On the use and abuse of Technology and its Management from the perspective of an academic at UCL specialising in Project Management, Systems Engineering and Space Science/Technology.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Birth of a System - London Cycle Hire

People in London can't have failed to notice the introduction of a new transport system lately - the Cycle Hire scheme. At the time of writing it's roughly a month into operations. For the uninitiated, there are roughly 400 docking stations around town, each housing up to 20-30 bikes. Registered users present their dongles, unhook a bike and pedal off. At the other end, the bike is re-docked, and, in a database somewhere, a small charge is incurred. (More intro, Guardian, July 2010)

Some things I've noticed, and some questions.:

It's obviously a multi-element system: Bikes, Docks, Terminals, Back End Data, Billing, Logistics. It's additionally part of TfL's great big system-of-systems. It's got the Mayor's Office paw prints on it, but clearly has been in the works for years. It couldn't have happened, without Paris and a few other prototypes. Expect to see more in big and small cities round the world soon.

There are sprawling requirements everywhere, not completely understood. Here, for example, is a story about an odd feature of the database that caused the owners to back-pedal on a particular function, the multi-key account. Is the development cycle capable of adapting to new, or recently clarified, requirements? My guess is that, oops, the database contract has been and gone, and this feature will sink, rather than be implemented properly.

The initial users are enthusiastic, communicative, and alive to the possibilities it offers. Has this resource been tapped into? The forumites all want to talk to TfL and Serco (for it is they) but I suspect the drawbridge is up.

Data! There are plenty of feeds that allow the growth of applications (and, of course, Apps) to entertain and inform the users. Here, for example, is Oliver O'Brien's visualisation of real-time Dock status. (Oliver is a GIS nerd at UCL, but I don't otherwise know him). Here's another of his, showing daily stats, for example. Note how system availalbility is about capacity of both Bikes and Docks at each end of the prospective journey. Unlike a little French town (Lyon? Paris?), London's scheme is being used a lot, in two daily peaks, by edge-to-centre commuters. Machines and Holes are both at a premium at critical times. Has all this been modelled?

The contractors and operators aren't saying much for now, other than "we are working on the best way to do things". Do they mean us?

Originally Posted at Systems Engineering on KTN _connect.