As it’s revealed today that our profligate Mayor paid three guides £240 to escort a solitary cycling commuter from Brixton to The Mall and shelled out for three guides and a TfL Traffic Controller to deal with the hordes four cycling commuters at Clapham Common during last week’s London Underground strike, it’s time to look at the numbers for the cycle hire division of the Mayor’s “Cycling Revolution“.

Thanks to the determination of blogger North Of The Thames, it’s now possible to read the TfL Cycle Hire Scheme Business Case Submission [PDF] (albeit partially redacted) and decide for yourself whether the Mayor has provided us with value for money. As North Of The Thames comments:

The business case, released through a Freedom of Information request from this blog, confirms that as originally conceived the scheme has a positive benefit/cost ratio but as costs have spiralled it now represents a poor use of public money. As the point the budget changed the decision to push ahead should have been re-evaluated and the scheme cancelled. Questions remain as to the process that was followed for the budget extension and as to whether the Mayor’s office in particular knew that the scheme was a poor investment but chose to continue anyway.

Apart from the escalating costs and poor value for money, a major failing which has caused chaos of gargantuan proportions for unfortunate commuters resulted from the following decision:

Demand estimation does not account for the after-rail market (see appendix B for details); this segment has been excluded from the analysis as the scheme is unable to cater for the very high demand from this market.

Appendix B:

The after rail market refers specifically to non-London residents who use mainline trains to commute to London. It is not proposed that this scheme supports this market at present, to do so would require 50,000 bicycles. This market is excluded from all analysis and the scheme will be structured to allow management of this demand as far as is practicable.

The highest authorisation level for this project was the Transport for London Board, the Chair of which is none other than Boris Johnson. Knowing full well that the scheme would not be able to cope with the after-rail market it was decided to press ahead anyway.

An interesting exchange of views on this subject from disgruntled users of the scheme can be found on the independent Boris Bikes forum:

“You would not expect to get cost recovery if the numbers of bikes are sized for peak commuter rush and then sat unused until the next peak demand.”

“My point here is that I have paid £45 for use of the system. There appears to be no published SLA, therefore we must go along the route of reasonable expectation.

I think it is reasonable to expect that there should be some availability within one mile of where I wish to collect a bike from, or that there is a clear system to refresh availability (or provide accurate information as to when they will be refreshed) within a reasonable time. I waited for more than 30 minutes in a peak area and nothing became available across 3 docks, despite calling the contact centre.

It is not reasonable in my opinion for Serco to hold all of the cards and provide a poor escalation process, while taking our membership money with no sanction for poor service.”

“So you are therefore saying that it’s OK to set up a scheme for which there is a not insignificant upfront charge and then say that just because the usage doesn’t fit the original model, then it becomes the problem of the customer who has spent the money upfront?

Surely reasonable expectation is all you can have if there is no published service level – or should the provider just be able to have it all their own way?”

“Ultimately the point is, surely, that if they can’t meet commuter demand then they should make no steps to pretend they can. They should stop having ad-hoc manned stations and just say they simply can’t do it.

However most of the demand for the boris bikes is coming in the morning and evening rush hours. Take those away and frankly the system is close to a white elephant. The pootling errand runners during the day are not using the bikes in any particularly significant numbers.”

“Many seem to be discussing whether or not it is reasonable to expect bikes / free docks when joining this scheme. Today has been a total disaster! There was simply nowhere in Covent Garden& Bloomsbury to dock! I was half an hour late to work in the end. I would be of the opinion that when one is allowed to take a bike it is reasonable to expect to be able to dock it somewhere , anywhere within a reasonable distance of intended destination. I phoned Tfl this morning as the situation was desperate but it turns out the phone helpline is next to useless. They are not even in London and the person I spoke to had nonidea of the geography of London. She just said she will pass on my complaint but there is nothing she can do to help! I don’t know what the helpline is for? Strangely Marylebone Lane dock @ Oxford street was full this morning which I’ve never seen it before. I was able to give one of the waiting bikers a space! Something is very wrong with the way the scheme operates & while I understand that some places need more attention than others I would love to see them man one of the docking stations in the west end just for once! I am on the verge of having to give up as my nerves simply can not take much more of the morning stress!”

“I’ve fallen out of love for the scheme too, after initial enthusiasm. There are never any bikes in Vauxhall, where I get off the train, nor and spaces in Westminster, where I work. And after work the docks are cleared out by about 5.15, so it’s not useful for short trips across town after work either.

Boris Bikes and docks can only ever be relied upon for a bit of casual use in the middle of the day – maybe to pop from work to Covent Garden and back.

The more I think about it, the more of a waste of money this scheme has turned out to be. Let’s not forget, this is costing over *one hundred million pounds* of taxpayer money – for a scheme which has no effect on transport patterns in London and, according to TfL’s own analysis, does not result in modal shift (that is, reducing carbon output).

In other words, it’s a £100m PR stunt for Boris.”

As is pointed out in the comments, the current usage of the cycle hire scheme doesn’t fit the original model because it deliberately chose not to factor in after-rail commuters – the heaviest users of the scheme. If anyone can unravel the logic of not catering to the market which is predicted to be the heaviest consumer of your product or service, I’d be pleased to see the workings. Maybe we should just ask Boris?

UPDATE: More information on the guides who were pointlessly employed to escort cyclists during last week’s Tube strike:

TSSA leader Gerry Doherty said: “This would be laughable if the situation for Londoners was not so serious.

“This bike guide scheme is pure propaganda. He (Mayor Boris Johnson) would actually save public money by getting rid of the guides and just laying on ordinary cabs for the few who turned up at tube stations last week.”

Curious there was so little take-up just a couple of days after the Mayor of London’s Skyride, an event [PDF]meant to raise the profile and popularity of cycling in London.

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