To say that I was sceptical when I heard about Urbo bikes coming to Waltham Forest is an understatement. My immediate thought was the River Lea, and the High likely hood of the bikes ending up at the bottom of it. If you aren’t familiar with the scheme, Urbo operate dockless bike sharing, a bit like zip car but for bikes. You use an app to find one, unlock it, and you get charged for the time you use it. Sounds like a great idea doesn’t it? But I’m a cynical old goat so all I could think about was the things that could go wrong. Theft, vandalism, bikes bobbing around in the moat in Lloyd Park. But the more I read about the scheme the more interested I got, in fact, I started to get pretty excited.
Trying a Urbo bike became a bit of a personal quest. I downloaded the app as soon as it was available and waited for a bike to pop up near by, but none did. Last weekend I went out on a mission to find one. I roamed the streets searching for the mythical green bikes, I felt like Anneka Rice on treasure hunt. Sadly my luck was out and they evaded me. Actually I found two, but one was up on a balcony outside a flat, and the other seemed to be in someones back garden. After an extensive search I gave up and went to the pub.
This week, everything changed. At one point a small herd of urbo bikes popped up near St James St Station, then on Friday one arrived at the designated drop zone on Markhouse Rd. That bike, I thought to myself, is going to be mine. By Saturday morning the bike had moved from the drop zone so I needed to use the app to track it down. I found it in the co-op car park but had a minor disaster trying to unlock it. I hadn’t read the instructions properly so had failed to put credit on the app. This meant I could unlock the bike but couldn’t take it anywhere. I had to dash home, add my card details, then whizz back round to the co-op to collect it. I managed to lock my other half and the dog out of the house in the process, but that’s a different story (there were 15 missed calls and some very angry texts).
So here’s how it works. When you have credit on the app, and you’ve tracked a bike down, you tap the unlock button on the app, scan the QR code on the back of the bike and off you go. The scheme is incredibly cheap only costing £1.00 to become a member and 50p for each half hour you use the bike. Watch out though, although the bikes are dockless you are supposed to drop them at designated points (stop signs on the app). You can lose credit if you abandon them at random. Also, remember to lock the bike when you have finished otherwise you are still being charged. You lock them by pushing down the black lever near the back wheel (it took me a while to find it).
It’s fair to say that the app isn’t as accurate as it could be, so searching for the bikes can sometimes be a little frustrating. It can also be a little difficult to find a drop zone that has bikes in it. But, It’s also fair to say that these are very early days so there are bound to be a few teething problems. I still do wonder how well the bikes will survive, and I wonder how easy it will be to manage them. But all things considered this seems like a great scheme. It’s affordable, it’s borough wide, and the bikes with their bright green baskets are pretty useful. If you fancy giving urbo a go, search for my urbo on the app store, or visit the urbo website for more info.