London’s cycle hire scheme expands eastwards

London's boroughs are subsidising TfL's contract with Barclays. Image: MayorWatch
London’s cycle hire scheme expands eastwards today, thanks in part to £2m of funding from Tower Hamlets council.

The bikes will now be available across the entire borough, as well in north Shoreditch.

At £40m, the extension’s construction costs account for 80% of the maximum £50m Transport for London will receive under its secretive eight-year sponsorship deal with Barclays Bank.

In return for its staged payments, the size and frequency of which Londoners are not allowed to know, the bank benefits from naming rights and blanket publicity with TfL omitting the names of any other funding partners from its publicity.

City Hall and TfL have repeatedly refused to publish the sponsorship contract so that independent experts can assess whether it provides value for money to Londoners.

Last year sign-ups to the scheme fell every month from April, with December seeing just 800 new members joining.

At least two other councils have been told the scheme’s western expansion into their boroughs is “conditional” on them plugging the hole in its finances.

TfL has refused to confirm how many boroughs it has asked to contribute to the loss-making scheme’s costs, insisting such information is “commercially sensitive”.

Opening the expansion, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, said: “Our wonderful blue bikes have changed the face of London and introduced a new form of public transport that has eased getting around our great city for thousands of Londoners and made the capital even more attractive to visitors.

“I am delighted to have kept my promise to provide a cycle hire scheme for the people of London and today we have made it even bigger and better than ever before.”

Earlier this year it emerged that an internal TfL report had warned of rising dissatisfaction among members, noting that “declining scores across all measures for members suggests BCH novelty has worn off and cyclists are becoming more critical of the BCH offer.”

In May 2011 a City Hall survey suggested less the 1% of Londoners used the scheme.

Councillor Shahed Ali, Lead Member for the Environment at Tower Hamlets, said the new docking stations built for the expansion “represent a significant investment in the borough from Tower Hamlets Council.

“The scheme will make cycling even easier and more accessible to residents and help improve the transport links across the borough.”

Transport for London is facing calls to restore a sense of “fun” to the stalled scheme.

Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat leader on the London Assembly, says: “Instead of every bike looking as if it is the property of Barclays Bank let’s get some limited edition bikes on London’s roads to help celebrate some incredible events taking place in London this Summer. 

“We should for example have new bikes celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Anniversary.  A decade ago we had 50 London buses painted gold to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee so why not have some new bikes on our roads to mark this year’s Diamond Jubilee Anniversary?  And why not new bikes celebrating other events as well, such as World Pride London and the Olympics?

“New bikes in different colours are just what are needed to put some fun and energy back into the bike hire scheme.  Let’s have people looking out for and wanting to use these new bikes this Summer.”

The Green party’s Jenny Jones said the expansion “is great news for East London, with more people benefiting from the scheme” but said she was “concerned at the Mayor’s lack of ambition and delivery”.

Jones added: “Londoners won’t be able to cycle to the Olympic Park and they will only have a third of the bikes available compared to their Parisian counter parts.

“If the Mayor is serious about his target of having over a million extra journeys made by bike every day, then a bike hire scheme which only generates an extra 40,000 journeys a day is well short of what London needs.”