Battle of the bikes. Image credits L-R: Nextcycle; ZanMan at Wikimedia commons
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Is the Glasgow cycle hire scheme really more popular than London’s already?

Scottish upstarts. 

It’s been a rough year for the relationship between England and Scotland. One’s thinking about dumping the other after hundreds of years of marriage, and propaganda (sometimes Lego-strewn) is rife on both sides.

So we’re sorry to say that yet another dispute has emerged between the two nations. According to a news report on the Herald website yesterday, Glasgow’s new cycle-hire scheme, the Mass Automated Cycle Hire Scheme, or “Mach”, is already more successful than London’s. It only launched on 24 June.

A spokesperson from operator Nextcycle told the paper that the bikes were rented an average of 1.24 times per day during the scheme’s first 12 days. (That’s 2,505 total rentals, divided by 168 bikes, divided by 12 days.) This, the paper said, makes it more popular than London’s scheme, where bikes are rented at a “daily rate” of 1.16.  

Unfortunately for Glasgow, this number appears to be, um, wrong.

It looks like they got 1.16 by taking the authorities’ figures for the bikes’ daily usage over the first 12 days of London’s bike hire scheme, and dividing them by the number of bikes available – originally meant to be 6,000. The problem is that, for three months after launch, the actual number of bikes available was around 5,000 (and, some claim, even lower): there weren’t enough docking stations installed to house 6,000 bikes.

Using the lower figure of 5,000 bikes, the uptake over the first twelve days in London works out to 1.39 uses per bike. That’s a whole 10.8 per cent higher than the Glasgow bikes’ 1.24 uses per day.

There’s also the issue of scale to consider. In Glasgow, Mach launched with 168 bikes; London’s scheme launched with 5,000. Granted, Glasgow’s population is only around 600,000, while inner London’s is around 3 million; but to achieve the same ratio Glasgow would have needed to introduce 1,000 bikes.

What’s more, at the same rate of usage, fewer bikes per capita should, logically, mean more hires per bike. It hasn’t. London’s bikes were simply used more in their first two weeks than Glasgow’s were.

In one area at least, Glasgow is winning: the average journey time so far is 58 minutes, according to Nextcycle, whereas London’s is just 17. One enterprising pair even rode their hire bikes to Loch Lomond, around 20 miles outside the city.

The scheme will add 170 more bikes within the next couple of months. Given time, then, Glasgow could still pull ahead in the bike-hire peloton. 

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

Barbara Speed is comment editor at the i, and was technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman, and a staff writer at CityMetric.

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What happens when a president refuses to step down?

An approaching constitutional crisis has triggered deep political unrest in the Congo.

Franck Diongo reached his party’s headquarters shortly after 10am and stepped out of a Range Rover. Staff and hangers-on rose from plastic chairs to greet the president of the Mouvement Lumumbiste Progressiste (MLP), named after the first elected leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Diongo, a compact and powerfully built man, was so tightly wound that his teeth ground as he talked. When agitated, he slammed his palms on the table and his speech became shrill. “We live under a dictatorial regime, so it used the security forces to kill us with live rounds to prevent our demonstration,” he said.

The MLP is part of a coalition of opposition parties known as the Rassemblement. Its aim is to ensure that the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, who has been president since 2001, leaves office on 19 December, at the end of his second and supposedly final term.

Yet the elections that were meant to take place late last month have not been organised. The government has blamed logistical and financial difficulties, but Kabila’s opponents claim that the president has hamstrung the electoral commission in the hope that he can use his extended mandate to change the rules. “Mr Kabila doesn’t want to quit power,” said Diongo, expressing a widespread belief here.

On 19 September, the Rassemblement planned a march in Kinshasa, the capital, to protest the failure to deliver elections and to remind the president that his departure from office was imminent. But the demonstration never took place. At sunrise, clashes broke out between police and protesters in opposition strongholds. The military was deployed. By the time peace was restored 36 hours later, dozens had died. Kabila’s interior minister, claiming that the government had faced down an insurrection, acknowledged the deaths of 32 people but said that they were killed by criminals during looting.

Subsequent inquiries by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch (HRW) told a different story. They recorded more fatalities – at least 53 and 56, respectively – and said that the state had been responsible for most of the deaths. They claimed that the Congolese authorities had obstructed the investigators, and the true number of casualties was likely higher. According to HRW, security forces had seized and removed bodies “in an apparent effort to hide the evidence”.

The UN found that the lethal response was directed from a “central command centre. . . jointly managed” by officials from the police, army, presidential bodyguard and intelligence agency that “authorised the use of force, including firearms”.

The reports validated claims made by the Rassemblement that it was soldiers who had set fire to several opposition parties’ headquarters on 20 September. Six men were killed when the compound of the UDPS party was attacked.

On 1 November, their funerals took place where they fell. White coffins, each draped in a UDPS flag, were shielded from the midday sun by a gazebo, while mourners found shade inside the charred building. Pierrot Tshibangu lost his younger sibling, Evariste, in the attack. “When we arrived, we found my brother’s body covered in stab marks and bullet wounds,” he recalled.

Once the government had suppressed the demonstration, the attorney general compiled a list of influential figures in the Rassemblement – including Diongo – and forbade them from leaving the capital. Kinshasa’s governor then outlawed all political protest.

It was easy to understand why Diongo felt embattled, even paranoid. Midway through our conversation, his staff apprehended a man loitering in the courtyard. Several minutes of mayhem ensued before he was restrained and confined under suspicion of spying for the government.

Kabila is seldom seen in public and almost never addresses the nation. His long-term intentions are unclear, but the president’s chief diplomatic adviser maintains that his boss has no designs on altering the constitution or securing a third term. He insists that Kabila will happily step down once the country is ready for the polls.

Most refuse to believe such assurances. On 18 October, Kabila’s ruling alliance struck a deal with a different, smaller opposition faction. It allows Kabila to stay in office until the next election, which has been postponed until April 2018. A rickety government of national unity is being put in place but discord is already rife.

Jean-Lucien Bussa of the CDER party helped to negotiate the deal and is now a front-runner for a ministerial portfolio. At a corner table in the national assembly’s restaurant, he told me that the Rassemblement was guilty of “a lack of realism”, and that its fears were misplaced because Kabila won’t be able to prolong his presidency any further.

“On 29 April 2018, the Congolese will go to the ballot box to vote for their next president,” he said. “There is no other alternative for democrats than to find a negotiated solution, and this accord has given us one.”

Diongo was scathing of the pact (he called it “a farce intended to deceive”) and he excommunicated its adherents from his faction. “They are Mr Kabila’s collaborators, who came to divide the opposition,” he told me. “What kind of oppositionist can give Mr Kabila the power to violate the constitution beyond 19 December?”

Diongo is convinced that the president has no intention of walking away from power in April 2018. “Kabila will never organise elections if he cannot change the constitution,” he warned.

Diongo’s anger peaked at the suggestion that it will be an uphill struggle to dislodge a head of state who has control of the security forces. “What you need to consider,” he said, “is that no army can defy a people determined to take control of their destiny . . . The Congolese people will have the last word!”

A recent poll suggested that the president would win less than 8 per cent of the vote if an election were held this year. One can only assume that Kabila is hoping that the population will have no say at all.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage