Cycle hire is a public service

The biggest cycle hire docking station opened today at Waterloo, with 126 spaces. It will presumably be used by lots of commuters although the scheme is not aimed at them because, oddly, the demand would be too great.

Looking at the figures, the scheme is both enormously successful and a financial disaster. There have been over two million ‘rides’ so far, and barely a handful of accidents. The hire-bikes are buzzing round London, helping to turn it into a cycling city, not quite yet on the scale of Amsterdam, but definitely on a par with many European cities which we once lauded.

However, to get the scheme past the bead counting nerds who rule our lives, there is an enormous pretence going on, as highlighted by the recent assembly report into the bike hire project at http://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/FINAL%20REPORT.pdf. It says that the annual running costs of £18m is supposed to be covered by income from use within two to three years, and even start covering some of the set up costs of £79m, but that is clearly voodoo economics, set out by the plan’s promoters in order to pull the wool over the eyes of the accountants. I’m sure B By November, the income from the first four months of the scheme was just £1.9m, and clearly given that every additional user ends up creating costs in terms of bike movements, maintenance, call centre use, and so on, the scheme will never wash its face.

But so what? It is a public service, just as road sweeping, traffic light signals or street lighting are, and adds in all kinds of ways to improving life for Londoners, whether they use them or not. In terms of economics, it has lots of externalities which cannot be quantified or monetised accurately. It is, to repeat, a public service. I’m sure Boris is in on this. He understands that the scheme is not commercial. But why do they have to play these games? Why cannot policy makes accept that some things are not commercial but need to be provided. The bean counters and their neo-liberal bible rule…

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