I decided to switch to Boris Bikes for the London end of my commute. I get into London early, so I don’t have a problem finding one around Kings Cross (for such a major transport hub, the station, and neighbouring St Pancras, have surprisingly small and few docking stations nearby). Indeed I rarely have a problem finding a free bike are a free parking dock and while the bikes take a bit of getting used to, I’ve found they are generally well maintained (always try to find one with a clean chain and check the tyre pressure is firm then you’ll be fine). They are a superb way of getting around town; I’ve ridden them as far as Mile End and Kensington, once I even crossed to south of the river. But, best of all, at £45 for an annual subscription, they are cheap.
That was until today.
On the day after Americans voted for sanity, Transport for London announced annual Boris Bike subscriptions would double to £90, while the daily fare doubles from £1 to £2.
Ok, compared to other forms of travel these are relatively trivial costs. The £2 daily fare is still 10p cheaper than a single zone 1 Oyster fare for the tube. However, part of the point of commuting by bike is that it is significantly cheaper than any other transport mode bar walking. No regular cycle commuter, especially those who have to leave their bike in a public area, uses even a moderately expensive bike for commuting, the risk of it being pinched is too great. Either through common sense or hard experience, most people quickly resort to a cheap 2nd hand commuter hack. Or, over the last few years and as an even cheaper alternative, the Boris bike. At £45, Boris Bikes are better value for money for my commute, but at £90 the annual subscription becomes harder to justify. For £90 I can get a decent enough bike for commuting. If I manage to hold onto it for 24 months, then that is £90 saved and that is before any future subscription increases from TfL.
So, is there any good reason for me to renew my subscription? The clear advantage to Boris Bikes is that I don’t run the risk of having a bike stolen or vandalised. But, perhaps that is less of an issue for me than it once was. Despite the recent revamp, Kings Cross is still not be especially secure. There are gates now yet most of the time they seem to be open, still it is better than it was. At work I can keep a bike in my office.
Boris bikes do offer flexibility. I can ride out to a pub then tube it back, not such an easy option with your own bike.
I am running out of arguments in their favour.
A commuter hack would be faster and easier to ride. I could add a pannier rack instead of struggling to secure my bag with the Boris Bike’s too small bungee straps. After a long day I won’t have to worry about finding my nearest docking station empty or the station ones full. I already have lights for the home end of my commute and I can do the basic maintenance to keep a bike happy on the road.
With my own bike I will not be paying £90 to be a Barclays Bank billboard.
I think there is a wider personal finance point to consider too. In January I can expect my annual train fare to increase by several hundred pounds. I have already been asked to contribute more to my pension, my household energy bills are going up again, while the cost of the weekly shop persists with its upwards trend. The subscription rise is yet another unwelcome squeeze. At least I don’t drive much.
I am not pleading poverty but in these austere times I’ll look for savings where I can. So while an extra £45 over a year is not much, it might be enough to tip the economic argument against Boris bikes and back to the traditional commuter’s hack.