New to cycling? Beware the small print when renting out a Santander Cycle

The coronavirus emergency has prompted a surge in second hand bike sales, as people see cycling as an obvious way to get around without getting too near to other people.

The use of ‘Boris bikes’ has also been on the increase. Santander Cycles, as they are properly known, were rented out in record numbers over the last weekend in April. They’re cheap to hire – just £2 for 24 hours. Unless that is, you return them late, as Francis Crighton has found out to his cost. He borrowed a bike and was charged a whopping  £92  for returning it and hour and 22 minutes late.

‘I understand how frustrating it can be to be charged an amount you weren’t expecting to incur’ writes Transport for London Customer Services Adviser Christopher Tosh.

‘I apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused’ he continues, but ‘you have been charged the correct amount of £94. This is in accordance of our terms and conditions. The cycle was out for over 24 hours and therefore charged accordingly’.

To add insult to injury, TfL subsequently took a further £98 from Francis’ account, without further explanation. Francis is a student, just turned 18, with no income.

His mother is a barrister, Ann Crighton of Crighton Chambers.

‘I am not satisfied with your response’ she wrote back, ‘because charging £94 for an extra 1 hour and 22 minutes is unlawful under the terms of the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

‘Basically, the Act says that terms of a contract should be transparent, simple to understand, not take advantage of a consumer’s vulnerability and should take into account a consumer’s legitimate interests’.  In other words, unfair terms and conditions should not be hidden in the small print’.

The charge of £92 for bringing a bike back late is not made clear on the signage beside the bike stand, she says.

Image above: Francis Crighton, standing beside the Santander Cycles sign, which makes no mention of the late return penalty

‘In the case of the charge of £92 for bringing a bike back late – this has not been made clear’ she wrote to TfL.

‘I went back to the sign and it clearly states that the charge for hiring a bike for 24 hours is £2. It also states that the charge for the first 30 minutes is free and an additional charge of £2 would be made after 30 minutes leading a person to believe that if they kept the bike for, say, 25 or 26 hours an additional fee of £2 is payable – not £92.

‘Underneath the large print it states that up to £300 is payable if the bike is not returned or damaged.  As my son returned the bike and the bike was not damaged, that warning of up to £300 being payable can be safely ignored. Nowhere does it state that £92 will be payable if the bike is returned shortly after the 24 hour period.

‘My point is that under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 TfL cannot make a charge of £92 for the late return of a bike because that is a term/condition hidden in the small print i.e. a term that was not transparent nor easy to understand.  My son is a student with no income and charging £92 late fee in these circumstances is not taking into account his legitimate interests’.

I feel like writing ‘the case continues’. It hasn’t gone to court, but I can’t see her letting it drop.

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