Boris bikes in Greenwich – a great big money-spinner?

Cutty Sark Gardens, 22 June 2013

I was wandering around Greenwich town centre on Saturday evening, taking a look at the GDIF attractions, when a couple approached me. They’d just tied their bikes to the new racks at Cutty Sark Gardens – I was unlocking mine – and they asked me if I’d take their picture, which I did.

Nothing unusual in that, but one of them was riding a Barclays Cycle Hire bike. She’d clearly walked it through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel (and hopefully didn’t have to lug it up the stairs) and opted to lock it up south of the river, where there are no docking stations. Hiring the bike must have cost her a fair bit – particularly when there are docking stations available to use near Island Gardens.

And half-an-hour earlier in Greenwich Park, checking out the Audible Forces installation at the top of the hill, there were two Boris bikes, left on the grass while their riders checked out things which made noises with wind. Those hire fees must have been clocking up nicely too – especially as the bikes must have almost certainly been walked up the hill (I can’t imagine trying to pedal one of those things up The Avenue).

In the 16 months since the cycle hire scheme was extended to cover the borough of Tower Hamlets, the blue bikes have become a common sight in Greenwich. Yet there after no docking stations south of the river beyond Tower Bridge, and no plans to extend the scheme south-east any time soon. Even if you were to leave Greenwich via the cable car, you’d face a roundabout journey north of the river to reach the system’s most easterly docking station, at East India DLR station.

Trafalgar Road, April 2013

This isn’t what the scheme was designed for – public cycle hire schemes are meant for short trips where you drop off your bike at each place you visit. The pricing reflects this, as do the sturdy, cumbersome bikes themselves. But what seems to be happening here is that people are taking the bikes from stations north of the Thames, and taking them for extended periods of time to explore south-east London. I’ve seen them pedalled down Trafalgar Road, ridden into Deptford, and taken as far out as the Thames Barrier.

All of which must be costing their users a fortune. Three hours and one minute with a Boris bike will set you back £35 (plus a £2 access charge) – yet Flightcentre in east Greenwich will let you have a bike for a whole weekend for that sum, and one that doesn’t feel like riding a tank.

With such sums helping offset Barclays Cycle Hire’s leaky finances, it’s no wonder there are no plans for docking stations to appear in Greenwich any time soon. Boris Johnson’s Vision 2020 map appears to show an extension heading towards Charlton, Blackheath and Lewisham, but carries the disclaimer that it is merely “indicative and is an example of the area that the network might extend to in the future”.

In any case, despite the mayor’s appeals to the public to badger Barclays to extend its sponsorship to expand the scheme, it’s been boroughs that have been footing the bill, at up to £2 million a time. I can’t see Greenwich Council going for that – and it’d be hard not to blame them. Even installing just one or two docking stations would end up being a logistical pain to manage – the scheme would have to be properly extended through Bermondsey, Rotherhithe and Deptford (and be funded by Southwark and Lewisham councils too).

If you’ve a few quid to invest, perhaps setting up a cycle hire place over at Island Gardens, promising to undercut the Boris bikes, might do people a favour and turn a profit. But for now, with people playing small fortunes to ride to Greenwich and beyond on bikes they can’t dock, the current head-scratching situation remains. Maybe they just have more money than sense.

(I should, of course, thank Greenwich Council for its long-overdue expansion of cycle parking spaces in Greenwich town centre, with new racks appearing in Cutty Sark Gardens. They were doing healthy business at the weekend, showing the demand’s there…)


  1. Of course Boris claimed that Lewisham was the next place that the cycle hire scheme was coming to at the recent State of London debate, backtracking massively when he realised that was utter cobblers.

    I quite fancy seeing if I can cycle one of those tanks up the Avenue for a laugh. Anyone up for sponsoring me to cover the £35?! 😉

  2. You’re right that the current situation is bewildering. I remember floating the notion of bringing a docking station to Greenwich Town Centre back in late 2010 along with Nick Raynsford but, if I remember rightly, TfL were far from convinced about even exploring its feasibility. It would be great to see a local (and hopefully cheaper) cycle hire scheme up and running.

  3. Once again, its a case of Greenwich seeing cycling as a hobby rather than transport. People on bikes are just having a nice day out – not trying to get somewhere!

    @Clare – I imagine that New Cross will get them pretty soon. They seem to follow the Cycle Superhighway roll out quite closely. Perhaps Boris had forgotten that CS5 is now being cut short

  4. Darryl,

    Only fair to say that I noticed your praise for Greenwich Council in this post. Be careful or your mates will think you’ve gone soft!

  5. Stuart – you’re on. I think it’s already a Strava segment, although possibly only downhill, which is cheating.

    Are we racing on Boris Bikes or normal ones? 😉

  6. Kenny Farthings for defo. I’ve not ridden one since before Darryl remembered how brilliant biking is on one. Bagsy the one without the hub brakes stuck on.

  7. Ironically this kind of echoes the old situation of not having tube links to the SE.

  8. Nice. I suspect the only issue is going to be bringing the bikes the ‘wrong’ side of the river. Its all logistics. Will 853 sponsor this extremely worthy endeavour Darryl? I’ll wear a branded skinsuit.*

    * I absolutely will not, maybe a t-shirt.

  9. I’ll happily sponsor a race – hey, simply tape over the word “Barclays”…

    I’ve a funny feeling that the cycle hire scheme will never reach south-east London – it was sold as something that’d pay for itself, but it’s leaking money out of TfL’s cycling budget. Now there’s a cycling commissioner keen to make his mark, who’ll want to throw good money after bad? The latest extensions – south and west – will cover areas already well-served by the Tube, so we know TfL isn’t interested in using it to plug gaps in the public transport network.

    Essentially, if we want it here, we (taxpayers) will have to pay for it. Is if worth Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark teaming up and offering cash to pay for a limited extension along the river to Greenwich or Woolwich? Maybe, but can you ever see it as a priority?

  10. Good stuff… I’ve got my trisuit ready and waiting… 😉 I wonder if any other 853 readers would care to join in?

    I’m not sure it’s worth bringing the cycle hire scheme out as far as outer-inner London (or inner-outer London or whatever we are out here). I can’t imagine there would be enough journeys to make sure the bikes flow around the docking stations without needing to be shunted by truck, which rather defeats the point. I’d rather councils prioritised cycling infrastructure – this was particularly brought home today by the accident this morning at the junction of Loampit Vale and Thurston Road in Lewisham – this junction is on the Waterlink Way cycling route believe it or not…

  11. A better challenge would be from docking station to the top of the hill and back without overrunning the 30 minutes. It’s only just over 3k, but if you’re going to do it legally…

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