Transport for London (TfL) is looking for a new sponsorship partner for the cycle hire scheme.
Current sponsor Barclays announced last December that it would not renew its £25m deal next year, despite previous claims by London mayor Boris Johnson that the bank would pay a further £25m for sponsorship until 2018.
TfL has invited companies to bid for the seven-year contract — the winner will be expected to pay at least £5.5m per year for naming rights, a new colour scheme and branding. Given pretty much no-one referred to the cycle hire scheme by the name of its sponsor, we're not yet certain how effective renaming the bikes will actually be.
The mayor and TfL came under heavy criticism over the Barclays sponsorship. In 2011, it appeared that the bank had got the better end of the deal with the commercial value of sponsorship being closer to £9-15m per year — significantly more than the £5m Barclays were paying. Demands from the London Assembly that the contract be submitted to it for scrutiny were refused. MayorWatch has highlighted TfL's apparent new commitment to transparency as a good sign. Green Party AM Darren Johnson also appears cautiously hopeful:
“The arrival of a bike hire scheme in London was a real boost to cycling in the city and it’s great that it has encouraged some people to take to two wheels.
We need the Mayor to select sponsors who really understand cycling and can be genuine partners in promoting it as one of the best, fastest and cheapest ways of travelling in London. We also need a reassurance that this money is additional to the £913m promised in TfL’s ten year business plan.”
The current sponsorship deal also allowed Barclays to reduce payments when usage fell below a certain level which, given the falling numbers using the bikes last year, didn't do TfL any favours at all. We anticipate that future contracts will preclude this. And crucially, TfL will no longer be able to evade Freedom of Information (FOI) requests on spurious 'commercial confidentiality' grounds since they've made a pledge to the London Assembly to leave such clauses out of sponsorship contracts.
The new sponsor will undoubtedly come in for its fair share of criticism too; after all, many are inherently uncomfortable with private sponsorship of a public service. But it seems that TfL and the mayor have learned some lessons from their relationship with Barclays.
Photo by John Parfrey in the Londonist Flickr pool.