Category Archives: mayor

Redistribution Promises

I have just returned from Paris, where the Velib rules the city's streets. Paris is a fascinating case study to compare to London - the streets are wider and have more cycle lanes, but there is still a real problem with congestion and intimidating vehicular traffic. On my short trip I noticed a lot of Velib traffic, though less people using their own bikes. Paris, like London, is making a start but has yet to embrace the bicycle fully.

So back to London, where we are now assured a new contract means we will see better bike availability for us all. It's certainly a step forward. But note Bob Crow's comment: 'If it is not to become an embarrassment to the Mayor, the Boris bike scheme needs more docking stations, more bikes and crucially more and better paid staff'. Mr Crow has a point; the success of the scheme means central London in particular needs more bikes and more people to help manage them. In central Paris the docking stations come thick and fast - compare to London where major destinations such as St James's Park are devoid of docks, and rail stations struggle to meet demand.

In his latest transport vision, the Mayor sees cycle hire as the norm rather than the exception (p38). But the Mayor issues a lot of visions - we need to see a few turned into reality. There is a lot of work still to do. But the direction of travel is encouraging.

In other news ... controversy over the siting of a docking station in Hammersmith and Fulham. We've seen this before of course. For what it's worth, I agree with Mr Aldworth.

Higher Fares – Some Further Comments

Last week it was reported that Boris bike access charges will double from January 2013. There is some further useful comment on the folly of this decision on the Two Wheels Good blog.

I was contacted by the Evening Standard to get my view on funding and charges for the bikes. My suspicion is that when the edict came from City Hall to install the scheme across London they believed that the funding secured from Barclays plus the charges would cover the costs to finance the scheme. Now that this has not been the case, charges are rising to cover losses.

Some might argue that Boris should renegotiate a better deal with Barclays. I think it might be too late for that now, and actually it somewhat misses the point. Why should a major transport initiative be relyng on private sponsorship to make it viable? Exactly the same point can be made incidentally, for the Emirates Airline.

If TfL and the mayor are serious about introducing bikes across London to enable as many Londoners as possible to use them to get about cheaply, then they need to be properly financed from a central transport budget. Let's be clear - Boris bikes cost peanuts compared to Crossrail, or the reconstruction of London Bridge Station, or a new Northern Line to Battersea. Their initially low cost made them instruments of potential social transformation. But at £2 a go, why not take a bus, it'll be cheaper, or a tube, hardly more expensive. When the borough of Tower Hamlets, one of London's most deprived, agreed to put funds towards the bikes, did they realise a year later prices would be rising to rob local users of the cheap transport they had been promised?

If Boris biking is to have a future it should be funded centrally from a London-wide transport budget, not by dubious deals with commercial sponsors. Fare increases should be kept in line with other modes of transport, and the scheme affordable to less affluent Londoners. If not, I fear our love affair with the Boris bike might be over.

Boris Bike Charges to Double

TfL has announced that from the new year, cycle hire charges will increase from £1 to £2 for daily access, from £5 to £10 for a week, and from £45 to £90 for a year.

There are reports in various newspapers including the Telegraph and Metro.

A doubling of fares for cycle hire users is bad news for cycling in London. Much of the success of the scheme has owed to its value for money in comparison to other modes of transport, and by making these increases the Mayor risks losing the support Boris bikes have enjoyed since their introduction. Perhaps if we were assured that the extra income generated from the fare rises would be used solely for improving and expanding the network of bikes and docking stations, it might be justified, but what seems more likely is that users will end up paying for the bad deal Boris did with Barclays, which has failed to provide the necessary funds to make cycle hire financially viable. I would urge the Mayor to reconsider - Boris bikes are a sustainable and healthy way for Londoners to travel, these charge increases will simply discourage the revolution in cycling which the Mayor himself has claimed to support. There are already so many barriers to cycling in London - higher fares simply create one more.

I will be writing to my Assembly Member to ask for this decision to be reviewed. The funding of the Boris bike scheme needs a thorough review if the scheme is to remain popular, affordable and an encouragement towards London becoming a cycling city.

Boris Bikes grow up

The not-so-humble Boris bike is now just over two years old. It's come a long way - from an initial 300 or so docks to 568 today, taking in all of central London and a big patch of the east. Okay, so it never made the Olympics, but during our Jubilee/Olympic summer its useage has soared to around 40,000 trips per week, shared almost equally by members and casual users. And already plans are afoot for a western extension, also taking in some new areas south of the river. Long forgotten are the early teething problems - the largest problem now is that so many people use the bikes that docks are often either empty or full, particularly at commuter times. Communities like Brixton and Islington are clamouring for bikes in their areas. You can't spend long in central London without seeing a Boris bike, or even a family of them, gliding serenely past.

Boris bikes - agents of social change?
Boris bikes have changed the face of cycling in London. No special clothes or helmets are required; the bikes are reassuringly robust; even novices can have a try in the parks. With London's transport network struggling to take the strain, and with the urgent need to improve air quality and reduce CO2 emissions, the Boris bike is a knight in shining armour. In bright blue hues it invites us: 'try me, you can cycle too'.

Cycling campaigners (and I am one) will tell you that to maximise the potential of cycling in London, we need more protected cycle lanes and road design which prioritises people on bikes or on foot ahead of cars and lorries. This is right. And where the Boris bike clinches the argument is that it shows ordinary Londoners, and our international visitors, do want to cycle in our beautiful city. Every extra Boris biker is one more reason for politicians to listen to those who want to cycle, or perhaps have taken their first step. Cycle hire is bringing us to a tipping point, where the major user of roads will no longer be the car, but the bicycle. It's an exciting prospect.

Recently I've read two excellent articles, one from the relatively new Two Wheels Good blog, which I recommend, and an older one the author has flagged up at Bike Biz. Both say similar things to what I'm trying to say here.

We have an interesting year ahead. Cycle hire is extending, and to keep working needs a quite aggressive intensification in the central area as well as new docks to the south and west. Boris has promsied the first Dutch-style projects for cyclists in London, and perhaps Dutch-style design will characterise the four new Superhighways opening in 2013. We need to keep up the pressure on our elected representatives, but there are reasons to be hopeful.

Boris bikes – more to come

And the winner was ... Boris.

So the next 4 years will no doubt see further battles over road design and the totemic policy of 'smoothing traffic flow'; but on a brighter note, the Boris bike is here to stay, and by 2016 (and he apparently won't run for a third term) who knows how widespread they'll be? There are few details of the western extension yet, hopefully these will follow later this year.

Dock construction seems to be taking a pause. A new one has opened in John Islip Street, and Monument Street went live a couple of weeks ago, but I'm not aware of any others under construction which are not now open. It will be interesting to see how the scheme copes during the Olympic months. It's already quite worrying that on a fine evening, most of central London is empty of the bikes by mid-evening, making them useless for evening entertainment. Initially we were promised that more docks and a better understanding of the patterns of use would help Serco solve these problems. It seems the patterns of use are now well-established, and simply accepted.

A very interesting, and encouraging, article appeared recently in Bike Biz. It's an old argument that sheer volume of cyclists will help improve road safety because other vehicles can't help but take greater care. This seems to be happening now in some of the busiest areas of London, such as the City. There's a way to go though before this effect will calm some of our busier routes, and the removal of cycle lanes in favour of narrower streets (take St Paul's Churchyard as an example) can only increase the conflict between cyclists and other traffic.

Boris bikes are coming to New York too, in a scheme which will eclipse our own. 600 docking stations and 10,000 bikes should be in place by this summer, using the Bixi system, originally developed in Canada and used for our own beloved  Boris bikes. The prices are higher than London, but the omens look good for America's most ambitious bike hire scheme to date. Take a look at their website.