A London Assembly member has questioned whether the capital’s bike hire scheme is offering value for money after official Transport for London figures show ridership has fallen over the past 12 months.
As previously reported, usage fell from 1,163,171 hires in August 2012 to 904,155 this year, with September’s hires falling from 1,015,145 to 701,656 and October from 856,866 in 2012 to 674,154 this year.
New figures reveal a 29% fall from 726,893 hires in November 2012 to 514,146 last month.
The figures for October and November are also lower than for the same months in 2011 when there were 708,802 and 597,191 hires respectively.
The decline in ridership follows a decision to double access fees in the hope of generating a further £6m of revenue per year.
TfL’s own surveys show that the price hike was deeply unpopular with users. In the most recent published survey 40% of respondents said the scheme was now “too expensive” and 20% of users not intending to renew their membership identified the price hike as the reason for their decision.
A report for TfL’s managers which accompanied the survey said: “There has been a significant increase in those saying they will not renew their membership when it runs out, mainly due to cost reasons and availability of bicycles and docking points”.
The polling also revealed that TfL’s agreement to provide such prominent levels of publicity for sponsor Barclays had backfired by creating an impression that the scheme generated a profit.
The report said: “Many (initially) assume the scheme is either breaking even or making a profit (assoc./sponsorship with Barclays is key here)”.
“Customer assumption is that the scheme is benefiting TfL (financially and by association)” and that “most are unaware that BCH is subsidised”.
Despite this widespread assumption, the scheme is heavily subsidised by the taxpayer and local councils have been forced to contribute up to £2m each in order to extend it to their boroughs.
TfL has said it has no idea if the cycle hire scheme will ever break even.
The scheme has been plagued with user complaints about the availability of bikes and docking stations.
After being issued a public warning about poor performance, operator Serco was fined £2.6m by TfL for missing key performance targets. In turn Barclays deducted £1.5m from the sponsorship sum over performance failures.
Commenting on the latest decline in usage, Green party London Assembly Member Darren Johnson AM commented: “The steep decline in the number of cycle hires and therefore the revenue raised from user fees poses questions over whether this heavily subsidised scheme is really offering good value for money for the London taxpayer.
“Given the very high capital costs of the scheme and the environmental, health and congestion-busting benefits of cycling, TfL should be encouraging the greatest possible use of the scheme by keeping user fees affordable instead of doubling them.
“It may be that the drop in cycle hire usage reflects a dip in cycling more broadly across London but the Mayor can address both problems by working with TfL to address cyclists’ legitimate safety concerns and encouraging the uptake of cycling in our city, including on hire bikes.”
Liberal Democrat AM Caroline Pidgeon said: “A combination of poor performance in the running of the cycle hire scheme and a hike in the membership fee for using the bikes has obviously turned many people away. I expect the recent cycle fatalities have also contributed to the fall in people who wish to hire bikes.
“The long term success of cycle hire relies on the scheme’s sponsor contributing far more and for action to sort out the redistribution of bikes across the docking stations. Ensuring London’s roads are far safer is the final ingredient for turning around the recent dismal usage figures”