London could get as many as 80,000 bikes for hire if a rental scheme in the city is given the go ahead.
Two wheels are firmly on the agenda for the UK capital, with mayor Ken Livingstone setting a stiff target of an 80 per cent increase in cycling by 2010.
Now the chief of advertising giant JC Decaux, which has helped fund Parisian bike rental scheme Velib, has revealed his hopes for a similar scheme across the Channel.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, Jean-Francois Decaux, laid out a vision for 5,000 rental bikes in central London, with as many as 80,000 altogether, to take the scheme out as far as suburbs like Croydon.
Mr Livingstone has already ordered a study into the feasibility of bike rentals for London.
The city seen an 83 per cent increase in cycling in the last seven years, but still just a tiny minority regularly travel by bike.
And the increase in riding has seen bike crime soar, prompting many victims of theft to give up cycling for good.
In Paris, the Velib scheme has proven to be a way of solving this problem, with several million rides since 10,000 bikes were first made available In July this year.
The bikes are available 24 hours a day, the first half hour ride is free, and a series of deterrents – including providing a credit card number, has prevented more than a handful of thefts.
The Velib scheme was dreamt up by Paris mayor Betrand Delanoe, who funded the project by selling advertising rights across the French capital to JC Decaux.
Decaux told the Sunday Times, “The Parisian voters think he has changed their lives.”
Mr Livingstone has been to Paris see the Velib scheme twice, and Decaux thinks it’s only a matter of time before London launches a similar project.
He said: “He was very impressed. Obviously, London is a much bigger city than Paris and you would have to take into account all of the boroughs.
“But it’s not a question of whether or not. I think the bike scheme will be happening in London. It is a question of when.”
JC Decaux is not the only firm which could end up involved in a bike rental service for London.
British company OyBike already offers a similar scheme in Hammersmith and Fulham, and elsewhere in the UK in Southampton and Reading.
Other cities where bike rentals are already underway on a large scale include Lyon, Barcelona, Brussels, Toulouse, Seville and Copenhagen.
Cities which have either committed to bike rentals or are considering them include Dublin, Rome, Sydney, Amsterdam, Beijing, Chicago, Vancouver and San Francisco.