Generally speaking, I do not judge a company by the fact that something has gone wrong. That is unfair as no matter how much you spend/invest/whatever, things will still go wrong at times. It is inevitable.

What I will do though, is judge a company very seriously on how they deal with the problem. Some companies have procedures in place to deal with problems, to communicate with customers and provide feedback. These are good.

Then there is Serco – the people managing the customer care for the Boris Bikes/Barclays Cycle Hire scheme.

I grabbed a bike a few days ago, cycled a bit and maybe 15 minutes later dropped it off at a bike stand. However, it was evident that the locking mechanism was broken as I had to push the bike in at an odd angle to get it to lock. So I pressed the red button to indicate a fault and thought no more of it.

A day later, try to take a bike, and the key was rejected in several bike stands. At each one, the tower display screen said no bikes available, so I wrote it off as a system fault.

Try again a day later, and again, still a problem, so I investigate. According to the display, my account had £155 outstanding payments due.

What!

After phoning customer care it turns out that the faulty bike from several days earlier hadn’t registered into the bike stand properly, and they had applied a £150 late fee and suspended my account.

So – something went wrong. I accept that – but how will Serco deal with this issue?

Did they send me an email after six hours and ask me if I am still using the bike and if not, could I contact them urgently as the bike is still showing as in use? Nope.

Did they send me an email after 24 hours and tell me that the account had been suspended? Nope. Or that they were taking £150 out of my bank account? Nope.

In fact, they didn’t do anything and just sat there waiting for me to notice there was a problem and contact them.

This is unacceptable.

I only found out that there was a issue to resolve because I am a regular user of the service and found I was unable to hire bikes again.

When I asked the customer care chap how people are informed that the account is suspended, I was told they find out when they check their bank ballances and see the money missing, or find that they can’t use the service when trying to hire a bike.

What idiot sitting at Serco HQ thought that would be an acceptable way of “notifying” customers that their account had been suspended?

Anyway – I filed an appeal against the fine. Note, it was an appeal against a fine applied without prior notice. So in my mind, it was less an appeal than filing a dispute. Subtle difference, but quite important.

They would arrange to have my account suspension lifted, but it could take a day or two.

Would I like to apply for a refund for my £150 fine? You mean, appealing the fine doesn’t automatically mean it is refunded? So, yes, I would like a refund as well.

I was told that the appeal will take a few days – and if rejected I would get an email. Huzzah! The company can actually send emails! Hang on, what about if the appeal is approved? Oh, I wont be told about that. I have to log in to their website to see what has happened.

Unexpectedly, I did receive an email letting me know my account suspension was lifted, but checking the account showed the fine was still in place. Today I checked again and the fine has been lifted.

So I am back to normal again.

However…

To have a policy that suspends an account and just waits for the customer to discover this by being frustrated at a bike stand is beyond comprehension.

I know the IT system can send automatic emails – as I have to reset my password each time I log in due to its rather archaic password rules. In programming terms, there is a function that sends emails. There are other functions that call that to send an email based on some built-in rules.

There will also be a series of functions that trigger time based actions, such as checking if any bikes are overdue, and if so to suspend accounts and apply fines. It would take a first-grade programmer no more than a few minutes to add an extra line of code to trigger an automatic email.

Lets be really generous and allow an hour of work.

So – at some point when the software was being designed, and they decided what sort of situations would trigger an automatic email – they decided that account suspension wasn’t important.

Setting aside the stupidity of such a decision – it would take a negligible amount of effort to fix it.

In conclusion…

I had a fault with a bike. Things went wrong. I accept that.

I do not accept the utter incompetence in how the company then reacted once a problem had occurred.

A couple of us took a bike to Paris last year and had less hassle than cycling a few hundred yards on the Isle of Dogs. That can’t be right!

Boris Bikes in front of THAT Tower

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25 Comments

  1. Kevin

    I’m guessing this doesn’t happen very often then as noone else seems to have mentioned this before.
    Rather large whack of a fine though!

    • Matt

      I had the same problem, £105 charge. When you see how far they’ve taken the technology with their online banking and such you’d expect these sort of problems to be solved easily during the teething. I remember going through london a while back and seeing the bikes, i presumed they’d been going long enough to have ironed out all these daft problems or make them easier to use so people can avoid these charges. THIS HAS GOVERNMENT CONSPIRACY WRITTEN ALL OVER IT.

  2. James

    This story is sadly not unusual. I apparently had a bike out for 1023 minutes and was fined £50. It took six weeks and many phonecalls for the money to return. The call-centre staff were friendly, but unable to do much.

  3. Richard

    They also don’t send an email when your credit/debit card expires, the account just stops working, and it is not obvious when you log in that that is the problem!

  4. Mat

    When I had a bike which didn’t register as docked (despite the dock indicating it was), the charge (£50) was reversed two days later, then taken from my credit card three weeks later, after the charge was reversed, leaving my account in credit. It then took another two and a half months to get the money refunded.

  5. Ian

    Get a simple bank account – the type for youngsters or people with bad credit. Put a couple of quid in there as and when you need it, and use that for the bikes. If it happens again and the fine money isnt in there, they cant take it.

    • IanVisits

      And the next time you need to open an account, you can’t as they have blacklisted your home address.

  6. Ana

    I sad that this things happen. Definitely when usual actions occur regarding your account, they should inform you by email, like they do with the Oyster: card about to expire, change of passworld, new item purchased. It is indeed, as you said, first grade IT programming and costs 0, as it is electronic.

    I really hope you get your money back

  7. Unbelievable. They do such a good job of redistributing bikes around the city to keep a balance of available bikes and available docking points. That must be a logistical nightmare compared to the ease of programming a few automatic e-mails, as you pointed out.

    But I guess it’s not so dissimilar to Oyster, where “maximum fares” (fines, I would call them) are automatically applied without any notification (most people have supplied an e-mail address at registration, or the ticket gates could maybe flag it up for you). It’s hard to get some of these unjust fines reversed if you are not made aware that they have been applied to your card…

    Until Serco get their act together, it might be worthwhile taking a quick picture every time you return a bike, in case there are any disputes in future.

  8. Oh no. I will be in London this weekend. And I thought about trying to get a Boris Bike without knowing yet if it possible for strangers.
    But that keeps me awe from it. I would never notice If I put in a bike in a wrong way. :-(

  9. Barbara Nea

    I have been fined £450 for three bikes which they say were returned late, even though I always wait to hear the bike lock. I only realised this morning after checking my bank balance. I received no notification. After the first incident they suspended my account. When i called them to ask why, they reactivitated my account but never told me about the fine so I continued using them in the same way.

    I have now requested a refund. Fingers crossed!

  10. Jay

    I agree that the company that runs the cycle hire scheme are incompetent. I have had £150 wrongly withdrawn from my account four times! I have never recieved a satisfactory reason why, nor have I had an apology.

  11. Jc

    What a shower this lot are. There is a fault between the two systems that operate the bike control and customer accounts. This fault means there is a delay with the bike control system keeping the account system up to speed with who has bikes and who’s returned them. This meant that when I returned a bike on Friday morning when there was 9 minutes of access time remaining, the delay between the systems meant that the account side saw my access time expire before the bike was returned. Cue account suspended and £150 charge applied to my card. I only discovered this when I tried to obtain a bike this morning. A half hour phone call which got elevated through several managers divulged the information above and an apology. When I said “and you won’t be applying the charge to my card” I was told that stopping the charge wasn’t possible, that the charge would go ahead and then the refund system would commence once the charge had been made, I’ve spoken to my bank and they’ve confirmed that, as yet, the charge hasn’t been applied to my account. So I’m in the position of having done nothing wrong but my bank account is going to have a punitive £150 charge applied to it and then, hopefully, refunded. What a flaming joke this is.

  12. Erinaceous

    My boyfriend had £150 taken from his account because the bike didn’t dock properly and because it has happened before i.e. the bike stations being rubbish, they have refused to give him his money back for ten days and we don’t know if it will come back at all. I am so disappointed I was really enjoying using these bikes but if you risk loosing £150 every time you take one out how can anyone use them!

    I’m glad to hear other people have gotten their money back. I am hoping we will get ours.

  13. Satif

    Why on earth would you take the bikes over to Paris???

    • IanVisits

      As I mentioned on the other article about it – because you can.

  14. Toni Johansson

    Hi,

    I am very happy to come across this site and would be grateful if anyone could give me advice on how to deal with Barclays bike scheme.

    On à few occasions today I found my key to be red. When I called customer service they said my account had been suspended due to non returned bike. They also told me that I have a pending charge of £150 that cant be reversed. My account will also be suspended until the missing bike shows up.

    My claim is that I was not aware of any problem when I returned my bike after my seven minute journey; i.e. I docked it acoording to instructions as I have on my previous 300+ journeys. After several calls to customer support it turns out there is nothing I can do. £150 will be taken from my account and I wont be able to use the bikes for two weeks ( while they are looking for the bike). After two weeks the situation will be reviewed.

    Anyone got advice?

    Thanks

  15. Enriko

    Just got fined £150 late docking fee as well. Wanted to take out a bicycle but as i am a casual user always do it on my card, yesterday called them as i couldn’t take a bicycle out, they guy took my card details said everything is fine restarted my account and i was able to take a bicycle out again. Only later once i was home i was checking my bank account and found out that i was charged. Once he restarted my account and had all my card details he didn’t mention anything about the charge nor i received any e-mail, i found it extremely rude. As well as my friend had the docking issues beforehand i always make sure the green light goes on on top of that i usually twitch push and pull the bicycle to make sure its docked properly. I have submitted my claim with them had all the times of docking and docking station name as i always keep my tickets. As well i cant understand the part were the late docking fee is £150!!!!!!!!! That’s a bit steep i would understand the bicycle would go lost or damaged that would be perfectly fine as im sure that most of the cases is system glytche as there are constant issues the docking points not working, out of paper just a week a go the whole system went down they should work a lot regarding this issue. And now i have to wait 14 days for investigations which is quiet annoying knowing that you haven’t done anything wrong. Worst comes to worst will have to get the CCTV next to the docking point bet well pissed offf !!!!!

  16. R Lee

    Exactly the same situation. Charged £150 on 27/08. Did not receive any communication from Barclays Cycle Hire about the bike being late/lost, I only found out by not being able to hire a bike and checking my bank account.

    It is 07/09, and my case is ongoing, ” I ” am the one that has been calling them and have only received two emails from them during this whole dispute, both of which are emails stating that my refund has been declined.

    To make matters worse, during one of my calls to them, I was told that the bike was found and docked, later to find that it’s actually still missing when I called a week later.

    Absolutely appaling service and a waste of time, I will do my upmost to communicate this problem hundred of people are facing.

    R. Lee (using boris bikes for 1yr+)

  17. Epicurus

    Below is transcript of response given to the cycle hire scheme. Still waiting for response. People with issues please post your issues here, I cannot find any other site highlighting issues with the docking station and the cycle hire team trying to rip off customers with £150 fine.

    >>>> Your response is not good enough. A penalty was wrongly charged due to a faulty docking station and taken from my account on the 10th of November, and it took you till the 13th when I called to find out what was happening for you to lift the suspension. I called at 9.30am and you lifted the suspension at 10.00am, the prompt response shows it was a straightforward process and you did what you should have done as soon as the account was charged (i.e. on 10th Nov). I view this as absolute incompetency. Perhaps you just wanted me to spend more expense on a phone call to remind you to kindly lift the suspension, i.e. you hold your customers to ransome.

    I was without bike hire for 3 days. If I had a choice I will not use the Barclays cycle hire scheme, and I do not enjoy the scheme with the dodgy docking stations. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

    FYI, and referring back to your email, the issue is not resolved until I reclaim the £150 charged for a faulty docking station. I hope this complaint and request for £150 refund has been logged in your system, that it is being addressed and that I don’t have to call again to remind the Barclays Cycle Hire team.

    Regards,<<<>>> Dear Mr xxxx
    We write further to your recent contact regarding the suspension that was placed on your Barclays Cycle Hire account.

    We are pleased to confirm we have successfully lifted the suspension. You will now be able to continue hiring Cycles using your Membership Key.

    We would like to thank you for your co-operation in resolving the issue and hope you continue to enjoy using Barclays Cycle Hire.<<<<

  18. alex

    So many problems with these lot over the last few weeks. Specifically with available docking points and information on these. Late night customer service is shocking. Trying to get hold of their director is a nightmare, so I am going through the mayor of London’s office to see if that helps.

  19. IAMaLONDONER (a729)

    I’m glad I didn’t use the bikes! I stick to the buses- safer and quicker a lot of the time thanks to Bus Lanes!

  20. Jon

    Just looking through a credit card statement and noticed £150 had been taken out by CYCLE HIRE. Now makes sense why they haven’t been accepting one of my cards for the past few weeks. I rarely check statements – this could easily have slipped by. Absolute disgrace that they don’t contact you.

    The call centre is closed as it’s after hours – will have to try tomorrow. Hope I can sleep tonight. I’d better get my money back… I use the bikes all the time, but I can’t recall ever for more than 10 minutes.

  21. Ian Holloway

    So relieved to find it’s not just me who’s been left frustrated and angry at the hands of BCH and Serco!

    Exact same thing happened to me a few weeks ago. £150 removed from my account due to ‘incorrectly docked bike’, ie the docking stations are increasingly faulty due to poor maintenance, and the first I knew was when I tried to take a bike a few days later and couldn’t access any.

    I phoned them up to find out why my key wasn’t working, and they said the last bike was now registered as ‘missing’ and that I would be charged £150 for not phoning them ‘immediately’ to tell them their equipment wasn’t working properly!

    What?!

    Their faulty equipment, their inability to track their own bikes, their lack of communication to tell me their was a problem, my £150.

    So far, they’re refusing to refund the fine, and I’m at ‘stage 3′ of their complaints procedure.

    Shameful, frankly.

    • oana

      the same happened to me :((( anyone in the same situation but more luchy than some of us, and managed to get money back? how? thanks!

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