TFL’s new Boris Bike app enables mobile payments… but it’s five years late

There’s no denying that Boris Bikes are a welcome addition to the capital’s streets. Offering a new, healthy way to get around, since July 2010, the service’s 10,000 bikes and over 700 bike docking stations have been well received – apart from the way they’re hired.

TFL's new Boris Bike app enables mobile payments... but it's five years late

Prospective pedallers have to use TFL’s website to find their nearby station, and then it’s a question of using your bank card to pay for a unique release code. It’s only taken five years, but TFL has now announced a new app to help streamline the hiring experience.

Setting up the Santander Cycles App

Developed by Corethree, the company behind apps for  South Eastern, Metro Bus and others, the new Santander Cycles App is the solution we should have had years ago. After downloading the app, you’re prompted to add your details, with the app speeding the process along with a clever card reader. Just place your your card in front of smartphone, and the app will scan all its details – saving some time and effort.

Boris Bikes app

Uber for Boris Bikes

Straying into the arena of Uber or Zipcar, the app then uses your smartphone’s location services to tell you where your nearest bike stations are, how many bikes are left, and will even find you a suitable drop off point – without you using your browser. What makes the app more useful is its ability to let users skip the monotonous process of using their payment card at the docking terminal. Instead, the new Santander Cycles app simply pings a unique bike release code to the palm of your hand.

Codes are good for 10 minutes, so it’s possible to find and hire a bike while on your way to a docking station, and the app will also offer show you a statement of your hires and their duration – much like an Oyster card’s journey history.

What’s next?

Boris Johnson has said the app promises “to take the cycle hire scheme to the next level and encourage more people onto two wheels” and I’m agreeing, mostly.

It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but there’s still so much more TFL could do to unlock the potential of their Santander Cycles. Oyster card integration and contactless payments would make the payment process even easier, and make the bikes a more legitimate form of public transport rather than the niche one they still represent. Usage of the scheme rose by 25% last year with more than 10 million journeys made in 2014, so it’s about time it was really pushed as a viable an alternative to London’s buses and trains. A wearable app for early adopters wouldn’t go amiss either, but that might take another five years.

A more pressing matter is compatiblity. TFL will need to work on a version of the app for BlackBerry and Windows Phone users – currently only Android and iOS is supported.

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