You won’t believe it, I know, but not everyone loves a Boris Bike

New Yorkers have greeted the arrival of a bike share scheme with suspicion. Plus, why GPs are the last people entitled to complain about the 111 helpline


No one who has followed the fate of British retailers trying to crack the US market would have been entirely surprised by Tesco’s decision to cut its losses and abandon California to Walmart. For all the talk of globalisation, food shopping remains one of the most culturally specific areas of life. What works in London may not work in Paris, let alone Los Angeles or even San Francisco.         

You might have thought, though, that London’s Boris Bikes – sorry Barclays, I know it’s your brand on the steeds – would have worldwide appeal. After all, London borrowed the concept from Paris, and it’s taken off in capitals all over Europe. Shared bike schemes are the absolute epitome of “soft power”. Which may be why they’ve run into a spot of bother in that archetypal bastion of “hard power”, New York. 

NYC Bike Share – popularly pushed as “Mike’s Bikes” (after the fitness-fiend mayor, Michael Bloomberg) – is finally due for its launch this month, after a host of delays, including one for Hurricane Sandy for which not even the weather forecasters can be blamed. Most of the delays, though, seem to reflect New York City’s distinctly cool welcome for shared pedal-power. Where London took the new bikes and their racks to its heart, with residents hailing the arrival of a new rack as proof that they belonged to the capital, and affecting an injured tone if they were left out, New Yorkers just wanted to get the infernal things off their patch. 

People saw the arrival of a rack on their stretch of street as an impediment to parking and a general social nuisance. Where some regarded a rack as a potential blight on property values, others predicted anti-social activity, including its likely use as a dog urinal. A 260lb (18 stone) limit for riders also made the news (negatively).

And while no one seems to have said so publicly, I wouldn’t mind betting that many a Manhattanite took a dim view of anything that made it easier to get to (or primarily from) Brooklyn or Harlem. In a land of egoists, sharing is tantamount to an un-American activity, while wealth boundaries function as conceptual Berlin walls. As I wish God Speed to “Mike’s Bikes”, it’s also worth reflecting that, for all our national differences, we Europeans have more in common than you might think. 

GPs – blame yourselves for 111

I resorted to NHS Direct, precursor of the already infamous 111, a couple of times. The scariest was when my husband, recently out of hospital after an operation, fell and cut his head just at the line of the scar. Someone answered promptly, listened attentively, and said to call an ambulance if the bleeding didn’t stop within half an hour or so. Mercifully, it did. In principle, I have no problem with calling a phone number for medical advice.

I have a much bigger problem with GPs and the alacrity with which they pounced on a recent report in Pulse magazine (“at the heart of general practice since 1960”), cataloguing the inadequacies of the 111 phone line. The ubiquitous chair of the Royal College of GPs, Dr Clare Gerada, was among them, as was Dr Peter Holden, a negotiator for the BMA’s GPs’ Committee, who told Pulse: “We are most concerned that we are where we are and we need to minimise harm for patients. But we didn’t need to be where we are.”

No, we certainly didn’t. If GPs had not been given such a huge pay rise by the last government plus the chance not to provide so-called “out of hours” services – as though there was such a thing in medical emergencies – we would indeed not be where we are. Until GPs can bring themselves to offer a decent service 24/7, they are the last people entitled to complain about 111.

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