Boris and the ass question: Part Three: Where's the money?

BorishirebikeThere’s no doubt that cycling is increasing in London – but whether this has much to do with the activities of Transport for London (TfL) is open to doubt. More importantly: will the actions of Mayor Johnson, TfL and the GLA stand a chance of achieving his (modest) targets?

 Previous posts have dealt with the limited possibilities of the Cycle Super Highways and Bike Hire Schemes. Together these will cost up to £300 million until 2015, (although Barclays are committing an additional £25 million).

 Of other initiatives, the mass participation Skyrides aim to get 1 million more cyclists over a five year period – but that is for the 10 cities in which they take pace over 5 years, and with cycling once a month being the measure of a new cyclist. Translated into London statistics, that means Skyrides are aiming at about an extra 5,000 daily cyclists, or a 2% increase, over 5 years. However, despite a great deal of organisation associated with Skyrides, there has been no follow-up monitoring to assess whether participants increase their regular cycling to achieve even this very modest target. Skyrides are fun activities which are rewarding an desirable to support and take part in: but how much of a permamnent increase in cycling on a day-to-day basis do they lead to?

 Then in 2010 we had the Biking Boroughs project: giving about a month’s consultancy support to 12 Outer London Boroughs to help them develop strategies to increase and support cycling. But no commitment has to be made by these Boroughs to actually show a convincing programme of how the Mayor’s targets are to be met by them. Nor are there any specific funds made available to them by TfL.  Some Boroughs are making substantial efforts to use this project  the basis for a real commitment to supporting cycling. But even for these ones are they – particularly without earmarked financial support –  likely to be “set to become havens for cycling” (TfL press release 13/01/2010)

This brings us to a central point:

 Where’s the money?

 As the Evening Standard put it “The Mayor’s 10-point plan to promote cycling…has much to recommend it. It shows too that is possible to improve our quality of life without spending large sums of money. There’s a lesson there for Whitehall.”

But the point is that you DO need to spend SOME real money on cycling to get to Boris’ targets.  (We have about 2% of trips by bike, and are supposed to get to 5% by 2026 – an increase of 150%.)

And he isn’t spending anything like enough. About £100 – 140 million on the bike hire scheme which (if successful) will increase cycling by 10% in London. Then about £150 million on the contentious Cycle Superhighways on less than 2% of London’s roads over five years (if the money isn’t cut, which it might well be).

According to TfL (Mayor’s Question Time May 2 010), spend on cycling is:

SPEND (£m)                       2008/09         2009/10                 2010/11 
Cycle Hire                              1                      17                              67 
Cycle Superhighways                                     5                              32 
Other Cycling spend            19                    19                             17 
Total Cycling                      20                    41                             116
Additional LIP Schemes       1                      24                             16 

 In other words, apart from high-profile flagship schemes with minimal benefits, very little is earmarked for cycling. It also seems to have been forgotten that Mayor Johnson’s major contribution to funding was to eliminate ring fenced spending on cycling. In the name of giving the boroughs freedom, they are now in a position to not spend money on supporting cycling, and can indeed create more hostile environments for cycling.

 This doesn’t exonerate the Livingstone regime: under him Boroughs’ cycle training budgets did not have to be to national Standards, for example. Imaginative projects would not be eligible to receive TfL funding. But very few Boroughs are trying to address issues such as home cycle parking or schemes to directly support cyclists apart from just basic cycle training: those that do will have to rely on very limited funding from the overall Local Implementation Plan (LIP) budget.


Isn’t this necessary with an austerity regime?

 Of course, it would be wrong to refuse the benefits of schemes such as the “Catch up with the Bicycle” poster campaign or (at last!) a projected anti-cycle theft campaign. But the fact remains that there is only limited and indirect funding for measures which stand a chance of reaching the Mayor’s target of 5% modal share of trips by bicycle.


It can be argued that something is better than nothing (it isn’t) and that we all have to expect reductions in funding. What this forgets is the issue of how much other modes of transport get by comparison.


The costs of other modes…

 RDRF would argue that private motoring has net costs to society and the environment even after all the various forms of motorist taxation are paid – and that there is a good case for requiring motorists to pay more, primarily through increased costs of fuel. But even without discussing car and road freight costs, we have to remember the subsidy to public transport.

While Boris has been cutting TfL’s expenditure, the fact is that subsidy for public transport is still far higher than spend on cycling. Roughly speaking, a typical bus passenger gets at least 80p per trip, or some £350 per commuting year, subsidy. Tube and rail passengers get more, and that’s without the extremely expensive Crossrail scheme.

By comparison, without the Bike Hire and CSH schemes, undefined TfL spend on cycling is supposedly about £20 million annually (it is unclear whether this includes Borough LIP spending on items such as schools cycle training)


…and what cycling deserves.

If cycling were to get more pr less the same amount of subsidy as bus transport, we could expect a ring fenced amount approaching £100 million per annum. (£350 x 275,000, the number of cyclists daily). That is for a mode which is generally far healthier and environmentally benign, as well as being more convenient in outer London. Cycling England gives a figure of a £10,000 (over a lifetime) as the benefit of an extra regular cyclist.

In addition, where highway infrastructure is the target for expenditure, one can argue that costs should be borne out of general highways budgets.

And even £100 million annually would be a small part of even a very reduced TfL annual budget in the billions of pounds.



What we get is minimal undirected spend on anything apart from limited benefit flagship projects. The Mayor’s Cycling Revolution ( contains some anodyne aims (“Key partners working together to deliver cycling initiatives”). It contains some inadequate ones (“An increase in secure cycle-parking on streets, in workplaces, and at stations and schools “) – when about half the residences in London are flats or houses with inadequate space for cycle storage which is both secure and convenient.

But most noticeably it contains aims (“Investment in cycling maximised – from both the private and public sectors”) which dodge the issue of how support fro cycling is going to be properly directed and financed.

Not only is far more dedicated and targeted finance required – it is absolutely not a special requirement, but simply what is required for equitable treatment for cycling in a multi-modal approach which has a genuinely level playing field.

We would be asses to think otherwise.


I’ll be looking at the Mayor’s Cycle Safety Action Plan in a future post.