Banking, bikes & bombs

5th August 2010 by

After so much anticipation it seemed they arrived quite suddenly, this swarm of Barclays branded bicycles. Every day for a week a new rack of docking stations appeared at different points on my route to work. By the weekend people were riding the things. I don’t know why, we’d been talking about London’s new cycle hire scheme for ages, but I was surprised to see people actually using it. I like the scheme, I think it’s a practical transport solution with ambitious aims (to create 40,000 extra cycle trips a day in central London), but I imagined it would take people a little longer to get into the seat of the idea.

What took even less time though, was the subvertising of the scheme. The night before the launch Anti Arms Trade activists covered the bikes with stickers proclaiming Barclays involvement in the global arms trade. There are 6,000 Barclays bikes, almost 4000 of which got stickered with messages about Barclays activities: “INVESTS IN CLUSTER BOMBS. OFFERS LOANS FOR NEW LIMBS” – “DOESN’T GIVE A **** ABOUT YOU” – “£20M INVESTMENT IN BIKES. £7300M INVESTMENT IN BOMBS” – “FUNDING DEPLETED URANIUM BIRTH DEFECTS IN IRAQ” and “INVESTS £7.3 BILLION IN THE ARMS TRADE”.

At the Press launch the following morning Barclays (who along with HSBC and RBS, also invests in the Tar Sands) chairman Magnus Agius had “nothing to say” about the stickers. It might be unfair to ruin Magnus’ big day, but it does raise the question can you do good with bad money?

The bike hire scheme is a great, progressive thing that all big cities should boast. In this era of public funding cuts it would’ve been much harder to achieve without corporate sponsorship. But no other city in the world with similar schemes has taken full sponsorship from one company. The hope is that the stickers will raise awareness of Barclays position not only as the cycle hire sponsor, but also as the largest investor in the arms trade in the world.

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