Cycle hire scheme extended across Newcastle
A city-wide bike hire scheme is being launched in Newcastle following the success seen in London.
From Friday branded bicycles will be available for short hire at 15 racks across the city with a further seven racks planned for the city's suburbs.
It has grown from the ScratchBikes scheme, set up for Newcastle University students and lecturers last year.
Users will be able to book the bicycles using their mobile phones once they have signed up to the scheme online.
The new scheme will be run in partnership between ScratchBikes and business development group NE1.
Currently about 300 people use ScratchBikes, which was founded by graduates Jack Payne and Rob Grisdale, but it is hoped that thousands will join up to hire one of a fleet of 150 bicycles.
Dan Howarth, who works at the campus and regularly uses the service, said: "Public transport in Newcastle is great but it's quite expensive.
"Using a Scratchbike works out about a quarter of the cost of a return ticket on the bus or the Metro."
However, he said the scheme was not without its drawbacks saying the North East weather and "crazy drivers" were problematic.
NE1's operations director, Adrian Waddell, said: "City cycle schemes are a signature now of successful confident cities.
"We had the idea last October and we were looking at a simple, straightforward way of doing it.
"We were amazed when we were walking through the Newcastle University campus and actually saw that Scratchbikes were already there and already doing it.
"It was a simple conversation with them and working out how, together, we could make this work."
Rent and return
Rack locations in the city centre include Central Station, Haymarket Metro station, the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Monument and Quayside.
Users can rent the bicycle for two hours before returning it to one of the racks or re-booking it.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, launched a similar scheme in the capital in July 2010.
Two weeks later, after 90,000 people had signed up and only three bikes had been stolen, he said: "The zest in which people have taken to two wheels and joined the cycling revolution we are engendering in the capital has gladdened my heart."
The secretary of the Newcastle Cycling Campaign, Clare Prospert, warned the scheme would only work if there was more investment in the city's cycling infrastructure which she believes is currently confusing.
She said: "[Cities with successful schemes] have really good infrastructure, whether it's bike lanes, whether it's a very permeable city centre where cyclists and pedestrians actually share space."
She said traffic levels were a deterrent to cycling in Newcastle but that she did not think cyclists using the scheme should have to wear helmets.
She said: "Maybe I'm going to be controversial but actually I don't think this is a big issue.
"Everybody should be able to make their own kind of choice, whether they want to wear a helmet or not. It shouldn't be provided by the scheme."
Mr Waddell agreed, saying the scheme was "all about spontaneity".