As the colony of Lime bikes grows, can Wandsworth bring order to the chaos?

6 mins read
Lime bike depot in Beauchamp road - Credit:

Wandsworth has a complicated relationship with cycle hire schemes! Lots of residents don’t own cars, and we’re close to the centre of London – which means it’s a Borough where a lot of people cycle. Maybe because of this, the Council is pretty supportive of cycling – and has strongly supported TfL’s Santander Cycles. They got enthusiastically involved from the start to get most of the north of the Borough included – which is why there was quite a notable stretch on the initial coverage area to include Wandsworth town centre!

They’ve kept going since then: Lavender Hill itself used to be the very edge of the scheme coverage, but in 2014 Wandsworth blagged a small extension with three docking stations to cover Clapham Common Northside and Northcote Road, and last year another one meant the scheme reaching Clapham South. As we reported in 2019 Lambeth did a similar deal to add one at the south end of Cedars Road, giving the Lavender Hill area comprehensive coverage. We’ve also seen a big rollout of cycle lockups, a more continuous cycle lane along Lavender Hill, and improvements to some of the dodgier roads & junctions.

When it comes to ‘dockless’ cycle hire schemes, the relationship has been rather trickier. These schemes have had a messy life so far – starting with an explosion of chaotic and badly designed schemes in 2017 (backed by oodles of Chinese-led investment, almost all of which went up in smoke). They became quite a headache for Councils: in the initial stage where a dozen or so operators were competing with not-very-secure bike schemes cycles where being left all over the place, and costing money to rescue.

Wandsworth weren’t happy at the way these schemes just appeared out of the backs of lorries in the dead of night: back in 2017 we reported that they’d seized 130 Obikes, on the grounds that they’d been dumped all over the Borough without any advance warning or consultation and were causing problems at the stations. As the FT noted at the time –

[Obike] has said it is “disappointed” after Wandsworth council seized more than 130 of its cycles and described them as a “yellow bike plague”  […]  Wandsworth council said it had started removing the bikes since they first started appearing last month, saying that “masses” of the bikes were found outside Clapham Junction train station, causing problems for pedestrians and especially for people in wheelchairs and parents with buggies.

Things did calm down a bit, as most of the dockless cycle operators vanished, leaving a handful of more established and organised operators mainly focussed on electric bikes – most notably Lime, who are now turning a decent profit. But the issue of bikes left all over the pace continues to be a headache for Councils trying to keep their pavements accessible to all residents and free of clutter.

In 2022, Council leader Simon Hogg told Lime boss Wayne Ting that a fresh round of seizing bikes (and charging for their return) would kick off unless the firm did more to clamp down “unacceptable obstructions” to Wandsworth’s roads and pavements, following what he described as a flood of complaints from residents.

The BBC News article featured St John’s Road with bikes all over it!

Lime bikes on St John’s Hill – Credit: CJI

Lime themselves also started to call for designated parking areas to be created, suggesting 10,000 dedicated e-bike parking spaces were needed across London.

Hire bikes are widely used and have become part of London’s transport arrangements, so some sort of middle ground was clearly going to be needed, between ongoing chaos of bikes littered everywhere, and attempts to seize them and get them off the streets. Wandsworth therefore started working with Lime to try and bring some order – while continuing to seize bundles of particularly badly parked bikes, presumably as a way of keeping the pressure up on the cycle scheme operators to make progress. Lime started sending teams out to sort out particularly messy assortments of bikes, as well as restricting parking in parts of the Borough, to prevent journeys being finished in particularly crowded or awkward areas.

Lime left on the St John’s Hill near the station’s entrance – Credit: CJI

This didn’t help much at first – mainly because Lime’s bikes were too easy to hack and ride without paying; the familiar ticking of jump-started bikes was one of the sounds of last summer and with no incentive for the typically rather dubious crowd riding them to park them in a sensible way these bikes continued to be dumped all over the place.

A more organised parking?

However it is now starting to work, mainly thanks to hardware tweaks on the bikes that have made it a lot harder to ride the bikes without properly unlocking them!

This has had a particularly striking effect on Beauchamp Road, on the corner of Lavender Hill next to the Thermomix shop. It’s become a designated Clapham Junction parking area for Lime bikes – and has been swamped by a huge sea of Lime!

It’s shown that the cycles can be geo-restricted to some extent, and it’s created a more organised parking area than what we saw before, in a spot with a relatively wide pavement that provides space for them without blocking the path. However this doesn’t really feel like the long term solution either – and residents of Beauchamp Road are probably relieved to hear that more improvements are probably on the way.

In March, Wandsworth consulted on plans to designate 141 locations around the Borough as cycle hire parking areas, with a view to focussing dropoff and pickup on these sites, and create some space on the road (rather than pavements) specifically for these cycles – which ought to keep the pavements clear at the Beauchamp Road junction. The map below shows the proposed locations – including the spot photographed above, but also a variety of spots just off the main roads round Clapham Junction, and a few locations along Lavender Hill, Queenstown Road & Clapham Common Northside.

Are e-scooters coming to Wandsworth?

The locations will also, on a trial basis, be open for e-scooter hire schemes. These have had a much slower growth in London than cycle hire schemes, which may reflect how much harder it is to run a scooter hire scheme than a cycle scheme. Believe it or not, while anyone can ride a bike or run a cycle ire scheme, privately-owned e-scooters remain illegal to use on London’s roads. Even though they’re out there everywhere!

However there’s been a low-profile trial of hire scooters underway for the last five years, subject to quite strict rules on coverage, speed and parking.

Voi is one of the firms involved, but recently confirmed it is on the brink of abandoning its current London trial of 1,700 scooters from London (and maybe going in to the cycle hire business instead) – a decision it blames partly on a lack of dedicated parking areas, but mostly on the fact that only nine out of London’s 33 Boroughs have allowed its scooters to be used at all – rather limiting their appeal and the viability of a scooter hire business. It’s not quite as bad as Paris – where a referendum led to hire scooters being completely banned – but the lack of coverage of the trials has made it rather hard to tell if scooters hire could properly work in London.

Wandsworth was not one of those nine scooter-friendly Boroughs – but alongside the proposal on creating proper parking spaces, it has confirmed that it will now join in with the next part of the London e-scooter rental trial, which should see an expansion in the number of scooters in the Borough from LimeDott and Voi, and open up some new commute options to inner London (where most of the other Boroughs already allow rental scooters as part of the same programme).

All in all, the plans to create a proper set of parking spaces, and join in to the small scooter trial, looks like a reasonable proposal. It will lead to some parking bays being converted to drop off / pick up areas for cycle hire schemes, which is never controversy-free. However similar efforts to dedicate spaces to electric vehicle chargingcycle hangarscar-hire schemes, and motorcycles, have been reasonably easily accommodated, and the proposal seems proportionate given the sheer volume of cycle hire use now on our streets. A similar approach is already up & running in several other Boroughs – an example in Westminster is shown above – and it seems to have worked fairly well so far.

We’ll keep you posted on any new developments in the area, and if (as seems likely) the Council goes ahead with these plans, we’d be interested in your experience with the new approach.

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