25 August 2010 10:46 AM

TfL issues Mayor's propaganda over cost of Borisbikes

TfL was one of Ken Livingstone's main propaganda tools. Now it appears to have become the same under Boris Johnson, and is busily rewriting history in the Tory Mayor's favour.

Yesterday evening TfL released new Borisbike usage figures under embargo to the media. (I'd asked for them two days earlier but TfL released them to the world to deny a Standard exclusive - thanks guys). 250,000 journeys have now been made by Borisbike, by 59,500 registered members.

Boris on Barclays Cycle hire But contained within the press release is the following piece of mischief: "The creation of an easy to use cycle hire system was a key pledge of the Mayor's manifesto. Just over two years since his election, Barclays Cycle Hire is now transforming the way that people make short trips around central London."

Am I alone in believing this smells rather fishy? After all, what Boris's manifesto actually promised was that a cycle hire scheme would be introduced at "no cost to the taxpayer".

It will actually cost £140m (though Barclays has provided £25m in sponsorship). Also, the proposed extension to the scheme will cost another £81m.

I'm told that JC Decaux, which runs the VeLib scheme in Paris, had offered to run the London scheme for free but was rebuffed because of its need to cover the city in advertising hoardings (as if there weren't thousands already....)

UPDATE: Here's a link to Boris's transport manifesto. And here's what Lib-Dem Caroline Pidgeon thinks about Boris's playing with numbers.

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The Paris is in fact income-generating.

Setup cost JCDecaux just over £90m and the city gets an annual fee of a little over £3.5m a year, as well as the rental fees for the bikes.

In return, the company’s 10-year contract allows it to put up 1,628 billboards acorss the city that it can rent.

This is an awful lot of new billboards in a city that you rightly point out is already flooded with them. However there could a middle ground with a reduced fee in return for reduced advertising sites.

I'm not usually one to come down on the side of Boris, but it seems like "for free" is a very subjective comment here. Free in the sense that the city wouldn't have to spend any money up front.

But what about the flipside? Isn't there the possibility this could have hit advertising spending in other places? Like on the tube and buses, for instance? There would certainly have been costs too.

I'm not saying I know the JCD deal definitely wouldn't have been a better one for London. But you're hardly telling the full story here.

The Decaux deal falls down for London as the Boroughs and TfL all have separately negotiated deals for on-street advertising, with Clear Channel, Decaux etc, so Decaux declined to bid. Clear Channel who have successful operating models that are not funded by advertising were the only remaining bidder (from 6 prequalified bidders) when the decision to use the Bixi system was taken, although the London security requirements mean that the simple Bixi concept of placing 10 bikes on a parking bay sized plot ready to work in minutes (no wiring up is needed) cannot be used in London (apparently) Bixi was first used in Montreal in summer 2009 and is now planned of operating a a number of cities - mostly in the US.

THe automated bike hire scheme which was running in London from 2004 to 2009 did not prequalify for the bid, I gather that despite being backed by one of the worlds biggest public transport conglomerates the financial standing of the company did not need the required tests, as the penalties for late delivery etc were, and perhaps still are onerous, and this caused a number of bidders to withdraw.

The original London system is currently operating in Cardiff, Farnborough and Reading, in the latter cases as small systems leased by business extates for use as pool bikes on internal and local trips by staff and visitors who have received authorisation codes to use with their mobile phones. Hire stations are wireless and bolt to any rigid object or structure, ready for immediate use. A local network can be assembled by linking individual site installations funded by the individual sites (and as a revenue cost this can be claimed as a business expense).

Ross might want to sample this option and the SWT folding bike lease scheme (for half the cost of a London Central Zones supplement you get a way to get to the office in less than half the time than using the Tube). Both are working to sustainable (self) funding business models.

PS there may be a partial solution to the tidal nature of Barclay bikes operation - use the vast cycle parking capacity which many city buildings now have in their basement car parks, and set a 'commuter tariff' for hire between say 08.00 and 18.00 with a steady supply of rapid collect/deposit bikes brought in to the key locations on trailers, which are replaced when they are emptied or refilled.

Those trailers can then also be used for big events at places like Wembley so that spectators can grab a bike to ride to the most appropriate stations for their trains, dispersing the large crowds without the congestion impact of doing this with cars or even buses - a good practice run for the possible application of this concept to the 2012 transport challenges in Stratford,and Portland (Weymouth) etc.

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