Charges to access London’s Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme are set to double in the New Year as part of a range of public transport fare increases announced today by Mayor Boris Johnson. With 3.5 million journeys made last year by casual users alone, the increases are likely to prove a moneyspinner, and Mr Johnson stands accused of having undersold sponsorship of the scheme.
According to Transport for London (TfL), the increases, the first since the initiative was introduced in July 2010, “will be used to make improvements to the future operation of the scheme.”
While the press release announcing the changes effective from 2 January 2013 trumpets the fact that fare rises on London Underground, the Docklands Light Railway, the Overground rail network and buses have been kept to RPI (retail price index) plus 1 per cent, that certainly isn’t the case for the fleet of ‘Boris Bikes.’
From January, scheme members and casual users alike will pay £2 instead of the current £1 for 24-hour access, while weekly access charges will rise from £5 to £10 and annual ones – available only to registered members – from £45 to £90.
Journeys by scheme members will remain free for the first 30 minutes, and there will be no changes to the fees charged for late return (£150), non-return (£300) or damage to the hire bikes (up to £300).
There was no specific mention of changes to actual hire charges, which start at £1 for between 30 minutes’ and an hour’s use ranging up to £50 for 24 hours, the maximum allowed.
The extent of the rises in access fees has provoked a wave of criticism on social media such as Twitter, especially given the £50 million sponsorship the scheme has from Barclays until 2018 which in part was meant to contain costs to a minimum.
When quizzed by the London Evening Standard, however, a TfL spokesman claimed the increase had “absolutely nothing” to do with the bank’s funding of the scheme, while refusing to confirm on the grounds of commercial confidentiality how much of that £50 million has been paid to date.
While the fare increases for other modes of transport were kept below the assumption in TfL’s business plan of RPI plus 2 per cent thanks in part to £92 million secured from central government, none of that cash appears to have been used to offset the fare increases on the bike-sharing programme.
TfL outlined that the coming 12 months will see further investment in cycling in the capital, including expansion of the much criticised Barclays Cycle Superhighways, but there are bound to be suspicions that part of the increase in charges for the Cycle Hire Scheme will help pay for the junction review that the body launched following the deaths of several cyclists late last year, which wouldn’t have been in the budget.
Figures revealed by TfL today suggest that the success of the scheme, which has now seen 17 million journeys made in less than two and a half years with a 35 per cent increase in regular usage to 9.1 million journeys over the past year alone, mean that the increased charges will provide a lucrative source of additional revenue.
Casual use alone has risen from 1.5 million journeys in the year to September 2011 to 3.5 million in the 12 months to September 2012, and while many people paying for 24-hour access will be likely to undertake more than one trip within that period, it’s clear that the doubling of the fee will be a money-spinner, likely to add perhaps a seven-figure sum to the TfL coffers.
Commenting on the new fare structure unveiled today, Mr Johnson said: “Before the end of the year I will spell out further investment on the transport network that will help us to provide faster, more frequent and reliable journeys for Londoners; and is crucial to the economic development and growth that is so vital to our great city.
“This fares package is hugely important to our millions of passengers and I am very pleased to have secured nearly £100m that will help to keep fares as low as possible, and protect the important concessions that we offer the most vulnerable Londoners.”
Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Greater London Assembly, accused Mr Johnson of timing his announcement to coincide with the US election.
TfL says the update on fare rises today had been planned for months – the date of the election, of course, would have been known well before then. The 2016 presidential election, should anyone at TfL wish to take a note of it, is scheduled for 8 November.
“Quite shamefully Boris Johnson has decided to bury bad news,” Ms Pidgeon told the London Evening Standard. “Such steep rises would not be necessary if the Mayor had secured a far better sponsorship deal with Barclays.
“As they obtain immense benefits from the sponsorship deal they should be the first people to dig deep in the pockets to help fund the scheme,” she added.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.