Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Boris Bikes in the Bush: £2million

Boris on tax payer funded bike
Has our Council been stumping up your cash for Boris Bikes? I think we should be told. My excellent fellow blogger over at MayorWatch has uncovered some disturbing evidence of how hard-pressed council tax payers have been funding the scheme, which is a flagship of Boris Johnson's re-election campaign, despite the fact that Barclays Bank are given lavish credit by TfL.

Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest boroughs in London, has had to provide £2 million for the luxury of the bike scheme, while in the western extension which includes Hammersmith & Fulham we now know that Wandsworth were told that their participation in the scheme was “conditional on the Council making a financial contribution of £2 million.” So it seems reasonable to assume that our own Council has handed over £2 million of our cash too, as it seems to be the going rate. 

So where has this money come from? Around £500,000 appears to come from the Local Implementation Plan (LIP) scheme, under which money is allocated for local transport improvements. So in other words money that would have been used by H&F to fund other transport improvements such as bus routes or road repairs has probably been used to gain the sexy rows of Boris Bikes instead. 

I say probably because I have asked the press office about this and they haven't replied. Perhaps this article will jog their memories. My question, dear Council, is this: how much money have you contributed to the Boris Bikes scheme to bring it to the borough? Is it the £2 million bill being paid out by other local authorities? 

The other funder of the scheme, apparently, in our neck of the woods is Westfield. The Centre is to provide funding that will allow what the PR men are calling "an early taster" of the western expansion by extending Barclays Cycle Hire to the shopping centre by spring 2012. Just around Mayoral election time. Approximately twelve new docking stations will connect the existing cycle hire zone to Westfield White City and six docking stations will potentially be on the grounds of Westfield London itself.

All good stuff - but how much are they providing to the scheme? Unclear from this press release which lavishes praise instead on Barclays for upping its stake to £50 million. It was reported as being £4 million by the Fulham Chronicle at the time, but no mention was made of the contribution by local tax payers. I wonder if they even asked. The reporter who wrote the story has represented his newspaper's Twitter feed with a pic of him n' Boris ever since.

Is H&F really the only borough in all of London taking part in the scheme not contributing any tax cash? I doubt it. 

Boris spake thus at the time of the H&F announcement in July last year:
“My thanks go to Barclays for the benevolence they have demonstrated with their latest bestowal of funds and I am pleased that we can confirm the extension of their sponsorship agreement. By working together we are putting thousands more Londoners on two wheels. 
“My thanks also go to the Boroughs who have been champing at the bit for an expansion of this scheme, and to Westfield London for providing an investment that from next year will enable hordes of shoppers to make the journey to their glittering halls by the cleanest, greenest and most enjoyable form of transport available.”
Classic Boris there, but strangely no mention of the role of the Council tax payer and their contribution. Don't they deserve a bit of Boris' oratory in recognition of the large tax bill they are shouldering to support the scheme? Or is that the bit the Mayor would rather not talk about?

"The fact that boroughs contribute to the cycle hire scheme isn’t some hitherto undiscovered secret, but it’s also not a widely known fact thanks in part to TfL’s publicity machine. 
"Press releases and publicity are focussed on achieving the maximum publicity for the Mayor and TfL’s preferred financial backer to the near exclusion of all others". 
"But while Londoners are encouraged to be thankful to a headline corporate sponsor, it’s their local councillors, employers and developers who are funding much of the scheme’s growth".
And as we saw from the Tory election leaflets being handed out by some of H&F's finest yesterday at Shepherd's Bush tube station, Boris intends to talk a lot about transport and cycling. So I think a fair question to ask, ahead of that election, is how much have we the taxpayers paid towards the acquisition of a row of shiny Boris Bikes outside that same tube station, just in time for polling day? 

Meanwhile the Chief Executive of Barclays Bank, who get to have their branding plastered all over the bikes throughout London in an Olympic year, was paid a £6.5 million bonus last year. That's bonus - i.e. on top of his salary of £1.1 million. They have our undying gratitude.

23/2 UPDATE - EXCLUSIVE: The Council have just responded to this article by admitting they DO plan to spend £2 million of your money on this scheme. Here's a statement I have just been sent by a spokesperson:
"The council is not paying anything towards the Westfield extension of the Mayor's cycle hire scheme, which goes live next month, as Westfield are paying fully for that.  
“However, we have agreed along with other boroughs - such as Wandsworth - to contribute up to the equivalent of £2million towards the full stage 3 extension which is set to be rolled out from the Spring of 2013 as we recognise the importance of having a variety of methods of getting around our small, congested borough. 
“This will be found in a variety of ways including developer funding through section 106 and in kind support such as officer time and use of premises. 
“A large number of borough residents are already registered users of the existing scheme and more than 200 residents responded to our request for possible hire station locations in the borough, so we know that there is a large demand for an extension of the scheme.”
So now we know - £2 million is a the price tag you will be contributing to a scheme that, on current stats, few of you will use. Phrases such as "in-kind support such as officer time", for example, are surely a bit of spin - it means that officers whose salaries you pay will not be doing what you pay them to - that is a PR man's line to disguise expenditure.

There is a perfectly legitimate argument to make that this is a worthwhile investment in a green form of transport - all I have tried to do by looking beyond the PR is to unearth the true cost. Sadly other press outlets seem just to cut and paste the press releases they get sometimes.

28/2 UPDATE - ...bringing up the rear on this story, as ever, is the Fulham Chronicle who swallowed a Boris press release and didn't ask any searching questions. Their story does not refer to this blog (surprise surprise) despite the fact that building on MayorWatch's story it was my questioning that got the info about the £2 million cost to H&F. Funny how the media works - but even funnier that their advertising of this "new" story on Twitter provoked something of a backlash among locals, narked by one journalists furious Tweeting!

Boris fields searching questions from the star-struck Chronicle
Meanwhile one of their reporters continues to feature the blonde one on his newspaper's Twitter feed as he has done ever since he met Boris at Westfield when he swallowed Boris' line about the Boris Bikes not costing us a penny. Is this wise in a Mayoral election year?

19 MARCH UPDATE - Well our Council will have to formally debate the £2 million cost of Boris' tax payer funded Bikes this evening, thanks to a motion put forward by Shepherd's Bush Labour councillors Andrew Jones and Askew cllr Lisa Homan. The motion, which will be voted down by the ruling Conservatives, reads as follows:


Standing in the names of: 
(i) Councillor Lisa Homan
(ii) Councillor Andrew Jones

“This Council believes that its reported £2 million contribution towards the Boris/Barclays Bank Bikes schemes is a terrible waste of money and determines NOT to contribute a single penny of LBHF money towards the Boris/Barclays Bank Bikes scheme. We urge the London Mayor to find private sector funding to make this scheme work and deliver value for money.

The Council believes it is a priority to cut all council taxes and this money could better be used to do that or be put towards other local priorities such as reversing the cuts to police sergeants, paying off debt, or improving other local services and facilities in line with residents’ wishes.”


  1. Does anyone know the proposed locations of the Boris Bike sites in Shepherd's Bush other than Westfield?

  2. You have to admit it, Boris is the greenest mayor we've ever had. The bikes and the new buses are pretty darn good.

    1. often the schemes with most visual impact are not actually the most green. The cost of installing the bikes etc.. weighed against fuels saved will not add up to much. In comparison Ken encouraged a huge increase in the use of buses over cars, by making buses better and adding the congestion zone. I'm not a great fan of Ken and I do love the bikes but lets not kid ourselves here.

  3. None planned as yet, I believe. The ones around Westfield are the 'advance party' but other locations not yet publicised. The council did ask for suggestions for the locations for the docking stations but have not concluded, as far as I am aware.

  4. There's a real sense you don't consider bikes to be "transport". What's up with that?

    1. I have no idea how you arrived at that conclusion

  5. Paris bikes "velib" are a success as the mayor there gave billboard advertising space around the city as part of the deal in return for the maintenance of all the bicycles.I do worry how well Boris bikes are maintained together with the system of moving bicyles.

    We must commend the bike scheme however. After all it costs £1million to replace 300 meteres of tube track. There is not any space left on the tube for the growing London Population which everyone seems to want.

  6. I don't understand your banker bashing. Barclays is a private entity, and Diamond increased the profits of their investment sector quite dramatically.

  7. Boris reminds me of Benny Hill! Reduce the cost on transport, people will travel more and less bikes on the street would mean less accidents! If you are to provide these bikes, PLEASE ENSURE YOU PROVIDE HELMETS TOO! it doesn't make any sense to provide any bike service without full responsibility.

  8. The bicycle scheme in Melbourne Australia is presently not a success as it is compulsory there to wear helmets. Statistics show that helmets may cause more accidents as they give people a false sense of security. Better to educate people the safety of cycling first. no to nanny state and yes to common sense.

    Get on your bike to reduce stress and save time, money and if you stick to quieter roads...healthy

    1. "Statistics show that helmets may cause more accidents as they give people a false sense of security."

      Which statistics exactly?

    2. This topic is hotly debated. There's no consensus yet, but there are studies that don't exactly support mandatory bike helmets. For example, a paper published in Risk Analysis in August last year concluded that "those who use helmets routinely perceive reduced risk when wearing a helmet, and compensate by cycling faster".

      You could still argue that making helmets available to those how don't use them routinely increases cycle safety. You could build a little cupboard next to each BorisBikes info point where people can check out helmets if they feel like it - but not if they've check out a helmet last time they hired a bike. Sounds complicated.

    3. Sorry, forgot to include the reference:

    4. I think you only have to look at cyclists to see if they are more likely to be hurt or not. The other day I saw a young lady trying to turn right from the uxbridge road into Lime grove, (the wrong way up a one way street!). She signalled and looked behind her. The nearest car was some 30 meters back, giving her enough time to move over if she wanted. Instead she wanted the car to stop for her. In the end all she was doing was looking the wrong way, whilst confusing the motorist by weaving for 30-40 meters in-front of the car and overshooting a junction that she was not supposed to go down anyway. The fact that she wore a helmet seems incidental. even get me started on the wheelie boys who brazenly go wheelying down the Uxbridge road against traffic or carrying passengers in-front without being able to see!
      Cyclists need to have some sense to avoid collisions. Helmets don't help with that not yet anyway. *Bring on sensibility stimulating helmets*.

  9. Where's "the luxury of the bike scheme"? Here's something for free that has the potential of making a big difference to those without cars or who can't afford the bus. Where's the luxury? The fact that the scheme is taken up predominantly by the well-off doesn't reflect poorly on the scheme, in my opinion, but makes a strong case for extending it to areas where the less well-off live and work.

    1. "Here's something for free"???? Is that not the point of the article above? Plus you pay as you go for the use of these bikes. Where is it noted that the scheme is taken up by the well off?
      The reason it works is that personally owned bike theft is so rampant and the cost is in replacing your own bike every time it's nicked! And in the security kit! (Oh and Spandex!) kidding!! So risk of cost and inconvenience is reduced but risk to life is not.

  10. I think that the bike scheme is very good. It's very cheap, will be very convenient for lots more people once expanded and can really improve our city.

    Despite this, I also think that the Mayor's office and local councils should be straight with people. As such, I have placed an FOI request with TfL and LBHF.

    Will forward the results to Chris and MayorWatch if/when they arrive.

  11. Chris

    Well done on following this up, I'm waiting for answers from TfL, some of which I first asked on Friday, the rest have been unanswered since Monday.

    1. Legally they have to treat everything as an FOI request, whether you specify that it is one or not. You're therefore legally entitled to a response within 20 days.

      If you're still failing, I'm more than happy to force a response through the FOI request I lodged with TfL today. I was very specific in the breakdown of information that I wanted, too...

  12. I don't understand what your problem is with your council investing in cycling infrastructure, when more is sorely needed in London.

  13. I don't think Chris has a problem with the scheme or its funding. I think its more about the fact that it hasn't been made clear how it is funded...

  14. Well they are taking their time getting the bikes installed around Westfield, which I don't imagine is making Westfield too chuffed given all the barriers. They have been at it for 2 weeks and little obvious progress considering it ain't a massive project. In fact I don't imagine Westfield was that chuffed about having to cough for the bike scheme and having it's entrances clogged by cycle docking stations. But I'm sure their public face is one of delight!

  15. I wish Westfield would also add a few dozen trees surrounding its site as was in their original plan which they cut. Its all concrete. They can afford to give something back to the community now as they are responsible for greater pollution to our borough

  16. Have the Boris Bikes even got planning permission yet?