New map reveals use patterns of 'Boris Bikes'

By Richard Peace | Tuesday, August 17, 2010 12.00pm

A new map of London's recently launched cycle hire scheme shows docking station availability and usage patterns ‘at a glance' – something not available on the official Transport for London map.

Full docking stations are shown in red with a yellow circle around them, whilst nearly full are red with a sliding scale down through purple to blue with a blue outline – the latter being totally empty.

It's an extremely useful way of viewing the docking stations. Click on a docking station and you get the usage pattern for the last 24 hours – again, useful for users who want to study usage patterns to where spaces are likely to be available at certain times of the day.  

The map is the brainchild of Oliver O'Brien, who works at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College, London.

BikeRadar asked Oliver how he got the idea for the map and whether it might be coming to an iPhone near you: "Inspiration was seeing the set of data become available as I realised I could pull together a website quickly based on some similar visualisations I have done recently (voting and tube usage maps). It is an academic exercise and is not intended to be used by people on mobiles (on hire bikes) but it will work on them. I may make a mobile-optimised version that works better on devices such as iPhones."

There are numerous downloadable apps for handheld devices showing where hire stations are and their empty/full status. Several apps providers – and as well as Oliver - have noted that data is not always correct on the TfL computer screens at the docking stations, but all the apps providers and Oliver claim that their data is correct. It's thought the 'bad data' may come from a computer glitch with the TfL system which may be remedied shortly.

Usage patterns have appeared already – many not too surprising:

* During the working say there are many full or nearly full docking stations in central areas – especially in the areas centred on Soho and Holborn, just north of the Thames. During evenings the bikes end up at the cycle parking stands near the big terminal train stations and in a 'ring' around the edge of the area covered by the cycle hire scheme. 

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A video of the 24 hour phenomenon

* Heavy usage occurs during the rush-hours (around 10% of bikes are in use then), in a strikingly small time interval – 5:30pm to 6pm.

* Usage is much less in rainy weather and weekend use is both lower, and quite different in "shape".

Despite initial teething troubles the hire scheme appears to have been readily accepted and heavily used. You can tell the British have taken an idea to heart when it gets a popular nickname – the hire scheme steeds having quickly become known as Boris Bikes. There is even a popular and eponymous online forum.  

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