back to article Boris-Bike firm penalised by £5m over system hiccups

Transport for London is witholding £5m in payments to Serco, the company behind the capital's bike rental scheme. TfL is unhappy that problems with the back-end system have seen users overcharged. It has given Serco a timetable to fix problems, according to the Beeb, and is witholding the money because of missed targets. It is …


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  1. Wize

    Maybe they need more bikes at the main stations

    Do you have to return the bike to the place you hired it? If not, how do they handle lots of one way trips when the tube breaks down?

  2. durandal


    "More serious than system wibbles, insiders also told the BBC that big changes to pricing were needed to stop docking stations at mainline rail termini emptying immediately"

    Shirley that's the point of the scheme?

    The inner sleuth in me suggests that the solution might be to provide more bikes, rather than put the prices up...

    1. There's a bee in my bot net

      To cheap...

      If the peons can afford it, it is too cheap.

    2. gerryg


      It's best not used as a conventional cycle hire scheme. It works best if you cycle between docking stations then come back and get another one when you need it. If you cycle for less than 30 minutes per bike (IIRC) the only fee is your annual registration fee - don't know how it works for credit cards and tourists/casual users.

      It relies on randomess - for every bike taken one is replaced.

    3. Sir Cosmo Bonsor


      But also they simply cart them around London on big trailers to refill the empty stations.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      White Van Man

      The distribution system isn't as dumb as that. :)

      Bike hire isn't random, there are hot spots, and hot routes. The system "knows" when bikes are hired, and from where, and "knows" when they are docked somewhere else. It can also find out how many bikes are left at each station and whether any are faulty.

      Nice men in white vans then move bikes from station to station to ensure that there are "hirable" bikes present and a few spaces for people to dock. They also sort out the broken bikes sitting in a station.

      If this background activity happens as it should, there will always be bikes to hire and spaces to return them to... in the real world, shit happens, the bikes disappear from the popular stations faster than the men in the white vans can redistribute them.


    5. david 63


      They have lots of little electric trucks ferrying bikes from full racks to empty ones

  3. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    Supply and Demand

    "More serious than system wibbles, insiders also told the BBC that big changes to pricing were needed to stop docking stations at mainline rail termini emptying immediately, especially in the mornings."

    Rather than charging more so fewer people use them, why not have more bikes there in the first place? That way, they would go further towards their presumable goal of reducing congestion. not everything in this world has to be run with the aim of squeezing as much money out of everyone as possible...

  4. Chris Thomas Alpha

    big changes to pricing because it's a success???

    Wait wait wait......they want to change the pricing structure because next to train terminals the cycles are being used up and there aren't any free.

    Thats a problem?

    I suppose pricing changes doesnt mean it'll get cheaper, but more expensive, but why would you do that? if all the bikes are used, you're generating the maximum amount of money from those bicycles, what is your problem here?

    did anybody do maths at school, or perhaps they did, cause charging more might still mean the bike rack is empty, just at a higher priceline :)

  5. Frank Bitterlich

    Changes to pricing needed?

    "More serious than system wibbles, insiders also told the BBC that big changes to pricing were needed to stop docking stations at mainline rail termini emptying immediately, especially in the mornings"

    Sure. The problem: More people than expected want to use the service. Solution: Make it more expensive.

    Great idea if you're selling iPhones, but not if you're trying to solve the city´s traffic problems.


  6. Captain Underpants
    Thumb Down

    As others have mentioned, someone's left their thinking meat at home...

    So the solution to coping with high demand is to increase pricing to reduce demand, rather than providing greater resources to meet demand?

    Well, ok then...all you'll do is ensure that fewer people use the damn things and thus undermine your own goals, but don't let that stop you from thinking with your arse.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Yuo Sir,

      Get upvoted for use of the phrase, 'thinking meat'.

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge
        Thumb Up


        I rarely let my meat do the thinking. That went horribly wrong in vegas once. Oh lord the scars and pain.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Subsidized budget

      Low supply with excess demand is liable to put people off, making the scheme less effective. But increased supply raises costs and it's hard to meet the massive jump at times of peak demand and recover costs.

      It's the classic public transportation problem with the usual answer being higher peak-time charges balanced with discounts for regular users.

  7. Puck

    thank god they withheld the money from serco

    i've been so unhappy about the many times i've not been able to rent a bike (my walking ability not good, cycling better) due to system glitches, which occur more often than not, that i wrote to the auditor for london local government begging him to take action on the crap value they get from the scheme. can you believe it, serco process all the complaints for the scheme! and you have to send them via snail mail (i bet that's popular).

    there's something uniquely frustrating about needing a bike and not being able to get one because the system's frozen (so often), so i'm really glad serco have got an almighty slap.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the beeb figure of £3,182 overcharged during a week is wrong

    it only includes those instances where people complained - it didn't include the £4 i was overcharged. check your bills, peeps... well, if you tried to rent a bike and couldn't, that is.

  9. gerryg
    Thumb Up

    Give them a chance

    I've got my own push bike thanks, but I'm impressed by the Boris bike scheme.

    Yes, no doubt the system is going to require some adaption in the light of experience, but essentially it is suffering from its success.

    If you stand still anywhere in central London ten of them will pass you within 15 minutes

    People are using the bike data to do useful stuff***

    (are you listenng, Network Rail?)

    I am astonished at rate of increase in docking stations at Waterloo - demonstrating customer responsiveness

    OTOH I've also wondered why docking stations were placed elsewhere seeming unused. But that's what you get by experimentation

    However, rather than do a fifteen year useless study that would result in all the docking stations being in ll the wrong places and unchangeable until the next study they're trying by doing - full marks

    *nothing to do with me

  10. Sam Crawley

    About time..

    Love the scheme, try to use it every day subject to a bike being available at King's Cross at about 08:30 (answer if sunny = no, if rainy or cold = yes), but the implementation has been poor - as just a regular user I have repeatedly suffered ghost journeys, random charges on my accounts, dock consoles always crashing, entire docks malfunctioning repeatedly, and the latest I've noticed is the on-site staff during rush hours are slowly being withdrawn earlier and earlier in the evening leaving full docks, clearly just a cost-cutting measure. As I thought the scheme was modelled on Montreal I would have thought most of this would have been avoided. If this is largely Serco's responsibility then they are right to withhold payments.

    1. gerryg


      Montreal has a population of 1.6m (20% of London) I don't know what its commuting or tourist patterns are like. Around 400,000 passengers use Waterloo every day - 25% of montreal's population.

      Even if it were modelled on Montreal there's no reason to assume perfect scalability, nor that all implementation issues were identical

      honestly - I have no connection with the scheme

  11. Andus McCoatover

    Boris Johnson == Sir Clive Sinclair?

    Is this another doomed brilliant idea, where the Brits have displayed their fondlency for a nasty case of Premature Implementation?

    Perhaps the old adage is true.


    Keeps the PhD at bay".

    (Icon, cos I just paid off all my debts today. Now, where can I find Tennants when I need it desperately, particularly after a 24-hour removal trip?)

    1. Ru
      Paris Hilton


      Who the what now?

      Brilliant or not, any doom will come from the direction of the usual government outsourcing companies, who are, at their very best, a vast abyss of mediocrity.

    2. nyelvmark

      Re: Boris Johnson == Sir Clive Sinclair?

      Well, let's see: Boris Johnson is a hack journalist turned politician, so you can't trust anything he says. Clive Sinclair was an immensely successful con artist who, together with his friends at the BBC, managed to persuade a significant portion of the UK public that he was an engineering genius, despite the fact that all his "products" were either vapourware, didn't work reliably enough to be usable, or had nothing like the claimed performance.

      I once had a business repairing Sinclair ZX Spectrums. They were made by Thorn-EMI*, and were fairly reliable, except for a single inverter circuit (comprising a single transistor) that generated the +12v and -5v needed for the primitive (and therefore cheap) RAM chips. Failure of this transistor would nearly always cause a failure in at least one of the 8 RAM chips - sometimes all of them. Thorn-EMI finally eliminated this problem in the issue 4 (or was it 5?) circuit board, where the suspect circuit was replaced with an integrated solution.

      However, I would occasionally be given an issue 1 Spectrum to repair. These WERE built by Sinclair (or by hobbyists from Sinclair kits). The repair procedure was simple:

      1. Open case, disconnect and remove circuit board. Depending on who had built it, this might mean unsoldering some earth links or capacitors added hopefully here and there to try and make the damned thing work.

      2. Carefully place the removed circuit board into a nearby furnace or other oubliette.

      3. Replace with the most-recent version of circuit-board made by Thorn-EMI.

      The Sinclair Spectrum was an enormous, but accidental success. It's engineering quality came from Thorn-EMI, not from Sinclair Research, and was financed from (BBC-promoted) advance sales. Quality came as a result of the success, not the other way around. Every other Sinclair product (remember the Black Watch? or the C5? or the Quantum Lurch?) was an unmitigated disaster in engineering terms, but was presented by the BBC as a British engineering triumph, even to the extent that Sinclair was knighted.


      If there's a modern giant that is comparable to Sinclair Research, it's Apple corp. Granted, their hardware is much better-engineered than Sinclair's, but their success, like Sinclair's is not actually a function of the quality of their engineering, but rather of the quality of their marketing.

      Jeez - if Jobs was British, he'd be Earl of Scotland by now, or something.

      *Interestingly, I'm unable to confirm through Google whether my memory is correct, and that it was Thorn-EMI, or one of the other big European millitary-industrial corporations that actually re-engineered the Spectrum. It doesn't really matter, however. It wasn't SR.

      1. Andus McCoatover

        2. Carefully place the removed circuit board into a nearby furnace or other oubliette.

        Consider my hat suitably doffed, Sir!

  12. Ben 50

    Brits and Premature Implementation?

    No, the Brits are just showing their tolerance for incompetance again.

    Amsterdam and Brussels (and I think Madrid and Berlin) have had flawlessly operating systems for years.

    1. Tom Clark

      Economy of scale...

      At last count, there were ~660,000 bicycles in Amsterdam - a city with a population of ~780,000.

      I think it's fair to assume that finding a bicycle in Amsterdam is not a problem and therefore your comparison is unfair.

      Assuming London's population is currently ~7,750,000 you would need ~6,550,000 bicycles to achieve the same 'flawless operating system' of Amsterdam.

  13. Miek


    Why am I not surprised to find that Serco is running this? Along with the Asylum detention centres in Scotland :

    1. durandal

      What's surprising about that?

      They run the one in Cambridgeshire as well (and Christmas Island and Darwin), not to mention the couple of private prisons, the DLR, the Woolwich ferry etc. etc.

      Although the bit that concerns me most is the fact they do unspecified Stuff at the AWE in Aldermaston...

      1. Anonymous Coward


        Yes that's one docking station you wouldn't want to freeze, although on the plus side it would cause billions of pounds worth of improvements to Reading....

        1. Anonymous Coward

          serco look after our nuclear weapons? seriously?

          that's the deepest darkest laugh i've had all day. the human race may yet end with a bang after all. preceded by telephone muzak and the assurance our call *is* valued.

  14. Caff

    more bikes wont help

    As evidenced by other cycle hire scheme, Dublin, Barcelona etc... upping the number of bikes at stations just means more people use them. The extra capacity gets abosorbed by more people using them. Due to the commuting patterns of people the bikes get distrbuted in a way that means you will have empty stations near mass transit points pretty quick. In Dublin here they have vans redistributing the bikes during peak hours.

    In the end the bikes are a convienience and possibly an incentive to get people cycling their own bikes, they are not by any means a mass public transport solution and should not be treated as such.

    1. nyelvmark

      upping the number of bikes ... just means more people use them

      Is it me that's missing the point?

  15. Luke 11

    Tfl hit team?!

    Even more surprising than a project not being delivered on-time / working / reliable by a major contractor on a local authority / government project is that someone said Tfl have a hit team to go into Serco to help iron out the problems.

    The only thing Tfl has ever been good at is ripping off people with the congestion charge failed to pay 'Turbo fine accellerator!' which by any standards, is very good at robbing Joe Public to subsidise crappy initiatives such as this whole rent a crappy bike fiasco.


    1. Svantevid

      @ Luke 11

      "rent a crappy bike fiasco"


      Ah yes, fiasco... it could be compared to the General Motors' fiasco of electric cars in 1990's.

      You know, the one where GM had to kill the program, because they managed to lease every single one of their cars, and customers were eager to extended those leases.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Why not...

    Have some trailers built as mobile docking stations, when full just tow them back to the main stations.

    But then SERCO are about Money first, Old Boy's network second, value for money tenth and customer service 20th, and that's why I left them 7 years ago and never looked back

    Boris Bikes will be like hens teeth come Olympic time.

    Also Boris, why are there no docking stations near Essex Road station? You used to pass it taking your kids to school like I did at Highbury

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      2 points

      1) brilliant idea re the mobile docks. please tell bozza.

      2) essex road is out because people will more frequently cycle over to zone 2 to save on their tube fares, so TFL will be cannibalising their own income, plus the scheme usage patterns would get distorted by the customers' perceived heretofore absent financial incentive. but i basically agree with you anyway.

  17. Anonymous Coward


    Serco don't do good service, they do cheap and nasty as a matter of policy. Public procurement pretty much dictates that the lowest bidder wins, and Serco understand this very well.

    Those who have worked for them will not be in the least surprised by any of this.

    What should be of more concern is that they also run the Atomic Weapons Establishment.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    "If there's a modern giant that is comparable to Sinclair "

    it's Mr Sugar, surely? Jumped-up barrow boy whose consumer electronics products... well, you know the rest, I'm sure.

  19. Anonymous Coward



    Pronounced: Fail

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