Why no Boris bikes in Greenwich? Because nobody wants to pay for them

One cycle hire bike was based in Greenwich for a while - this unbranded prototype was spotted in the lobby of TfL's Pier Walk offices earlier this year
One bike was based in Greenwich for a while – this unbranded prototype was spotted in the lobby of TfL’s Pier Walk offices earlier this year

Back in June, this website reported Boris Johnson giving his backing for cycle hire bikes coming to Greenwich.

A few weeks back, Greenwich’s Tories decided to put a motion before the council suggesting it talk to City Hall about introducing such a scheme in Greenwich town centre, where the bikes are a regular sight. The motion was thrown out, and a bit of a daft row ensued. I’ve written about it this week for Londonist – Will Cycle Hire ever come to Greenwich?

Here’s a spoiler, though – nobody wants to pay for them. Despite Johnson promising the scheme would be self-financing, London Cycle Hire is a gigantic loss-maker. That’s not a bad thing in itself – most public transport loses money, but the wider economic and social benefits tend to be judged worth it.

There’s a good debate on whether the cycle hire scheme – still largely used by affluent men – is actually worth having. I’d argue that it is, as it frees up space on public transport and gets you fit – I used it as part of my commute for a few months last year and found it very useful.

But the main failing is that at £95 for an annual membership it’s absurdly cheap, but the £2 daily hire if you aren’t a member is worse value than taking a bus. Recent figures show that problem still hasn’t been cracked, despite changes to the pricing structure.

But it’s probably less of a priority than investing in safe facilities for people to ride their own bikes in. And that’s something Greenwich Council has been quietly doing over the past couple of years – either with TfL money or when a bit of road needs renewing. The bad old days of the Dear Leader’s tantrums are, in this arena at least, long gone.

Indeed, next year it’s likely we’ll start seeing plans emerge for the first cycle superhighway to Greenwich – phase one of CS4 from Tower Bridge Road to the Old Royal Naval College. If the scheme survives May’s change of mayor, it could revolutionise thousands of commutes. Less revolutionary is Quietway 1, a long-delayed backstreet route from Greenwich station to Waterloo, which is finally due next year.

Ignoring the logistical difficulties of getting the bikes to and from Greenwich, and the absurdity of not having any stands anywhere else in south-east London, let’s take the Greenwich Tories’ scheme at its word.

They wanted four or five cycle stands in Greenwich town centre. Lambeth paid £200,000 for 11 around Stockwell a couple of years back, so let’s say Greenwich would have to pay £100,000 for five, plus an annual £20,000 (a mayor’s booze-up) towards running costs. Good value? You decide.

See also Will Cycle Hire ever come to Greenwich? at Londonist.

7 comments

  1. Quietway 1 roughly follows the main route I’ve been using cycling to London for sometime now, and I’m already enjoying some of the upgraded bits. It’s not without its problems, but as far as I’m aware it doesn’t go down the Old Kent Road.

  2. Why are cycle stands so expensive? Are we talking about sheltered ones or just the standard Sheffield stands?

  3. The council could use money from developers’ contributions, since there are enough of them across the borough.

    The TfL Bikes are more for visitors and leisure use rather than commuters. Though if you want to attract visitors (as RBG does) you have to help them get there. Similarly, if you want residents and visitors to venture beyond Maritime Greenwich to Eltham Palace, Woolwich (new cultural quarters pending) and Severn Droog etc, you have to help them get there. Otherwise the funding spent on these projects will become much bigger waste.

  4. I wouldn’t much fancy pedaling the weight of a Boris Bike up to Severndroog Castle. The return down Shooters Hill could be exhilarating, I suppose

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