The TfL Board should tell the Mayor where to stick his shovel

“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”

The TfL Board on 22nd September is going to be asked to approve an extension of the Cycle Hire Scheme. By how much we will probably not know as TfL are now hiding behind commercial confidentiality to obscure the true cost of the scheme from Londoners. Apart from the fact that this project is now suffering from a severe lack of financial transparency, the business case produced by TfL shows it to be a poor investment. It is inconceivable that the Mayor’s political appointees to the board will have the courage to stand to up to him. It requires that the more independent members of the board take a stand and call a halt to the extension of this wasteful project and stop digging an even bigger black hole.

We saw a significant regression of public accountability at TfL this week. The board papers for the Finance Committee were published with a significant ommission. The currently approved project authority for the Cycle Hire Scheme has miraculously disappeared from the documents. Now you see it [p.7], now you don’t [again p.7]. Given the lack of information here its difficult to know what to make of that. However I think its safe to assume that this now been increased beyond the £81.7M that was previously in there. If it hasn’t why would there be a need to redact the current budget which can be seen in a number of other documents? A rise in the cost of the project would not be a surprise. We know that there are elements of the scheme that are now seriously dysfunctional. Re-circulation of bikes has become a major task and, without casual users on the scheme, this is set to continue to be a problem. The operational problems are not going away either with an unfortunate user recently being overcharged £900.

In a commercial organisation it would be highly irregular for any scheme with this many problems to be extended at this point. You’d look to solidify your current offering and not make the problem worse. TfL, no doubt driven on by the Mayor’s Office, are however proposing such an extension at the board meeting on the 22nd. How much extra is that going to cost you ask? That I’m afraid you can’t know now and I’m assuming at the same will apply at the board meeting itself. TfL have redacted all information concerning the budget uplift.

There can be no justification for this. Cycle Hire has become highly controversial due to the shambolic nature of the rollout and it is not acceptable for TfL to be hiding behind commercial confidentiality to obscure changes in the budget now or in the future. I have no confidence that the Mayor’s political acolytes (Steve Norris, Daniel Moylan) will do anything other than just wave this through. There are however more independent voices on the TfL Board that should take this opportunity to speak out. Can the representatives of the Cab and minicab trade on the board (and the trade unions) really justify progressing this scheme to their members? It’s time the TfL board stood up for Londoners and told the Mayor to stick his shovel, stop digging and take a lesson in transparency. Maybe this chap could give them a few pointers:

I believe Londoners should have a greater say on how their city is run, more information on how decisions are made and details on how City Hall money is spent. [...] I will aim to create a different style of government at City Hall by introducing a series of measures designed to make my Mayoralty more accountable, and spending more transparent [My bold].

Wonder who said that?

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7 Responses to The TfL Board should tell the Mayor where to stick his shovel

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The TfL Board should tell the Mayor where to stick his shovel | North of the Thames -- Topsy.com

  2. Ian Perry says:

    Just a quick reply.

    Just from reading the feasibility study, the cause of many of the problems can be seen. The scheme is too small, and the best way to put this problem right is to expand it as quickly as possible – and as many of the costs are fixed scaling up will not incur such high costs per bike as for the original bikes. I suggest that Copenhagen’s cost-benefit analysis of cycling is applied to London and then we will really see what the value of this scheme is – and my money is on Boris Bikes being one of the best investments London has made.

    Apparently the Mayor has been underspending his cycling budget. It’s time to spend that money on increasing the capacity of the scheme to meet demand and to provide a proper cycling infrastructure. TfL may also have to be a bit creative to deal with the demand from railway stations. We know how to make this scheme successful and deliver value for money (including expanding it to other areas of London) and this should be done without further delay. Skimping on bike and docking station numbers and computer server capacity has proved to be foolish.

  3. DavidM says:

    Ian,

    Thanks for your comments. I’m not sure what data you’re using to support your suggestion that this is a good investment. It certainly does not chime with the data that TfL have. On a couple of specifics.

    The CBA that was done for Copenhagen may be very thorough (I’ve not seen it) but on a general point it would be irrelevant to London as it would not take account items like London’s commuting patterns, road and public transport usage and spatial development etc. that are all specific to our city. The CBA is specific to London and while it may make sense for a scheme of this nature in Copenhagen, there’s no guarantee that this would necessarily hold true for London.

    The feasibility study certainly said that a small pilot study would not work, but that’s not where we are. The size of scheme we have now is specifically of the magnitude that feasibility scheme suggested and its still failing. There’s certainly nothing in there to suggest that a larger scheme than the one we have at the moment would have fewer problem.

    While some of the costs will not scale linearly on an expanded scheme, many (docking stations, bikes) will. To put this into context, to serve the after rail market 50,000 bikes would be needed according the work TfL have done. The infrastructure required to support that would be gargantuan and it would simply require making more efficient use of slightly expanded scheme.

    I think you’re last comment is particularly worth highlighting : “We know how to make this scheme successful and deliver value for money…. “. “Successful” and “Value for Money” can easily be mutually exclusive. I’ve seen nothing to suggest that the value for money point is true. If you throw enough resources at any scheme it can be argued to be successful in that you can meet your key performance indicators. That doesn’t mean if we spent the money elsewhere we wouldn’t get a better outcome for less cost.

    • Ian Perry says:

      The feasibility study found a need for a minimum of 6,000 bikes, ignoring the demand from railway stations (300,000 potential journeys)… The scheme launched with about 5,000 bikes.

      Rather then questioning the benefit of Boris Bikes, I’d be questioning the cost, environmental impacts and benefits of air conditioning on trains.

      • DavidM says:

        Agreed that the scheme launched with a smaller number of bikes, the point I was making was that the on plan the scheme will be the same size as recommended in the feasibility study. But yes you’re correct that at the moment there are fewer bikes than recommended.

        Will that make a substantial different to the operation of the scheme? Unlikely, given where the problems are. A 20% increase in bikes will still not bring it anywhere close to the level required to service the rail after-market (50,000), and it is this pattern of usage that is currently causing the scheme to buckle at the morning and evening peaks.

        On the benefits (or otherwise) of new rolling stock. There are two pieces to that, I guess. Firstly should there be a proper business case and environmental analysis of any transport project and if it doesn’t stack up the project cancelled? Absolutely. Is that a reason that the cycle hire scheme should be given a free pass Certainly not. I’m just trying to bring the same rigour to this that we should be having with any project.

  4. Kris says:

    I couldn’t give a monkeys. The scheme is brilliant. Its a long term investment, might never see a return just like the railways have never shown a true positive return and yet are entirely necessary. And like any well funded government scheme regardless of party, it’s gone over budget and over time to deliver but at least it has delivered, people are using it day in day out, just see it everyday. Have a look at what Ken spent on GLAs new website before he left office. Nothing went live. Remind me what we paid for there precisely?

    • DavidM says:

      If you really couldn’t give a monkey’s about how your money is spent, then there’s not a huge amount of value in having a discussion really. There are a number of defects, however, in how you’ve tried to construct your argument (such as it is):

      “Its a long term investment, might never see a return just like the railways hve never shown a true positive return and yet are entirely necessary”

      Not true. It has been, and still is, perfectly possible to make a valid and positive business case for a railway line. Its just been done for HS2. But it is only possible if the benefits really do add up and the scheme isn’t being done on a political whim.

      “And like any well funded government scheme regardless of party, it’s gone over budget and over time to deliver…”

      Not true either. There are plenty of examples of large, well planned and managed projects in the public sector, especially in London. The East London Line Extension was delivered on budget and early, similarly the upgrade of the Victoria line by TfL is also on time and on budget. Both of these were signficantly larger than the cycle hire scheme. Contrast this, by the way, with the shambles that the private sector left on the Jubilee line as a result of PPP. Projects in the public sector are not subject to different rules than those in the private sector. If they are well specified and managed they will be successful, if they are not they will start to go wrong almost immediately. This has gone over budget precisely because its badly conceived, poorly implemented and more than anything rushed to try and give the impression that Boris was doing something.

      “…people are using it day in day out, just see it everyday”

      Not in doubt but also beside the point. There no evaluation that doing something else with what’s now £109M wouldn’t have produced something that even more people would have used every day. This is in addition to this being a massive broken promise from the blond-buffoon – he said the scheme would be implemented at “no cost to the taxpayer”.

      “Have a look at what Ken spent on GLAs new website before he left office. Nothing went live. Remind me what we paid for there precisely?

      Surely even you must conceed this is a pretty weak argument? I’ve no idea what he spent on the GLA website before he left although I’ll wager the delta between that figure and £109M is massive, so you need to get a sense of proportion. In any case trying to claim we should waste some more money now because at some point back in 2008 some was wasted doesn’t really stand up to any level of scrutiny.

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