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London's 'Boris Bike' hire scheme launched

By Emma Thelwell

Updated on 30 July 2010

As the 'Boris Bike' rolls out across London today, the London mayor tells Channel 4 News it is a "gigantic communist experiment", as other British cities say they are closely watching the scheme.

London cycle hire scheme launched (Reuters)

Boris Johnson's much-hyped cycle scheme is finally here, with 5,000 of the 6,000 bicycles and 315 of the 400 docking stations ready for use - in the largest city cycling scheme of its kind.

More than 12,450 keys have been dispatched to those that signed up for the Mayor of London's scheme across the city, allowing them to unlock the clunky 23 kg grey and blue bikes.

A TfL spokesman said: "We are expecting there will be some teething problems with (the) scheme when it starts. This could include some technical issues and we have yet to learn the pattern of how people use the scheme."

Mr Johnson has visions of the bike becoming a London icon on a par with the city's world renowned taxis and buses. He told Channel 4 News that the scheme was going far better than was expected a few days ago. He acknowledged that there will be teething issues, but "so far, so good."

"These are very difficult, technical things to pull off on day one," he said. "I think they've done a fantastic job.

"These are public property now. It's absolutely crucial that people recognise that they belong to all of us. I'm a Conservative mayor, but what we're doing is a gigantic communist experiment."

The London mayor insisted that it was his idea and not his predecessor Ken Livingston's, before he ended the interview.

Boris, rivers of blue and bikes
'Boris', I roar. He has passed, the arm waves and he pounds on. And I think, 'magnificent', writes Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow

No Lexus in pursuit, no motor cycle outriders, and no nodding compromise to the sartorial demands of any Mayoral role.  And in his wake I think about London's new bike docking stations…and the rivers of blue paint etching his Super Cycle highways across the city.

Read more here

To begin with, the scheme is open only to those who have signed up for membership. Members pay £1 for 24 hours, £5 for the week or £45 for an annual membership.

The key costs £3. The first 30 minutes of any journey will be free, and the next 30 minutes will cost £1, with rising costs for journeys of more than one hour.

Casual users will be able to hire bikes in about a month's time.

Emblazoned with blue Barclays' logos, the bank is spending £25m sponsoring the scheme.

Within hours of the first bikes hitting the curbs however, one man was arrested for suspicion of causing criminal damage to a new Boris Bike. Police said today that a 23-year old was held in New Inn Yard, Shoreditch at around 2.30am, having lashed out at the bike after losing his mobile phone, according to witnesses.

The London scheme is being closely watched by city councils across the country.

Bristol City Council trialled a smaller version last year and is keen to see how a larger scheme progresses. Meanwhile, Newcastle City Council has a bike hire scheme in place for staff and students at the two main universities and is looking into broadening it out to the general public.

Manchester has a mini scheme for council staff, with the City Council looking closely at London, eyeing a city wide version. 

In Exeter independent local cycle hire is a successful industry that stimulates the Devon economy. Exeter City Council told Channel 4 News: "We would therefore have to be careful how we got involved."

The London scheme is part of a franchise run by public bike group BIXI, which has similar schemes in Montreal, Melbourne, Boston, Washington and Minneapolis. London’s will be BIXI’s largest.

Docking stations are available in Camden, City of London, Hackney, Islington, Lambeth, Kensington and Chelsea, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Westminster and several of the Royal Parks.

London Assembly Green Party member Jenny Jones welcomed the scheme but made some recommendations.

She said: "The bikes should have locks and bigger baskets. A target date should be set for people to be able to use Oyster (travel) cards to pay for the bike hire.

"The scheme also needs monitoring closely to ensure that the cost is not putting low-income Londoners off using the bikes.

"Above all, the scheme should be expanded quickly, as we currently have only a quarter of the bikes which Paris now has and the scheme covers a much smaller geographical area."

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