Wandsworth: oBikes, obstructed pavements and following the money

Wandsworth borough council, in London, has attracted a lot of attention in the last few days after its decision to impound over 100 hire bicycles from the oBike scheme.  It published a news article on the council’s website entitled “Yellow bike plague being tackled on the streets of Wandsworth”.

There’s been lots of commentary on the council’s website, social media and in London’s newspapers about the merits of the council’s behaviour.  In general, most of the reaction has been negative – many people are asking why the council won’t take similar enforcement action against other obstructions on the public highways, such as cars which are parked illegally on pavements.

If you look at the council’s news feed, you’ll see two other announcements about schemes which arguably also create obstructions on the borough’s streets – these get positive support:  “Wandsworth the heart of London’s new car sharing ‘zipzone’”, and “More electric vehicle charging points being installed borough-wide”.

Like many issues in Wandsworth, if you want an insight into the thinking of this Conservative controlled council, it pays to follow the money.  Let’s look at how oBikes, the TfL Santander hire bikes, car clubs and electric vehicle charging points are funded in Wandsworth.

oBikes – dockless bikes

The oBikes scheme landed unannounced in London in mid-July, when the first 400 bicycles are deposited in the London borough of Tower Hamlets.  Since then, the company has distributed thousands of bicycles across many London boroughs.

Obike users pay a refundable deposit of £49 using an app on a mobile phone, and then pay 50p for a 30 minute ride.  The bikes do not require a docking station (unlike Transport for London’s bike hire scheme sponsored by Santander), and the mobile app provides users with a map of available bikes thanks to a GPS tracking device installed in each bike.

oBike pays nothing to local authorities to place bicycles on the streets, nor to share any of the revenue it receives.

The reaction from elected councillors and local officials in the London boroughs have ranged from disappointment (about oBikes behaviour and lack of consultation) to outright negativity.  Wandsworth has arguably taken the most extreme stance and decided to be hostile.  The council is using its twitter account to make its stance clear:


The council’s statement suggests that it has received many complaints about the bikes, and local residents are using Freedom of Information laws to test the veracity of this claim.

Santander bikes “Boris Bikes”

The cycle hire scheme was extended into Wandsworth starting in 2012 (then sponsored by Barclays, but colloquially referred to as “Boris Bikes”).  Wandsworth Council was asked to contribute £2m to the TfL’s costs.  The council achieved this through a mix of Community Infrastructure Levies and S106 obligations, and by re-assigning the Local Implementation Plan (LIP) funds that it received from TfL (yes, the TfL money went round in a circle).

This paper from the September 2012 meeting of the council’s Strategy Transport & Planning Committee explains all.  In summary, all the costs of the TfL hire bikes were covered by third parties such as building developers or TfL, with no contribution from the council’s own funds.

Car clubs such as Zipcar

Car clubs pay an annual fee to Wandsworth Council for each of their cars.  The Communities Scrutiny Committee last debated the schemes in June 2015, and the committee paper explains how the charges work.   There are now four schemes in Wandsworth: Enterprise (formerly City Car Club), Co-Wheels, Matcha and Zipcar.

Basically, each car club scheme pays an annual fee for each car club vehicle, giving the right to park in designated parking bays.  In 2015, this was set at £1,080 per vehicle “one of the highest in the country”.


In the September 2016 meeting of the Communities Committee, the charge was increased to £1,118 per vehicle from 3 January 2017.


The eagle eyed will notice that Wandsworth Council charges doctors for parking bays too.


Electric charging points

Wandsworth Council is rolling out charging points for electric vehicles (EVs), and has effectively privatised the scheme to provide the council with a revenue stream.  When running, the council will receive a fee for each charging points, and then 20% of the ongoing profits.

The scheme is explained in the papers for the Communities Committee for September 2016.


In summary:

Scheme Wandsworth Council receives funding?
oBikes/ Dockless bikes No
Santander “Boris” bikes No ongoing revenue.

Initial capital costs funded by 3rd parties

Car clubs Yes, annual fee per vehicle
EV charging points Yes, fee per charging point and 20% of profits

Might the money – or lack of – explain which scheme this Conservative controlled council is upset about?


Update, 4 September 2017.

Several people have submitted Freedom of Information requests to Wandsworth Council asking it to provide evidence of a ‘flood’ of complaints, as cited by Councillor Jon Cook in its press release.

It appears that Wandsworth Council has no actual record, with the reports being verbal complaints from other councillors.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s