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Westminster starts removing hire e-bikes from central London streets on safety grounds

Council says dumped bikes create dangerous “obstacle course” for pedestrians – and pledges that money raised from hire firms will be spent on cycling infrastructure

Westminster City Council (WCC) has started removing e-bikes dumped by hirers from its streets, claiming that they create a dangerous “obstacle course” for pedestrians, and pledging that the money raised from hire firms to return the bikes to them will be spent on improving cycling infrastructure.

While a number of neighbouring boroughs permit dockless e-bike hire schemes from operators such as Dott, Human Forest, Lime and Tier, WCC does not – but that has not deterred hirers from leaving their bikes there once their trip has finished.

The council, control of which passed from the Conservatives to Labour in May, says it is supportive of cycling, but is now seeing hundreds of e-bikes dumped on its streets every day, creating a hazard for disabled and elderly residents in particular.

As with the first wave of non-electric dockless hire bikes that hit the UK in 2017 from the likes of Mobike and the now-defunct Ofo, the clutter they cause on pavements when people park them outside of designated areas has put local authorities at loggerheads with operators.

> London Assembly report calls for tighter regulation of dockless bike-share schemes

WCC says that it has “attempted to engage with the major dockless bike operators and still hopes to find a solution which improves cycling in the city but has been inundated with complaints about blocking access to pavements roads.

“The severity of the issue has grown throughout the year with people returning to the city following the end of Covid restrictions,” it added, highlighting that e-bikes “bikes are regularly found blocking pedestrian crossings and obstructing the pavement – forcing pedestrians and wheelchair-users to move into the road and putting their safety at risk.”

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, WCC’s Cabinet Member for City Management and Air Quality, said: “The council has begun seizing dockless bikes that we find blocking pavements and roads in Westminster. Trying to walk down some of our streets has become like attempting an obstacle course and we are fed up finding these bikes dumped across the city.

“Anyone in town this summer will see these cycles abandoned. It’s a nuisance and potentially dangerous, especially for those with disabilities.

“We’ve contacted the major dockless bike operators and made it clear that if they don’t remove their bikes from the pavement the council will - and we’ll charge them for doing so.

“Any money we raise will go towards improving cycling infrastructure on our streets.

“Westminster City Council is supportive of cycling and the many benefits it brings, particularly when it comes to cleaning up air quality,” he added.

“We want to find a solution that works for everyone but, in the meantime, people living and visiting Westminster shouldn’t have to put up with this every day.”

US company Lime was the first dockless e-bike operator to establish a presence in London back in 2018, and subsequently bought rival firm Jump from Uber.

> London gets its first dockless e-bike hire scheme with Lime

The company’s senior public affairs manager, Hal Stevenson, urged users to park their bikes in a responsible manner once they finish their ride.

Quoted on MoveElectric, he said: “We are committed to working with WCC, other operators and wider stakeholders to resolve these issues, and will be putting forward a cross-operator package of measures aimed at more effectively managing e-bikes that have been left in the borough.

“If you ride Lime in London, please remember to park responsibly, and never leave a bike in a way that obstructs the pavement, or makes someone else's journey more difficult.”

Alex Berwin, regional manager for Greater London at rival operator Tier, added: "Tier supports Westminster’s ambition to boost cycling in the Borough by 2026, backed by a bold Climate Action Plan to improve air quality for residents. Shared micro-mobility offers an effective solution that would help achieve these aims.

"We will collaborate with Westminster to ensure they have access to our wide range of tools which ensure our vehicles are parked sensibly and local people can access sustainable transport.” 

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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KDee | 1 year ago
1 like

Earlier this year I had a weekend in Berlin, and used Bird e-scooters to get about. There were specific areas that were geo-fenced where you couldn't park them. So surely, it's as simple as using that technology to allow parking only in legitimate parking areas...or am I being a bit thick as usual?

mdavidford replied to KDee | 1 year ago

The issue isn't technical, though - it's that from the operator's point of view there's no business incentive to do it. On the one hand it undermines part of their value proposition (that you don't have to plan your journey to include a visit to a return point), and on the other hand it would raise their costs by complicating their operating model (they have to plan, set up, and manage that network of return points, and manage a system for penalising users who don't use them). So unless they face some penalty themselves for not doing it (like getting their bikes confiscated, for example) then they're not going to.

Simon_MacMichael replied to KDee | 1 year ago

The problem here is that while Westminster does participate in the e-scooter hire trial, it does not permit e-bike schemes ... so the bikes are being hired in adjacent boroughs, then left in Westminster. 

There are calls for the borough to allow bikes to be left in the geo-fenced areas where scooters can be parked after hiring, though that of course depends on people knowing where they are plus operator compatibility etc.

RoubaixCube | 1 year ago

Heres a simple solution - A lot of these bikes are tracked by GPS. Why not charge riders an additional 'collection fee' if the bikes are dumped in the middle of nowhere and not returned to a local docking or parking station?

I know it slightly takes away from the convience of the bikes but if youre a responsible customer and always returning the bikes to a docking or parking station then you have nothing to worry about.

Either the customers who dump the bikes are happy to pay the extra collection fee or they'll learn really quickly to drop the bike off where they should be and available for the next person to use.

hawkinspeter | 1 year ago

Why don't the bike companies convert a few car parking spaces into bike parking spaces? That'd stop the bikes being a hazard.

Brauchsel replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago

Not when a significant proportion of their users just dump the bikes wherever they feel. 
Given the hire companies must have users' card details, they could impose a parking-ticket-sized fine on the last user of a jettisoned bike. 

Dnnnnnn replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
1 like

hawkinspeter wrote:

convert a few car parking spaces into bike parking spaces? That'd stop the bikes being a hazard.

Only if you have to return them to that place and they are secured in position - as with the Santander bikes. The other operators do have some designated spaces - often identifiable by the number of bikes left quite near them and/or in a heap.

I used to live next to one of these designated spots and that's how it was - and no it wasn't me wot knocked them over or threw them about. Not that I remember anyway.

makadu | 1 year ago

Are they going to start removing dangerously parked motor vehicles from on pavements, in cycle lanes and on roads with parking restrictions (red or yellow)???

Dnnnnnn | 1 year ago

Good. The way these bikes are left (whether by the hirer or by whoever thinks it would be funny to knock a bunch of them over) is anti-social at best and dangerous at worst.

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