"Boris bikes" for hire hit London's streets

LONDON (Reuters) - London’s first large-scale public bike hire scheme kicked off on Friday to a largely positive response from the public, with one commuter hailing the project as the ideal solution to the capital’s “overcrowded and overpriced transport system”

The scheme, which follows similar projects in other countries including France and Spain, aims to ease congestion on London’s commuter network through 400 bicycle “docking stations” from Notting Hill in the west to the Tower of London in the east.

“It’s a great idea. I’ve seen it operating in Paris and Barcelona and thought why don’t we have one?” 48-year-old consultant aerodynamicist, Andy Clark, told Reuters, after his first trip on one of the 6,000 bikes.

Some Londoners have taken issue with the bikes’ 23 kg (50 lb) weight and their upright riding position.

“I cycle myself, but I would find it very hard to get off my own racer and get on one of these beasts,” said 25-year-old surveyor, John Lagan.

Others believe they will transform the way they travel in the congested capital, particularly for shorter journeys.

“This is fantastic for business,” said 43-year-old Simon May who provides and maintains plants for offices. “My team use the tube to get between sites but actually it would be much more efficient to nip everywhere on one of these bikes.”

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Nicknamed “Boris’s Bikes” after London’s cycle-mad mayor, Boris Johnson, the project has got off the ground without major mishap, said a spokesman for Transport for London (TfL), the capital’s main travel authority.

TfL has placed helpers at many of the key docking stations to offer technical assistance to the 12,000 “pioneer members” signed up to use the bikes in their first trial month.

Currently only members have access to the bikes docked across central London, but casual users will be able use them by September.

TFL foresees a “cycle revolution” with up to 40,000 new cycle journeys every day in the capital.

But while many commuters and tourists welcome the scheme as a liberating alternative to London’s crowded underground and red bus network, it is the safety issues that concern some of the professional drivers on the capital’s roads.

“We’re used to dodging normal bikes, but we don’t want thousands of inexperienced cyclists wobbling all over the road,” said London cab-driver Graham Chalk.

Additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Steve Addison