DUMFRIES yesterday went where Dundee dared not -launching Scotland's first self-service cycle hire scheme.
• Stewart Stevenson leads way at the launch of the Bike2Go scheme Picture: Chris James
The town is following the lead of cities such as Paris and London, where bikes can be used free for half an hour from a network of pick-up and drop-off points.
Funding for both the 155,000 Dumfries scheme and a similar project in Dundee were announced by transport minister Stewart Stevenson two years ago.
However, the Dundee proposals, which Mr Stevenson described as "impressive", were subsequently scrapped because of their expected high costs, such as bike maintenance.
It was replaced with a cycle loan scheme for residents.
Mr Stevenson had also hoped the schemes would be the first in the UK, but they have been overtaken by English cities, such as London.
Edinburgh has also shelved plans because of the high cost, but Glasgow is planning a pilot project.
The Dumfries scheme, called Bike2Go, comprises 30 cycles spread across nine docking stations, which can be rented for a 10 registration fee and 1-per- hour charge after the free first 30 minutes.
It is part of the Scottish Government target of increasing cycling from 1-2 per cent to 10 per cent of all travel by 2020, to improve health and cut carbon emissions.
Mr Stevenson said yesterday: "I'm sure both visitors and the local community will welcome this opportunity to take convenient, affordab le bike trips in and around Dumfries, replacing their shorter car journeys with a greener, healthier alternative."
Brian Collins, chairman of the South West of Scotland Transport Partnership, the public-private co-ordinating body managing the scheme, said: "We're delighted to be the first local authority in Scotland to offer a bike hire scheme, putting us on an even footing with some of Europe's most famous cities in offering local people the chance to take convenient cycle journeys whenever they need to."
John Nelson, the group's lead officer, said he was confident of success, despite Dundee abandoning its scheme.
He said: "Each town has its unique transport needs, and Dumfries is ideal for Bike2Go. The town is compact and the distance to cycle in from the outskirts is reasonable. There is an extensive cycle network with investment going into cycle paths since 2001."
Mr Nelson said some off-road cycle paths from docking stations offered faster journeys into the town centre than by car.
The scheme is expected to be self-funding in two years.
Cycling Scotland chief executive Ian Aitken said: "We're starting to see cycling become a much more mainstream activity, so I think the Dumfries hire scheme has the potential to tap into that growing popularity and deliver positive results for the town."
Environmental campaigners said safety must be improved to encourage more people to cycle. WWF Scotland senior policy officer Elizabeth Leighton said: "Without safe road space and cycle-friendly planning, many people will just not be confident enough to get on their bike."
For details, see: www.hourbike.com/mysitecaddy/site3/locukdumfries.htm
Bikes for hire:
AFTER a faltering start, with cycles stolen or dumped in rivers and canals, bike rental schemes have spread to dozens of world cities.
In under six weeks, the London scheme has attracted 78,000 members, who have already made 450,000 journeys.
However, even with its 5,000 cycles, the project is dwarfed by Paris' Vlib system, the world's biggest, with 20,600 for hire.
The Dumfries scheme will work along similar, if more modest lines, with a registration fee and free first half-hour's use.
Bikes can be picked up and dropped off to suit the rider's journey; 93 per cent of journeys in London so far are under 30 minutes.
Registration there costs 1 a day or 45 a year, plus 3 for a membership key.
In Paris, the Vlib - a contraction of bicycle and freedom - lost 19,000 bikes to theft and vandalism after it was launched in 2007.
Such schemes originated in Amsterdam in the 1960s, but many of its "white bikes" ended up in canals. Copenhagen pioneered a more organised approach 15 years ago.