Can a UK bike rental scheme work a la Paris?

After Paris' new bike rental scheme proved a massive hit, London mayor Ken Livingstone is considering the idea for the UK capital. But what can he learn from already successful projects like those in Paris and other European cities?

After Paris' new bike rental scheme proved a massive hit, London mayor Ken Livingstone is considering the idea for the UK capital. But what can he learn from already successful projects like those in Paris and other European cities?

Beat the thieves
Some 80,000 bikes were stolen in London last year, and one in four victims of theft don't buy a new cycle. A rental scheme could be the answer - as long as the bikes don't get nicked. Paris has seen about 100 of its 10,600 bikes stolen in the first month - less than one per cent. Renters pay a big deposit, and each time they use a cycle it's recorded on a database. If all else fails an alarm goes off when a bike isn't returned. It might seem excessive, but it's working.

Put extra bikes at tops of hills
For cyclists London is mercifully (or boringly) flat, but Paris and Barcelona have both suffered from a problem which seems obvious with the benefit of hindsight. Renters have been hiring the bikes to ride the down hill part of a journey, but then using Metro or bus services to go up hill on the way back, rather than sweat it out. This has led to hundreds of bikes being left at the bottom of big hills like Montmartre in Paris - where no one wants to use them. The only solution appears to be assigning staff to redistribute the bikes several times a day.

Introduce the scheme during the summer holidays
With France traditionally on holiday for much of July and August, the city's socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoe wisely brought the scheme in when the roads were quieter. Using a softly softly approach also worked well in Barcelona.

Expect more accidents
There's a rush for bikes at around 1am in Paris when the Metro closes. A similar situation in London could see hundreds of inebriated cyclists taking to the city's streets when the Tube shuts. There has also been a wave of complaints from bus and taxi drivers in Paris about inexperienced cyclists "hogging" bus lanes and causing near misses. Cheap refresher courses could be one answer.

Don't expect fewer cars
Anecdotally the Parisians using the Velib bikes have been those who normally take the Metro or use buses rather than those who drive. Demand at the stands outside railways stations is so great there have even been reports of people putting extra locks on bikes so that only they can use them. Not really in the spirit of things, but the excessive temperatures on on the Tube in the summer (an average of 32.5C/ 90F on some lines) could prompt a similar bunfight.

Brace yourself for a rush
In just over a month there have been 1.6 million rides on Parisian rental bikes. In Barcelona registration fees had to be increased to reduce demand, and the number of bikes has grown from 200 to 3,000 in just five months. In Paris thinking big has worked, but the city is still planning to double the number of bikes available within a year. Let's hope London can get it right too.

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