Saturday, May 07, 2011

Self-regulating schemes

At the FT, Sam Knight follows one of London's bikes-for-hire for a day (site registration required). It is an interesting piece throughout, and this fellow sounds delightful:
The scheme itself has its headquarters on Penton Street, near King’s Cross railway station, in an old taxi depot, where I met Nick Leigh, the gap-toothed and optimistic Serco manager in charge. In the corner of his office was a whiteboard covered in equations and hand-drawn graphs attacking the logistical quandaries of the machines. “The scribblings of a madman,” he said. On paper, Leigh explained, London’s cycle system was only going to need a fleet of 14, non-polluting electrical buggies called “Alkis” to supplement the random movement of bikes across the city, chiefly by dealing with the inevitable daily tide of bikes washing in from the edge of zone one and back out again. But it has not worked out like that.

“I think we believed there would be more natural redistribution than maybe there is,” said Leigh. The Alkis are currently off the roads, unable to take the workload, and have been replaced by 18 less green cars and vans. The main force that Serco has to contend with are the commuters, who tend to ride the bikes in straight lines from the stations to the City and back again. As a result, Serco has recently had to rent storage space at King’s Cross, Waterloo and Holborn to avoid the dreaded sin of “double-handling” – ferrying the same bikes twice in the same day. When I asked Leigh whether he thought the bikes would be ever able to flow without any intervention at all, he looked wistful. “I have dreamed of lots of things,” he said, “but not self-regulated schemes.”

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