London’s blue “Boris bikes” are to be painted red under a seven-year sponsorship deal with Santander worth around £7m a year, it has been announced.
The Spanish bank will take over the branding of the cycle hire scheme from Barclays, marking the end of a contract that attracted criticism for failing to cover the costs of the scheme, as the UK capital’s mayor, Boris Johnson, had pledged.
Questions were also asked about how Johnson had arranged the original deal, which Barclays decided to cut short rather than pursue until 2018.
The scheme, which enables short bike trips between docking stations around central London, has proved increasingly popular since it started in 2010, with more than 10m hires in 2014.
Santander will pay £6.25m a year for the rights and contribute a further annual £1m to promote and grow the scheme.
The mayor said the money would pay for new bikes, extra docking stations and a new app to make the scheme easier to use. Johnson added: “If anyone still persists in calling them ‘Boris bikes’ rather than Santander I will change my name to Santander Johnson.”
He said the money would not cover the entire costs, but said: “We have got to defray the costs to the taxpayer with a great big dollop of private sector cash.”
Asked whether the red colour-scheme was a belated recognition of his predecessor Ken Livingstone’s launch of the cycle hire plan in 2008, Johnson said: “It was never a plan. He had no budget, no sponsorship and no idea what to do.”
He added: “The colour has no political significance whatsoever. The bikes will now match London’s buses, phone boxes, and everything else that’s red.”
Green politicians in London welcomed the extra money for cycling and called for the scheme to be expanded, especially in parts of south London, but said there were “concerns over some of Santander’s international activities and its suitability as a sponsor”.
Assembly member Darren Johnson said: “The mayor should be using the extra money to review the whole way that cycle hire works. There are still complaints about over charging and the lack of compatibility with Oyster or wave and pay.”
Construction will start on two new segregated cycle superhighways in the next two months, to be completed later this year.
Johnson said the investment in cycling would improve safety. He said cyclists also needed to change their behaviour, adding: “It’s to do with educating cyclists, nabbing people who jump the lights and put themselves at risk. People can come hideously to grief.”