Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Barclays sets bad example as bike sponsor

Once the proud sponsor of London's bikes, Barclays
"has now made a commercial decision not to continue the sponsorship."
The news that Budapest's bike share system, Bubi, will be sponsored by the Mol gas and oil company has naturally met with with some skepticism. Many think it's no more than green washing.

At the risk of looking like a sap, I've reserved judgement. Although not a fan of big oil, I think that it could be good for a prominent corporation like Mol to have a stake in Bubi's success.

The system is scheduled to launch in April and it's a matter of real urgency to improve the bike-ability of downtown Budapest before this wave of new cyclists hits the streets. The city has embarked on a slapdash campaign to paint bike lanes and post bike signage around the Bubi service area, but if these steps aren't adequate, Bubi's users will be at risk. That poses a PR risk to Mol, and, if I were them, I'd be lobbying shoulder-to-shoulder with cycling advocates for more serious safety improvements -- including bike accommodation around the Nagykörút.

But is this how Mol sees it? I had a blog exchange with Todd Edelman at the Slow Factory a couple weeks ago, after Mol was publicly announced as Bubi's sponsor. He suspected green washing, and noted examples of this in the bike-sharing business, including the London bike-share scheme and Barclays Bank.

Indeed, there's been plenty of controversy with that arrangement -- and not just because of the Barclays scandal involving illegal rigging of financial markets. Some on the London Assembly have criticised Barclays's sponsorship as a raw deal for the city.

But the developments of last week really took the cake. Amidst a drawn out media controversy concerning cycling safety in London, Barclays announced it would abandon the bike scheme. The company would finish out its contract that ends in August 2015, but would not extend.

According to the bank's PR people, the decision was part of a long-anticipated strategic decision, and had nothing to do with the road-safety flap. But many have found this hard to swallow. The controversy began in July, when a French-born student became the first person to die on a Boris Bike. And it boiled over in November, as six cyclists died on London roads in the space of less than two weeks.

London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon was quoted in the Guardian:
"Barclays have received immense benefits from the publicity given to the cycle hire scheme in its early years, but now that its performance is looking shaky they appear to be bailing out.
Mol CEU Zsolt Hernádi has a chance to do corporate social responsibility right.
Needless to say, this isn't a shining moment for corporate social responsibility. But the possibility's open for Mol to set a better example here in Budapest. The company's been doing small, one-off cycling sponsorships ever since cycling became trendy in Budapest in the mid-aughts. But Bubi is by far their biggest-profile cycling project to date. Hopefully, Mol will prove itself more than a fair-weathered friend.

1 comment:

Dave H said...

I was on the OBIS review team until I began highlighting some of the weak-points in a single sponsor, and single tariff bike sharing scheme being applied to a place where there is a huge tidal flow of commuter traffic.

Those huge flows mess up the trains and transit system, as half the working population of the surrounding hinterland all try to get to the city centre locations within just one hour per day - massive demand which fills available systems to 200% of capacity only for it to sit under used or idle for the rest of the time