More details released of London's bike hire scheme

Built-in locks mean cycles must be returned to docking stations

London's public bike hire scheme, due to launch in May 2010, will not feature the individual 'on-bike' locks that similar projects in other cities do, Transport for London (TfL) have revealed.

TfL confirmed to BikeRadar that the bikes – there will be some 6,000 for hire at 400 'docking stations' in an area roughly covering Travel Zone 1 – will come with a built-in locking system. This will allow them to be locked back into any 'docking station', but will not enable them to be locked to railings or other street furniture.

In other similar schemes, the bikes come with cable or U-locks which can be used away from docking stations.

A TfL spokesperson said aim was to facilitate a quick turnaround of bikes and so increase bike availability. It was also felt by TfL that locks used on schemes such as Paris's Vélib were too flimsy and did little to discourage theft. Contrary to some reports, there will be no ban on hirers using their own locks.

The spokesperson said: “The use of locks will not be banned. The bikes will not have locks fitted as the purpose of the scheme is to keep the bikes in constant use so as many people as possible can use them. There will be a docking station at around every 300 metres in the cycle hire scheme area, so people who want to use or lock up the bikes will not be more than 150 metres or a two-minute walk from a docking station at any time.”

TfL's feasibility study specifically excluded rail commuters as a target audience for the bike hire, stating: "There is a significant market among after-rail commuters. However, sufficient space in or around railway terminals to cater for the full demand is unlikely to be available in the short-term. It is therefore not recommended to cater for this market initially."

Although no announcement has yet been made on the design of the bikes or the company that will operate the system, other features of the bikes have been specified by TfL as follows:

  • Permanently built-in and illuminated lights
  • Users will leave a 'virtual' credit card deposit
  • Land for the docking stations will come from a mix of parking spaces, pavement and other public and private land

BikeRadar approached WorldStreets, a collective of transport professionals and commentators whose aim is to cut motor traffic and at the same time improve mobility and the economy. WorldStreets founder Eric Britton said: "On-bike locks are an agreeable feature of public hire bikes, especially for those with a number of tasks to do, as opposed to point-to-point travel."

Another member of WorldStreets noted that several other public bike hire schemes don't provide locks, most notably that in Barcelona.

Britton also felt that, while the lack of locks and of docking stations at rail stations would discourage use to some extent, the most limiting feature of the system was its relatively small scale coupled with a road environment unfriendly to cyclists. He said a reduction in traffic speeds to a level safer for cyclists would be far more useful.

Despite recent reports of high rates of theft and vandalism, Paris's Vélib system will be expanded to 20,000 bikes by this summer, with further expansions planned for other suburbs in the near future.

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