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“Great deal of interest” from contenders to run London bike-hire scheme

Transport for London denies fresh claims plans for 6,000 hire bikes are under threat

Transport for London once again denies allegations the London cycle-hire scheme is running into problems over finding a potential operator.

The scheme, due for launch in May 2010, is similar to the Parisian Vélib cycle hire system with bikes hired from and returned to docking stations throughout the capital.

But, unlike the Vélib, it will not receive money from advertising. Instead it will be directly funded by Transport for London (TfL), receiving revenue from hire fees and a high-profile sponsor, expected to be announced shortly.

However, a story in today’s London Evening Standard claims the non-advertising element is deterring potential operators. The scheme is at invitation to tender stage and it is understood Vélib operator JCDecaux is not in the running. previously reported on the problem-hit Vélib scheme, which has been affected by bike theft and vandalism and a craze known as Vélib Extreme.

Meanwhile, according to the story, another outdoor advertising company Clear Channel has also expressed concerns, with chief executive, Barry Sayer, quoted as saying: "I've never seen a scheme that has paid enough to justify [not having advertising]. London will be structurally challenging. The other interesting question will be the streets, we need more bike tracks."

Despite the note of caution this quote may suggest, however, a Clear Channel spokesperson told the company is looking at the tender documents and has yet to make a decision either way. Clear Channel already operates the hugely successful Bicing bike-hire scheme in Barcelona, which TfL says acts as a significant precedent for the London scheme, as it also does not rely on advertising.

The problem with an advertising-based scheme in London is the layout, with narrow pavements instead of wide Parisian boulevards, and a lack of political will from the various London boroughs to put hoardings up in locations such as the Royal Parks, according to TfL.

However, Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor's Director of Transport Policy, said: "It would be absolute nonsense to suggest that there is any doubt around the launch of London’s cycle hire scheme. Unlike in Paris the lack of advertising space on our streets always meant it was very unlikely there would be great interest from companies specialising in street advertising. There has been a great deal of interest from operators who are interested in running the scheme, which remains on course to be launched next May.

"Every city is different and we are designing a cycle hire scheme for London, not Paris or Barcelona. Our aim is for this scheme to be funded by a combination of funding from TfL, user revenue and a sponsor. I am confident the potential operators we are speaking to can make a huge success of London's scheme without a need to rely on advertising revenue."

The scheme will initially be operated in a 44km² area based on the existing Zone 1 boundaries. It will make 6,000 cycles available from 400 cycle stations, with 10,500 docking points provided so users can return bicycles to the location of their choice.

The name of the operator is due to be announced in June.

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