Mayor's flagship cycle hire scheme enters planning phase, but still questions to answer...

Plans for the Mayor of London’s Cycle Hire scheme moved a step closer today (27 April), as Transport for London began submitting planning applications for around 400 cycle docking stations – the locations where people will be able to pick-up and drop-off hire bikes in central London.

Together with the various London boroughs involved and the Royal Parks department TFL has been working to identify suitable locations for the network of 400 cycle docking stations planned for the city. The aim is to have a docking station every 300m (further apart in the parks) to that people are never more than a couple of minutes walk from a hire bike docking station (see the indicative image above of what docking stations might look like courtesy of TFL).

The first four planning applications are being submitted to Camden Council, and the remaining applications will be submitted throughout the spring and summer. The cycle hire sheme will have docking stations in the boroughs of Camden, Hackney, Lambeth, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Westminster, City of London and Royal Parks in central London.

The bike hire scheme is the Mayor of London, Boris Johnston's flagship cycling project although he has faced criticism from London cyclists and cycling organisations for focussing on the hire scheme at the expense of less glamourous but more grass roots initiatives, such as cycle paths, road layouts and street furniture which, his critics say, would prove of more benefit to London's cyclists than the hire scheme which given its location is most likely to be used by tourists.

One of the Mayor's first actions on taking office was to slash funding for cycle lanes including the London orbital link. He has also faced criticism from London's cyclists for his decision to allow motorcycles into bus lanes and a certain amount of derision for his proposal that cyclists be allowed to ride through red lights when turning left.

Speaking about today's announcement on the next phase of the cycle hire scheme Mayor Johnston said: “I pledged to deliver a cycling revolution across the city, and there is now a growing excitement about our cycle hire scheme, which will give all Londoners the opportunity to hop on a bike and experience the joys of cycling.  Much like hailing a cab, people will be able to pick up one of 6,000 bikes, and zip around town to their hearts content - not only a quick, easy, and healthy option, but one that will also make London a more liveable city."

David Brown, Managing Director of Surface Transport, Transport for London, said: 
“The Cycle Hire scheme will be the most sustainable, environmentally friendly form of public transport ever seen in London, and will provide people with an inexpensive and convenient way of making short trips around London.

“Available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the London Cycle Hire scheme will help to alleviate congestion hotspots on the Tubes and buses in central London, as well as build on the massive growth London has already seen in cycle journeys in recent years. It forms a key part of the record £111 million the Mayor and TfL are investing in cycling this year, helping to revolutionise conditions for people who want to cycle in the Capital.”

TfL is funding cycle training across London’s boroughs and will also carry out audits at each docking station to ensure safety for users. There will be on-going marketing and press road safety campaigns, and cycle safety information will be available on both the website and at the docking station terminals.

The London scheme is different from similar schemes in other parts of the world have significant private sector funding - usually from large outdoor marketing company's such as Clear Channel which operates the successful hire scheme in Barcelona, or JC Decaux which runs the Velib hire scheme in Paris.

The London scheme will be funded directly by TFL relying on a combination of hire fees and income generated by a high profile sponsor - yet to be announced. Even so, TFL insist there is no danger that the scheme will stall for lack of funding: "The Mayor and TfL are fully committed to the London Cycle Hire Scheme and it WILL launch in London in May 2010," a spokesman told road.cc.

However reports suggest that the lack of an advertising element is putting off potential operators, companies like Clear Channel and JCDecaux. Indeed speaking to road.cc earlier this year Clear Channel CEO Barry Sayer indicated that one of the conditions for Clear Channel tendering would be more spending on precisely those areas where funding has been cut:

“I would like to see an improvement made by the City in regard to more dedicated cycle paths in London which has contributed to the success of the scheme in Barcelona. We do believe that the cycle path infrastructure in London will be improved as we progress towards the Olympic Games,” said Sayer.

When it launches in May 2010, the London Cycle Hire scheme is expected to generate an additional 40,000 cycle journeys every day in central London.

Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.