London Cycle-Rental Program Doubles New Riders Amid Virus Fears

London’s bike-rental program more than doubled its roster of new riders last year, as the coronavirus pandemic prompted people to switch over from buses, trains and taxi cabs.

New sign-ups to the Santander Cycles program, including riders who pay on a daily basis and those who bought an annual subscription, climbed by 157% in 2020, Transport for London, said in a statement Thursday.

The added riders helped to drive a small increase in the number of overall journeys, to 10.4 million, in a year in which lockdowns tied to the outbreak kept many at home. Usage growth was also aided by moves to grant free rides to about 220,000 health service staff working in the U.K. capital.

Bicycles were chosen at the expense of other options. Public transport fell to less than 10% of normal levels in London during the first lockdowns last spring. Subway ridership declined 75% while more than 50% of demand for bus rides fell away during a second shutdown in November. The U.K. is in its third lockdown, as authorities try to slow a fast spreading mutation of the coronavirus.

Bike Boom

Other European cities have also seen residents turn to bikes in large numbers, amid concern about the spread of the virus in confined spaces. Berlin is accelerating an urban redesign as residents cycle and walk more, while Paris has introduced a new network of dedicated bike lanes.

Sales of cycles have also soared. The sector has been one of the clear winners of the pandemic, with Dutch bike makerAccell Group NV reporting a nearly 40% jump in four-month revenue through October.

In London, people also rented bikes for exercise as gyms and leisure centers were forced to close. TfL said cycles had “provided a lifeline to tens of thousands of Londoners by enabling them to safely make essential journeys.”

New daily membership of the program, run bySerco Group Plc and sponsored byBanco Santander SA, rose 167% in the year to December, the most ever, TfL said, while registrations for new annual memberships increased by a quarter.

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