During my European cycling exploits I have often cycled into towns and cities where there is a bike hire system up and running. Increasingly it’s not just the major cities that have them, the smaller cities and towns are jumping in and offering their own bike hire services. However, does this make sense? In a large city like London, Paris or Madrid, many people commute from the suburbs and arrive at a railway station or underground station which might be some distance from their place of work. Climbing onto a hire bike for the final kilometre or two seems like a logical thing to do. Likewise, there are a sufficient number of tourists in these places who see the advantages of cycling their way around a large urban area rather than being hidden away in a bus, carriage of a train or even underground. In a small city or a town, things are slightly different… The majority of people who live in the suburbs of say a town like Reading where I live in southern England will choose to either drive into the centre (bad idea but many insist upon doing so!), take the bus (much better), walk (if they aren’t too far away) or cycle their own bicycle from home to work (which is what I do every day of the working week). Some even have the option of taking the train if they happen to live close to one of the suburban stations. Almost all of these people, whatever their means of transport, will be deposited quite close to where they work. In a compact town centre such as Reading it’s possible to walk from one end of town to the other in under five minutes. Will a bike hire system be used?
Well, we are about to find out. Today, Tuesday 10th June 2014, is a big day for Reading because it has seen the launch of its own bicycle hire scheme called Ready Bike. Docking stations have been popping up around town for the last couple of months and as of this morning, the bicycles themselves have gone live! They certainly look good and they should because the system has cost £1.2 million. The money has come from a pot of cash that the town was allocated a couple of years ago from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund. Reading did very well from this, being given £25 million to spend. We are promised a new pedestrian bridge across the river Thames and there have been efforts to spruce up squares in the town centre to presumable encourage people to walk (which is the most sustainable form of transport going). The council have probably also bought a few new buses… But where is the new cycling infrastructure? Dedicated cycle paths? Cycle lanes painted on existing roads? Improvements in the surface quality of the existing cycle paths? Cycling refuges at traffic lights? I haven’t seen much spent in any of these areas and it’s a great shame. Perhaps I do the council a disservice; it could be that such things are in the pipeline. Let’s hope that’s the case. Let’s also hope that the new bicycle hire scheme is a great success – I would love to be proved wrong about my feelings set out above – and perhaps if it is, it will have the knock-on benefit of encouraging the council to invest in a serious way in the cycling infrastructure of the town. I wish Ready Bike good luck and I do hope that this is just the first step that Reading Council takes towards making the town a genuinely cycle-friendly place in which to live and to travel. You can read the comments of the Reading Cycle Campaign in this article on the BBC News website. Over to you Mr Page!