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.


 

 
 
 
 

A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget – hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?


Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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