Dockless bike-share has arrived in Britain. So what is it like to ride?

Obike in action. Image: Chuwa/Flickr/creative commons.

Last week, Barney wrote about the arrival of in Britain of rival bike hire start-ups, and what they would do to the public realm. But what are the bikes actually like to ride?

I’ve not yet had a chance to try Mobike or Ofo, but here’s what I found from my first trial of Obike in London.

The app is good (with just a few details not yet updated from Singapore).  It’s very easy indeed to use once you’ve set it up by registering and paying the refundable £49 deposit. They’re cheap to ride, but you do have to make that initial commitment: will £49 put people off?

You can find bikes on the map: they’re spreading rapidly as I write. It guides you how to walk there, and you can reserve it on the way. Unlocking is quick and simple with a Q-code scan from the app (you do need an internet connection, GPS, and Bluetooth enabled). When you’re finished just click the wheel lock back and check it’s registered on your phone.

The bikes themselves are basic but smart, much lighter than Santander Bikes. The single gear is set at a surprisingly high ratio, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this puts non-cyclists off, particularly anywhere with the slightest hill.

The biggest problem for me was the seat height, which adjusts but not nearly enough for anyone tall, and I’ve heard the same concern about Mobike. I don’t know if the design from the Far East has been adjusted for the western market, but the current bikes will be really handy for a short potter, but painful for anything longer.

But that’s OK, because they’re meant for the last mile, and many people will use them for getting to and from stations, or getting about the local area.

Now it’s your turn: download the app and give it a try.

Barney Stringer is a director at regeneration consultancy Quod. This article was originally posted on his blog.


 

 
 
 
 

Ottawa-Gatineau, the national capital which language differences nearly split into two countries

The Canadian parliament, Ottawa.

There are many single urban areas with multiple, competing local identities: from the rivalry of Newcastle and Sunderland in Tyne & Wear, to the Wolverhampton residents who resolutely deny that they are part of Birmingham, despite being in the same urban conurbation and sharing a mayor.

However, no division is quite as stark as that of the Ottawa-Gatineau metropolitan area in Canada. Often referred to as the National Capital Region, Ottawa and Gatineau lie directly opposite each other on either side of the Ottawa River, a hundred miles from Montreal, the nearest other significant population centre. Because the conurbation straddles a provincial boundary, the two cities literally speak a different language, with Ottawa in predominantly Anglophone Ontario and Gatineau in Francophone Quebec.

This is reflected in their populations. According to the 2011 census, French was the mother tongue of 77 per cent of those in Gatineau, a percentage maintained by policies intended to keep French as Quebec’s dominant language. Similarly, although Ottawa provides some bilingual services, 68 per cent of its residents are predominantly Anglophone; Franco-Ontarians frequently complain that the city is not officially bilingual.

Although there are similar divided cities, such as the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, Ottawa-Gatineau is unique in that the city was not divided by a war or major political event: its two halves have been part of the same political territory since the British defeated the French in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, before either of the cities were even established. Indeed, the oldest part of Gatineau is actually an Anglophone settlement with the name of Hull (it was merged into the Gatineau municipality in 2002).


Today, the two cities facing each other across the Ottawa river have separate services, and elect difference mayors to run them: OC Transpo serves Ottawa, the Société de Transport de l’Outaouais (STO) serves  Gatineau, and few tickets are transferrable between the two systems.

OC Transpo is currently constructing a light rail system to many parts of Ottawa; but proposals to expand the route into Gatineau, or to merge the two transport systems have been fraught with obstacles. The City of Ottawa owns a disused railway bridge, connecting the two cities, but arguments about funding and political differences have so far prevented it from being used as part of the light rail extension project.

The divisions between Ottawa and Gatineau are made all the more unusual by the fact that Ottawa is the federal capital of Canada – a country where bilingualism is entrenched in the Charter of Rights & Freedom as a bedrock principle of the Canadian constitution. As a result, while all proceedings within the Canadian legislature are bilingual, this principle of bilingualism is not reflected on the streets surrounding the building.

The inevitable map. Image: Google.

These linguistic, as well as political, differences have been a long-running theme in Canadian politics. Quebec held independence referendums in both 1980 and 1995; in the latter, the separatists were defeated by a margin of less than 0.6 per cent. Quebecois independence would be made all the more humiliating for Canada by the fact it would be losing the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, while its parliament was forced to look out across the river at its new neighbours.

While Quebec as a whole only narrowly rejected independence in 1995, 72 per cent of Gatineau residents voted against the separatist proposal. The presence of many federal employees living in the city, who commute to Ottawa, meant that the city was rather unenthusiastic about the prospect of independence.

So, with Quebec nationalism currently at a low ebb, Gatineau seems set to remain a part of Canada – albeit while retaining its independent from the other half of its conurbation, across the river. While recent challenges such as flooding may have been better tackled by a unitary authority, the National Capital Region seems set to remain a tale of two cities.

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