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.