Boris Bike Scheme: Where Will It End?

Once upon a time, the geographical limits of Transport for London’s banker-backed cycle hire scheme made some kind of sense. If you were in or around Zone 1, you were able to borrow a bike. If you weren’t, you couldn’t. Easy.

Gradually, though, this internal coherence has begun to melt away. Extending the scheme eastwards before the Olympics had some sort of logic to it, until it transpired it would stop some way short of the actual Olympic Park. The new, south-western extension is even harder to make sense of. Once it’s completed, the cycle zone will extend all the way from Old Ford Lock to Putney, on the fringes of Richmond Park and suburban Zone 3. If you’re a cyclist living in more central areas such as Chalk Farm or Bermondsey Spa, though, you’re out of luck. No blue bikes for you.

It is possible this rather lumpy expansion is based on some clever TfL masterplan: perhaps these are simply the areas where you’re most likely to find cyclists. But there’s a case that says it’s those areas where people don’t already cycle where the scheme would have the most benefits. And anyway, it’s difficult to say for sure, because TfL has released no such research.

What seems more likely is that expansion is being driven at least partly by who’s willing to pay for it. Last year Mayorwatch revealed that councils had been told expansion into their boroughs was “conditional” upon their making a contribution to fund new infrastructure, and last Friday’s Evening Standard rounded up exactly what those contributions were. The eastward expansion cost Tower Hamlets £1.9 million; the latest round will cost Lambeth £200k, and Kensington & Chelsea £400k. Wandsworth and Hammersmith, meanwhile, are paying up to £2 million apiece.

This pay-to-play approach to transport infrastructure is something we’re seeing more and more of (the Northern Line extension to Battersea being another example). In some ways it makes sense: times are tight, and TfL has to think of its costs. If co-funding schemes like this is the only way of getting them built at all, then it surely beats the alternative.

But it raises some awkward questions, nonetheless. What if an inner borough, with a Labour council and no spare cash, were to reject the idea of co-funding one of Boris’s pet projects (particularly since, as Mayorwatch has noted, he tends not to thank councils for their contribution)? Would we end up with a hole in the scheme forever more?

Several miles to the west, Wandsworth’s travel spokesman Russell King has said he wants “borough-wide coverage”. If he puts the council’s money where his mouth is, will Roehampton see coverage before Rotherhithe? Could Richmond? Kingston? Sure, they’re a long way out, but if they’re willing to pay, why not?

This, we’d suggest, would be silly. The reason we have public authorities like TfL is so they can plan infrastructure that benefits the whole city, rather than just the bits where rich people live. The cycle hire scheme makes most sense if it offers intensive coverage throughout a single, relatively small area. That, logic suggests, means the centre of town. Before it begins looking to suburbia, TfL should finish what it’s started.

Tags: , ,

Jonn

Article by Jonn Elledge | 94 Articles | View Profile

  • http://londonist.com/ Dean Nicholas

    The pay-to-play idea makes sense for things like the Tube extension, where costs are prohibitive under TfL’s current budgetary constraints. But the cycle hire project was supposed to be self-funding. It seems insane that a council like Tower Hamlets, one of the capital’s poorest boroughs, is ponying up nearly £2million for the bikes.

  • Mauk

    And yes, Bermondsey Spa, Rotherhithe, Peckham, East Dulwich need Barclays Bikes. Badly.

  • Stuarty_Boy

    To me the South-West (or South-Anywhere, really) expansion makes sense when viewed in the context of the realtive sparcity of the Tube network south of the river.

    • http://twitter.com/jonnelledge Jonn Elledge

      I’d agree, except it’s no expanding into the areas with the sparsest coverage. If that’s your concern, it’d make far more sense to go to Walworth, Camberwell and Peckham than to cover Fulham and Putney.

  • http://twitter.com/zefrog Nicolas Chinardet

    TfL may not have released the info about where there are most cyclists in London, by the ONS has, based on figures from the latest census: http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/in-hackney-more-people-who-travel-to.html

    Having chatted on twitter with Peter John (the Labour leader of Southwark Council) on the subject of more bikes in our borough, he told me that he was in negotiation with TfL but he didn’t know about the £2m contribution so I don’t know how far the negotiations had gone…

  • simon

    I live in Rotherhithe and am always seeing people on Boris Bikes around here. We definitely need them in our area.

  • Marty

    The system fails anyway as the logistics of moving bikes around during the day and night doesn’t happen and I’m often in central London at night and no bikes available.
    I’m surprised that the whole of London has not got bikes and surely this was supposed to be self funding especially now that prices have doubled since the new year!

  • http://twitter.com/charlesdickensl christopher west

    I would just like to say that it’s a great scheme for semi old blimps like me; I use it a lot, and hope it won’t get bogged down in red tape (term first used by Dickens)! I really believe it must be contributing to older people’s good health, both physical and mental, and this should be taken into account by local authorities.