London is getting on the bike rental bandwagon.
London mayor Ken Livingstone, has ordered transport chiefs to look into a bike rental project for the UK capital. A similar city-sponsored scheme in Paris hit the million-ride mark after just a couple of weeks.
The mayor and Peter Hendy, the Commissioner of Transport for London, witnessed the Paris Velib scheme at first hand during the recent Tour de France.
Mr Livingstone said: "Cycling is a clean, fast and cheap way to get around London and we have seen an 83 per cent increase in cycling since I became mayor.
"I have seen the Paris Freedom Bike scheme, and discussed it with the mayor of Paris. It clearly works and is highly popular. I have asked transport officials in London to study the Parisian and similar schemes in order to draw up proposals for a scheme which would meet the needs of London.
"I am sure that we can learn from the success of the Parisian and similar schemes to expand access to cycling in London."
The Paris scheme launched in mid-July with 10,000 bicycles sited at 750 dedicated hire-points every 300 metres around the French city.
Less than three weeks later it has been hailed a massive success. Tens of thousands of people - Parisians and tourists - have signed up for the scheme and ridden one million fume free miles.
The scheme, dreamt up by Socialist mayor Betrand Delanoe, is set to expand to 20,600 bikes at 1,400 hire points by the end of the year. The bikes are available at any time of the day or night and cost just about 70 pence to hire for half an hour.
Theft is being kept down by a series of deterrents - including secure parking facilities, and because payment is via credit or debit card. If a bicycle is not returned the user is charged about £100. So far only a handful have gone astray.
Transport for London - which runs transport in the UK capital, has now been asked to look at international best practice in promoting cycling, including hire schemes like that of Paris, with a view to finding a perfect fit for London. Cycling groups and other stakeholders will be consulted on the options.
Barcelona has seen its bike rental scheme explode in popularity since its launch earlier this year, and transport campaigners are also calling for the initiative in New York.
Transport for London officials have been working with the Clearzones Partnership and central London boroughs to examine the potential for a scheme for some months and will be meetingtheir opposite numbers in Paris, and other European cities, to discuss the practicalities of such schemes. Other cities with a strong record on cycling or with public cycle hire scheme include Lyon, Brussels, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Oslo and Copenhagen.
Since Ken Livingstone took power investment in cycling in London has increased from £5.5million in 2000, to £36million in 2007/8 but campaigners say there is still much work to be done.