THE hugely successful Dublin bikes-for-hire scheme will be available in three other cities from next summer and could be rolled out to other towns in the near future.
Public Transport minister Alan Kelly has unveiled plans to have 700 bikes installed in Cork, Limerick and Galway by next July, but told the Irish Independent that other towns and cities could also benefit.
Sponsored by Coca Cola Ireland, the bikes will be branded 'Coke Zero bikes', with 315 for Cork, 200 in Limerick and 185 in Galway.
There will be 31 docking stations in Cork, 23 in Limerick and 19 in Galway, with the locations to be decided over the coming months.
The schemes, which will be the first of their kind outside the capital, will allow cyclists to use bikes for either free or at a low cost and take or leave them at various docking stations throughout the cities. "This is a breakthrough day for cycling in Ireland," Mr Kelly said.
"Cork, Galway and Limerick will be joining the likes of Paris, London, Barcelona and Dublin as the cities which have their own public-bike schemes.
"We would estimate that an additional 700,000 cycling trips will be taken per annum because of this scheme. This project has been over two years in the making.
"I'm quietly confident we will be able to do something in Waterford in the future and in areas including Kilkenny, Letterkenny, Athlone and Clonmel."
The bike stations and bikes will be funded by the Department of Transport, through the National Transport Authority (NTA), at a cost of €4m to install. It will cost another €900,000 a year to operate and maintain the service.
It is understood that Coca Cola Ireland has paid €3m over five years to secure the branding rights – much of this will go on maintenance, with the balance to be made up by councils and the €250,000 expected to be generated in subscriptions.
The cost has not yet been decided, but is expected to be the same as Dublin, where it costs €10 per year to subscribe, with the first half-hour of a bike hire free. After that, charges range from 50c per hour.
The number of cyclists in Dublin has grown by 40pc since 2009. The NTA is currently in the process of competitive tendering for companies to supply, install and maintain the bikes as part of the scheme.
The tender process is expected to be completed by December 2013, and the bikes will be available by next July.
The NTA also plans to extend the Dublin Bikes scheme from 550 bikes at present to 1,500 over the next year.