At the 2008 Mayoral elections both Livingstone and current Mayor Boris Johnson promised to introduce a full scheme and most of the development of the scheme has taken place since Johnson’s election.
The scheme, which is confined to central London, is currently open only to registered members, although Transport for London says casual riders will be able to hire bikes “in around four weeks time”.
Membership of the scheme costs £1 for a 24 hours, £5 for seven days and £45 for a year. The key, which is needed to unlock the bikes, costs £3.
Speaking at this morning’s launch Mayor Johnson said: “Londoners have awoken to a new dawn for the bicycle in the Capital. Overnight racks have been filled with thousands of gleaming machines that will transform the look and feel of our streets and become as commonplace on our roads as black cabs and red buses. My crusade for the Capital to become the greatest big cycling city in the world has taken a gigantic pedal powered push forwards.”
There have been some reports of users either not receiving keys or finding their keys don’t work when trying to unlock bikes. In addition only 5,000 of a planned 6,000 bikes are currently available and almost a quarter of the 400 docking stations are not currently in service.
London Assembly Member and Green Party spokesperson Jenny Jones says the scheme “starts to fill a big gap in London’s transport system” and predicted it would be ” especially good for tourists and long distance commuters, who want to use the bike to complete their journey in central London.”
Jones also called on the Mayor to expand the scheme which, she said, has “only a quarter of the bikes which Paris now has” and said the scheme should be monitored to ensure hire prices don’t deter those on low incomes or budgets from joining in.
Mr Livingstone, who is hoping to be selected as Labour’s 2012 Mayoral candidate, said he was “delighted that the London bike hire scheme has become a reality” and urged Londoners to use the scheme.
Livingstone added: “Despite the delays and set-backs in delivering the scheme, I believe today marks a step on the road to making London a true cycling city but there remains a concern that while millions has been spent on a central London scheme at the same time Boris Johnson cut cycle funding in many outer London boroughs.”
Labour Assembly Member Val Shawcross said the new scheme was “one of a number of measure that are necessary to make London a safer and easier place for cyclists to get around.”
The scheme has been praised by London’s passenger watchdog which tested it this morning. Chair Sharon Grant said her organisation had found the scheme simple to use and the bikes “pretty lightweight and effortless to pedal away on!”
Praising the siting of docks, Grant added: “We were pleased too that a couple of car parking places had been used for the docking station we used rather than pavement space, as we don’t want cluttered pavements as a result of the cycle hire scheme”.
“The message is that cycling makes sense in London, and this scheme makes it easy. We hope that more people new to cycling will be tempted to try the bikes.”
Full details of the scheme, including location of docking stations, can be found on the TfL website.