London’s government-funded Boris bike hire scheme has cost taxpayers nearly £200 million over the last eight years, according to a disclosure made to Verdict under the UK Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.

The total net government expenditure on the scheme so far is £195 million – which works out at around £17,000 for each of the 11,500 hire bikes currently in circulation.

Currently called Santander Cycles (after the bank sponsor) the scheme was previously known as Barclays Cycle Hire.

The project was launched by current UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and was one of his most high-profile projects in his previous job as London mayor.

The total subsidy works out at nearly £3 for every journey taken so far on a Santander/Barclays Cycle. This compares to the cost to users of £2 to hire a bicycle for 24 hours.

Most of the net expenditure on the scheme over the last eight years (some £128 million) has been on capital items such as docking stations and other infrastructure.

Local government body Transport for London currently only reveals operating expenditure (which has totalled £67 million) in its transparency disclosures.

Since the publicly funded scheme was launched, two rival private-sector schemes have been established in the UK capital at no cost to the taxpayer.

These schemes – Mobike and Ofo  – don’t require any infrastructure as bikes are parked by users without the need for a docking station.

Source: Transport for London

Verdict asked Transport for London whether the £195 million was money well spent (given that the private sector schemes cost the taxpayer nothing).

TFL head of cycle-hire David Eddington said: “Santander Cycles provide an active and sustainable way of getting around the capital and are available for all Londoners to use and enjoy. We have no plans to change our record-breaking Santander Cycles scheme and we welcome the growth in dockless cycle hire providers, which will help to grow cycling numbers across the capital.”

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TFL has an overall annual budget of £10.1 billion, of which £4.8 billion comes from passengers.

A Mobike spokesperson said: “Santander Cycles has been operating in London since 2010, when technology that is now present was not available.

“Government funding has enabled London to embrace bike share and shows that there is a great deal of demand for cycling.

“With projected population growth and increasing demand for cycling there is no reason that Mobike and Santander Cycles cannot operate complementary services. The long-term future of taxpayer invested bike hire is very much in the hands of the consumer.”

Ofo UK PR manager Matthew Sparkes said: “Boris Bikes have provided a wonderful service to Londoners, and continue to do so, but the scheme only covers a very limited area of the city and TfL doesn’t have the funds to expand it further. We believe that Ofo can offer a valuable and affordable service across the whole of the city. We already cover a far greater area of London that Boris Bikes do and are continuing to expand rapidly.”

How London’s cycle hire schemes compare

Santander Cycles:

There are 11,500 bikes available at 750 docking stations.

Bikes cost £2 to hire for 24 hours or £90 for an annual membership. Bikes must be taken and returned to a docking station.

Mobike:

Mobike has over 3,000 bikes in London boroughs that include Ealing, Hounslow, Islington, Southwark and Newham.

Users download the Mobike app, register, place a refundable deposit, locate a bike and scan its QR code. With an account, users can find the total distance they have cycled, along with the calories they have burnt, the equivalent amount of Carbon emissions they have saved and their Mobike Score.

Mobike Score is a system implemented to regulate safe use within the bike-share community. Users begin with a score of 550 and the score changes based on their behaviour. If their score falls below 100, their account will be suspended and access rights removed.

Scores drop if users:

  • Ride bikes in an unsafe manner and ignore traffic rules
  • Park bikes in off-limits areas
  • Obstruct other people
  • Vandalise bikes.

Mobike charges a service fee of 50p for every 30 minutes of riding.

Ofo:

There are currently 2,800 Ofo bikes in London. More than 6,000 bikes are in operation across the UK and over fourteen million globally.

Users must download the Ofo mobile app, register basic information and payment method and use the map function to locate the nearest available bikes. Once they reach this location, users scan the QR code on the lock to unlock the bike. Users can also manually enter the bike number into the app, which is found on the lock. Users must park the bike somewhere appropriate and lock by turning the dial on the locking mechanism.

Bike hire is 50p for 30 minutes, with a maximum daily price cap of £5.