Why it was cheaper to buy a bike than use the Santander bike scheme.

Mid-June, rush-hour. The tube is roasting, my face is dangerously close to a man’s armpit, I can’t reach my headphones because someone is pressed up against my bag and I thought “there’s got to be a better way”. That morning, outside the university building, I saw a smiling gentleman push his Santander bike into the rack, remove his helmet and he positively glowed fresh after a seemingly easy cycle commute. I was going to be that care-free man hopping off my bike and striding into work with a smile on my face having enjoyed the fresh air during my commute.

I did some research into the Santander cycle scheme. £2 to access the bike for 24 hours and free rides for under 30 minutes (originally this seemed badly worded, almost hinting that you didn’t have to pay the £2 if you went under half an hour, but this isn’t the case). Myself and partner tried the route on a Saturday, knowing it was slightly more than half an hour, we stopped and docked and took out other bikes half way. Only after this trip, having seen the dent in my bank account, I found a small print stating you need to wait 5 minutes between docking and taking a new bike or you’re charged another £2 for going over 30 minutes. This is not only a pain on a commute, this means I would be spending £4-6 per day to cycle on my commute.

Probing further, I found there was a yearly membership scheme for £90, working out as little as 25p per day. Perfect. Unfortunately, after 4 emails with the Santander helpline, I eventually got a straight answer that the £2 for more than 30 minutes still applied even with the membership. Again, having to spend around £4 per day. To add to this, living in Greenwich has mostly benefits but with no docking stations here, I would have to dock at London Bridge and get the train home. With this cost on top, it is cheaper to get a monthly zone 1-2 travel card(!).

Looking into options, refusing to give in to the tube, I looked for folding bikes. On sale, a folding bike with reasonable reviews for £179.99 (link here) was extremely promising. Considering this is the same as 22 days of the £90 membership with the £4 daily charge on top, it seemed fool-proof. This purchase was confirmed when all the Santander docking stations within a 20 minute walk of London bridge were full and the card machine wouldn’t work on the last one I found therefore was charged for another half an hour trying to find a place to dock my bike.

Despite the above, I hate to seem so utterly negative about this. Considering the amount of use, all the bikes I used over the last few weeks have been in great condition. When there is docking space and your commute is quick, this is an ideal method and a great incentive for people to get out of the tube and get some exercise while commuting. If you can cycle in less than 30 minutes and you have various options for getting and dropping bikes, the Santander scheme is great, but I would suggest considering options if you want to take your time.

*Picture credit: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/santander-cycles/community

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