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London's Bike-Rental System Aims to Ease Road Congestion

  • Jennifer Glasse

London's transport agency has introduced a bicycle rental system throughout central London to encourage people to ride bikes rather than drive, take taxis or use other public transport. It's an effort to alleviate congestion on London's overcrowded roads and transport system.

They're unloading brand new bicycles all over the British capital. And mayor Boris Johnson hopes Londoners will use them regularly.

"I think you should all have a go on these bikes," he said.

The $150 million system is the second largest of its kind in the world. Riders use an electronic key to unlock a bike from one of more than 300 stations. They cycle to their destination and return the bike to another station. Johnson says he has learned from mistakes made in Paris, where many of the bikes were stolen or thrown into the river. He is confident this will work here.

"This is a fantastic experiment of a new type of public transport in London," he said.

The bikes are heavy and robust to minimize damage and vandalism.

The mayor hopes to make London one of the greatest cycling cities in the world, even so, riding a bike through the capital has its challenges.

One of the biggest challenges is traffic. In some areas there are marked bike lanes; in others there are not. And there is a long history of animosity between drivers and cyclists here.

Bright blue cycle superhighways are one solution, to clearly mark road areas designated for cyclists. So far there are only two 12-kilometer-long routes. Another 10 routes are expected to open by 2015.

London's overcrowded bus and subway system might also benefit from the bikes.

"If we can reduce some of the capacity on the tube [subway] network in the center of London and some of the buses, then that's a good thing," says David Brown, from Transport for London.

Scott Taggart already rides his bike to work. He hopes the new plan will mean fewer cars on the road. "The more people we can get on the roads with bikes the better," he said.

There will be 6,000 bikes available, and the mayor hopes once it gets rolling, this system will result in 40,000 bike trips a day.

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