Boris Johnson: wheels and wings are wobbling on signature transport schemes

Transport schemes closely linked with the London’s mayor’s media image are encountering considerable difficulties

News that Barclays will not be renewing its sponsorship of Boris Johnson’s cycle hire scheme when the present deal expires is but the latest deflation of transport policies that have pumped endless hot air into the Brand Boris balloon but achieved rather less for London.

The bank’s decision to bail out in 2015, described as mutually agreed, means it will have contributed just £25m towards the £225m set up and running costs budgeted for when the scheme was launched, yet it has enjoyed massive marketing exposure in return. The sponsor’s abandonment of the scheme follows large fall-offs in ridership during the autumn after an unpopular price hike and following Johnson’s announcement in July 2011, the first anniversary of cycle hire’s launch, that Barclays had “agreed to provide another £25m of sponsorship” to extend its support until 2018.

MayorWatch reports that this triumphant assertion is now being characterised as form of words that meant only that a negotiation was taking place. This seems almost as misleading as the original words themselves. Critics have long complained that the Barclays deal represented excellent value for the bank but rather poor value for Londoners. Johnson’s 2008 election manifesto anticipated that the full cost of a cycle hire scheme would be covered by commercial sponsorship, not just a small percentage of it – a statement whose optimism looks more hopeless by the day.

The wider backdrop to the Barclays decision is renewed anxiety about the safety of cycling in London in general. Johnson and his cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan, a fellow writer for the Telegraph and a big media chum of the Mayor, have been at pains to point out that the recent spate of cyclist deaths in the capital masks a downward trend in fatalities in the longer term.

Less emphasis has been given by them to the less encouraging data about the rate at which cyclists in London have been killed or seriously injured – a much bigger statistical picture. This has been rising slightly, which is not what we might have hoped for under the “cycling mayor”. The Telegraph Twosome have complained that media coverage of cyclist deaths and cyclist protests about safety are creating a false impression. Well, they’re the experts I suppose.

Cycling, is of course, integral to Johnson’s public persona, but other transport initiatives have helped the Mayor Jolly Goodfun performance too. His cable car across the Thames was trumpeted by fans as a typically brilliant bit of Boris imagination. Alas, its passenger stats are becoming as discouraging as those for cycle hire. The numbers for November were the latest to plunge year-on-year.

Then there’s Johnson’s long-running campaign for a new London airport to the east of the city in the Thames estuary, beginning with the “Boris Island” wheeze. The signs are, however, that Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the government’s airports commission, will not favour Johnson’s ideas when he reports on options worthy of further investigation next week. The “Good old Boris” roadshow’s wheels and wings are wobbling. Wherever will it end? © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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