City proposes cycle hire scheme

Michaela Wood 18 October 2007

A new Paris-inspired bike scheme aims to increase tourism in Cambridge, as the city’s police launch a crackdown on cycle thieves.

In a meeting between members of the Greater Cambridgeshire Partnership, delegates were asked to come up with initiatives to improve accessibility for visitors to the city.

Several were inspired by the French capital, which has witnessed the success of the Velib bike scheme. Launched in July, the project consists of 10,000 bikes stationed at some 750 ranks in the city centre. These bikes are set to double in number due to popular demand.

Paris is not the first city to provide free bikes. The idea first proved itself one of the most successful bike hire schemes when it was introduced in Lyon.

Cambridge residents may feel a sense of déjà vu about the proposed venture, as 15 years ago the city council ran a similar experiment. 50 bikes were taken from a police pound, painted green by offenders serving community service and left unlocked at various points around the town centre. All fifty were stolen on the first day.

A second load of the green bikes also disappeared en masse. The Cambridge Evening News even offered to give away a cycle light as a prize to anyone who saw one of the disappeared green bikes.

With bicycle theft still rife in the city, some councillors have expressed reluctance to commit the same faux pas again. Theft has become so common local police have launched a crackdown to stop the increasing numbers of bikes stolen every week.

Since the start of Operation Cyclone last week, four arrests have already been made. As well as spot-checks possibly leading to arrests, police are appealing to second-hand shops to report anyone bringing in several bikes. They are also urging anyone who suspects they have been offered a stolen bike to come forward.

Detective Inspector Alan Page, head of Operation Cyclone, explained bikes are often stolen when people are drunk and need to get home. But he continued, “to these people and anyone else thinking of stealing a bike I would warn them that they will be arrested and dealt with appropriately.”

Drunken thefts are not the only obstacle to the new bike scheme, as Mr Sedgwick-Jell, the former city councillor in charge of the failed green-bike initiative, has pointed out. “It would not be of use to residents, most of whom have their own bikes”, he said. “The other point is that it would not be cheap to introduce, as the Green Bikes were.”

But the target of the GCP’s proposal is tourism, and as an industry bringing £1.4 billion to Cambridgeshire every year, the city might be encouraged to accept a bit of Parisian savoir-faire.

Michaela Wood