The number of people who used the Santander Cycles scheme during 2020 soared, although the number of actual rides taken barely budged over the year.
In total there were just under 10.5 million journeys taken by hire bike in 2020, ever so slightly higher than the previous year. Yet at the same time, new 24-hour Santander Cycles membership registrations rose by 167 percent in the year to December 2020, by more than 333,000, representing the largest increase in the scheme’s 10-year history.
Registrations for new annual memberships also increased by a quarter.
In numbers, the total hire numbers for 2020 were 10,434,167 — an increase of around 6,000 hires from 2019, although slightly down on the busiest ever year, which was 2018, with 10,567,540 hires.
The discrepancy can be put down to the lack of commuter traffic in London, with much lower numbers of people arriving at mainline railway stations and cycling the final part of their journey, and the same back in the evenings.
That collapse in central London cycling is offset by more cycling in the neighbouring boroughs as people seem to have switched to bikes to avoid buses for local journeys, and taking advantage of the lack of much else to do to go for leisure cycle rides.
This is supported by data from the tracking app Strava, which saw “large sustained increases in outdoor activities beginning at the onset of the pandemic” in the UK, where gyms were closed by outdoor activity wasn’t limited.
There was also a decline in mid-week cycling in favour of weekend cycle hires. In fact, the change in cycle hire patterns was so dramatic that it once caused a data scientist at TfL to worry that their information systems had broken over one weekend.
The average journey time is also up — averaging 19 minutes per ride between 2012 and 2019, and jumping noticeably to an average of 25 minutes in 2020.
In addition, free cycle hire access codes were provided for NHS staff and other key workers, with 217,710 hires so far since it was made available in March 2020. Almost 18,000 people have benefited from the offer to date. The busiest location for NHS code redemption is the docking station next to St Thomas’s Hospital in Lambeth.
The offer has been repeatedly extended and is now valid until 21st February.
Over the course of last year, the previous maximum daily hire number of 50,000 was surpassed on 14 separate days. The festive period also continued to be very busy for Santander Cycles with more than 60,000 hires made between the 25 and 28 December
Last June, TfL ordered an additional 1,700 bikes to cope with demand and said that it would add 14 new docking stations in south and south-east London by the end of the year.