Barclays Cycle Hire goes live in London, this Friday 30th. Similar schemes are already working in other European cities, but I bet this one goes through a media firestorm first. Complaints are already piling up about costs, safety, and coverage south of the river.
Here's how it works...Regular users should sign up online and become a member for £45 a year - they'll get a membership key, which will speed things up a lot. Less frequent users can pay a fiver to join for one week. Casual use - e.g. for tourists and those who don't want to join - will be available soon.
All rides up to 30 minutes are free. After that, the charge will steadily increase - £1 for up to 1 hour, £4 up to 90 minutes, £6 up to 2 hours, £15 up to 3 hours, £50 up to 24 hours. So it's not cheap. Here's more on the costs.
You can pick up a bike at one place, and drop it off at another. All payments are by debit or credit card - no cash or Oyster cards allowed.The scheme is really designed for short rides, not long haul. If you keep a bike for longer than 24 hours, you'll pay £150 extra. If you don't return it at all, you'll pay £300.
This should transform the way that London looks - and moves. Docking stations have recently popped up all over the place. And from Friday, the capital's roads will be filled with lots more bikes.
How will London react? Boris loves it already, but cab drivers will hate it - and cabbies' views have a habit of ending up on the front page of the Standard. There's a wider risk that the media will talk it down. I can see lots of easy media targets in the first few weeks - pictures of abandoned bikes, docking stations completely full or empty, interviews with annoyed cyclists, lots of people biking around with no helmet, and accidents.
I've seen similar schemes in operation in Paris and Rome - where I'm sure there were initial difficulties. But overall, they and other schemes are now running smoothly. Let's hope London's can do the same.