Me testing a Lime electric bicycle (e-bike) in London.
More expensive than bus (on this route, £3.10 for 14 min (£1 unlock, £0.15 min) ride vs £1.50 on bus)
Similar door-to-door time to bus (marginal gains), though outside dense routes
Fairly fast top speed (felt slightly too fast for London at night, in my view; needs careful cycling, not for beginners)
Bike felt OK for 10 minutes but not super comfortable (the TFL bicycles at £2 are slower, heavier, but more comfortable)
-Very easy to use app
-Low carbon footprint
-Easy to unlock and lock
I left my office in the City of London (near Cannon St/Bank) at around 7pm. I checked on the Lime app, and I could see 2 bikes near Notting Hill gate. I arrive at NHG around 7.40pm and both bikes were still there, I head to the nearest one. It’s a short (3 min) walk and standing on the pavement. My first scan attempt fails, but it’s easy to do and try again and in a few seconds the bike has unlocked. I wheel it it to a good place to start, adjust the seat (quick release) and set off.
The back brake is broken but front brake works so I continue as it’s only a 10 or so min ride. The front light is not that bright (the TFL / Santander bike is brighter) but adequate. You feel the bumps in the road. Most noticeably, the acceleration from a standing start is very quick and the top cruising speed seems to almost keep pace with car. On a dark night in London, this feels too fast, and I make sure I don’t accelerate to max. On uncertain roads or for beginner cyclists, this also feels a little unsafe. The pedal bikes (TFL/Santander) are slower and heavier but seem therefore a little safer and better for tourists.
The journey takes 14 minutes. A bus according to City Mapper / Google varies from 16 to 18 mins (door-door), which aligns with my experience and an average 3 min wait. Walking is 26 mins. Uber is 12 mins no wait, typical 15 mins inc wait.
This highlights the problem that Lime may face (and City Mapper taxi as well). For the price, bus is more effective and on reflection this suggests I should be walking this distance more regularly, if exercise and carbon pollution are my aims. Taxis and Uber become effective in 4 people parties (or luggage),
Few other observations, if there was some credit for the carbon saving that would potentially even it out although again this would budge towards walking/running. It would potentially accelerate the move to electric taxis/ubers we are already seeing.
This might work better in zone two, where bus routes are not as concentrated and the TFL bikes do not extend. London is one of the premier leagues of transport so this difficulty is unsurprising. The problem going into Zone two and beyond is the number of bikes needed to make it work effectively would need to grow. It shows to me mobility in London is well served. It also highlights how cheap Uber is for a small party. This seems underpriced and I wonder how sustainable at these input costs.
The effective ride time seems to be 10 to 20 minutes, but that’s going to be in the £2.50 to £5.00 cost zone. That seems too expensive for London vs the competition.
In the US, the cost is in dollars equivalent currently so cheaper. US cities typically have poorer bus and subway density than London. But, perhaps this works in a city like Manchester.
The Ofo pedal bikes are currently typically restricted to the City / Hackney. I now think this is wise as the tube / bus network is not quite as dense in Hackney and the TFL bikes do not extend to deeply so it makes sense to have a supplementary door-door bike network there.
At this price, the economics of the ebike should work in the right place. A new Gtech ebike is £1,000. It should be significantly cheaper for Lime to buy ebikes even with GPS tracking technology, while wear and tear and charging would be significant, I’d estimate £1,500 should run an ebike for a year including capital costs (and that’s a high estimate). Charging is done by “juicers” essentially another gig economy type role, where registered helpers charge bikes for a fee (in the order of £2 to £5 a bike I would think). So that would be 500 - 1000 rides a year, or 2 - 3 rides a day to break even (we know in some US cities, 5 to 10 rides a day on a scooter / bike is average). Of course, there’s the cost of running the app etc. The economics of e-scooters would be even better. So, I can see why VC funding of these companies is strong.
There are about 400 Lime bikes in London at the moment, so it’s a fairly small investment to test out how this market works. I don’t think it’s that competitive but there’s some differentiation - I like having the choice - and I suspect it’s cheap enough to run that they may stay around.
Give it a spin! But I’d go slow and stick to the day time and routes you know for now.
Update: the ride in the morning felt a lot safer in day time. App still working very well. Cost only £2.10 for a shorter trip and the bus route was not as good so more effective.