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Santander Cycles – The History of Bicycle Share in London and How to Use It

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London’s bicycle sharing program is one of the top means of public transportation in the city.  Roughly 30,000 – 40,000 people take advantage of the Transport for London’s bicycle scheme on a daily basis.  Bicycle sharing has been around since Amsterdam adopted the first program in 1965 and London first adopted it in 2010.  Colloquially known as “Boris Bikes” since Boris Johnson was mayor when the scheme began, but it’s actually a misnomer.  Read below to learn more about the history of London’s bike share scheme and how you can use it when you visit the city.

Contrary to the nickname the bikes earned, it was actually Boris Johnson’s predecessor, Ken Livingstone, who conceived of the bike share for London.  Livingstone was inspired by the bike-sharing program in Paris and commissioned a feasibility study in 2007.  Transport for London then consulted with London’s boroughs and other cities across Europe that adopted their own bike-share schemes.  Livingstone announced the scheme in 2008 and it officially launched in 2010 during Johnson’s first term.  The fact that the scheme launched when Johnson was mayor coupled with his own love for cycling got the scheme labeled with the alliterative nickname “Boris Bikes”.

Barclays Bank was an initial sponsor when the scheme launched and were officially known as “Barclays Cycle Hire”.  The cycle hire scheme launched with 5,000 bicycles and 315 docking stations in the City of London and eight of London’s boroughs.  In 2012, the scheme expanded to Tower Hamlets and Hackney in East London as well as the Westfield Shopping Center in Shepherd’s Bush.  The next year, the scheme expanded further west with 2,000 bikes and 150 docking stations in Wandsworth, Hammersmith & Fulham, Lambeth, and Kensington & Chelsea.  In 2015, the sponsorship transferred from Barclays to Santander.  The scheme expanded further into Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2016 and Brixton in 2018.  At present, it is the largest cycle hire program in Europe with 11,000 bikes and 800 docking stations spread out over 40 miles.

Using the bikes has been relatively easy from the beginning and even easier thanks to recent technology.  While the Boris Bikes originally required a registration and membership fee, just about anyone can use the scheme now by downloading the Santander Cycles app to their phone.  The initial fee is only £2 for unlimited journeys for up to 30 minutes within a 24-hour period.  If you need more than thirty minutes for your trip, it’s only another £2 for the next half-hour.

Of course, you don’t have to download the app to use the cycle hire as there are options to pay at the kiosk or get a yearly membership for access whenever you want.  During the pandemic, TfL made the bicycle hire free for NHS workers within a 24-hour period.  There are also membership discounts for those who use the cycle hire to commute and also for students.  Annual membership costs £90 without a discount, which amounts to as little as 25p per day.

Additionally, TfL offers up several routes for regular users and tourists to take to see more of the city.  The Sports Route takes you past major London sports arenas such as the Kia Oval cricket grounds and Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge.  The Hyde Park Loop takes you around the Serpentine, while the Royal Loop will take you to Buckingham Palace.  The Thames Loop is your best bet for seeing the most landmarks from the London Eye to the Houses of Parliament.  No matter what you want to see in London, there’s a loop that will let you see what you care about most.

With that in mind, it’s easy to hop on a Boris Bike and get out to experience the city in a brand-new way!

John Rabon
Author: John Rabon

John is a regular writer for Anglotopia and its sister websites. He is currently engaged in finding a way to move books slightly to the left without the embarrassment of being walked in on by Eddie Izzard. For any comments, questions, or complaints, please contact the Lord Mayor of London, Boris Johnson's haircut.

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  1. Basically it costs 2 pounds for every half an hour to use. That is not only not cheap – that is EXTREMELY expensive – compared to other bike-sharing/ rent schemes in other European capitals.
    Unless you dock it every 29 minutes or less – and take another one out – for 29 minutes or less – who does that? How is that “convenient”, straightforward or easy to use? Instead of enjoying the wonderful sites in London – you are constantly looking for the next docking station, monitoring the clock, and panicking when you see the station is full and nowhere to dock-in.
    Or – alternatively – you are robbed-blind by the system.
    Take Copenhagen for example – completely free to pick-up a bike and ride about town.
    Take Paris for example: it costs 19 Euros for a whole day – that’s 16 pounds – the amount that you would pay for just 4 hours of riding in London 🙂


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