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Canal & River Trust says most hire firms fail to co-operate in recovering bikes

The Canal & River Trust says it is fishing 100 hire bikes out of London’s canals each year – but says that most companies who operate bike rental schemes do not co-operate in recovering the bikes.

The problem of hire bikes being dumped in canals has been highlighted just days after it was revealed that London Boroughs are considering fining bike hire companies £500 a time in a bid to tackle the problem of dumped bikes in the capital's streets.

The Canal & River Trust, which is responsible for some 2,000 miles of inland waterways in England and Wales, believes that the cheap cost of many hire bikes means there is little incentive for operators to tackle the problem, reports The Guardian.

It adds that the problem is repeated in other towns and cities that have bike hire schemes.

A Guardian journalist accompanied the Canal & River Trust’s Aidan Slater on the barge Hanwell to recover bikes dumped in the Regent’s Canal near King’s Cross, the expedition resulting in the recovery of more than 30 bikes – seven from the capital’s Santander Cycles scheme, 20 belonging to Mobike, and nine from Ofo, which no longer operates in the UK.

“There are so many more hire companies now, and the bikes aren’t docked, so that many more end up in the canal,” said Slater.

“It used to be mainly Santander bikes, but since they improved the security of the docking stations we get fewer of them now. The new generation of hire bikes can be left anywhere, so there’s an increasing likelihood of them ending up in the water.”

He said that having to retrieve the bikes took time away from other essential tasks, adding, “We could be doing things instead to improve the environment,” and pointing out that bikes abandoned in the canal could damage boats, leading to expensive repair bills.

Slater appealed for hire scheme operators to make greater efforts to assist with recovery of the bikes, saying: “We have to dispose of them at our own expense, which isn’t fair.”

He added: “If you leave a bike on the towpath, the chances are that someone is going to throw it into the water. I want the operators to listen. I’d tell them: inform your users not to leave bikes anywhere near water.”

Vandalism and theft were cited by Mobike as its reason for closing down its operation in Manchester and London last year, and it suspended activities in Newcastle and Gateshead earlier this year due to bikes being thrown in the River Tyne.

Canal & River Trust spokesman Joe Coggins commented: “We remove around 100 per year and that’s just in London. There are probably more than that being dumped – it’s really frustrating.”

Regarding most operators refusing to co-operate in recovering the bikes, he said: “We think it’s because they get their bikes so cheaply that it’s not cost-effective to cover the cost of their return.”

Richard Dilks, chief executive of shared transport trade bidy CoMoUK which previously operated as Carplus and Bikeplus, said he was willing to discuss the problem with the Canal & River Trust to attempt to find a solution.

He said: “No operator wants their bikes to end up in a canal. It sends the wrong message for all concerned and has a damaging visual impact on the reputation of the provider and shared bikes more generally.”

Lime, the electric bike hire scheme originating in California which launched in London earlier this year said it had been in touch with the Canal & River Trust over the issue, with a spokeswoman telling The Guardian: “We have marked out extensive no-parking-zones along all canals and rivers in London and fine users for parking bikes in these areas.”

The most recent entrant to the capital’s bike-sharing market was Uber-owned Jump, launching in Islington in May. Users who attempt to park the bikes in restricted areas such as The Royal Parks or on canal towpaths are sent a message and charged £25 if they fail to remove it.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.