Fans say council move will end free bikes

Cycling advocates say Auckland will lose a valuable extension of its public transport system if a bike rental operator is squeezed out by the city council.

The council has ordered rental operator Nextbike to remove 69 of its 170 bikes from street fixtures by the end of the month, to comply with a resource consent and free its bike racks for general cyclists.

But the company, which says it provides 55 per cent of rides on its bikes free to 2000 registered users, says that unless it can expand its fleet it will have to pull the plug on a loss-making operation.

It is preparing a business case for more bike stands from the council in return for continuing to offer free bike trips of up to 30 minutes, after which it charges $4 an hour, and has an appointment with council staff to discuss its request tomorrow.

But city transport committee chairman Ken Baguley is also concerned about the amount of advertising carried on the bikes.

The deadline has dismayed Cycle Action Auckland, which sees the bikes as a necessary extension of the city's public transport network.

"I am just aghast that Auckland City would not be bending over backwards to help Nextbike," spokeswoman Barbara Cuthbert said yesterday.

Ms Cuthbert said Paris put thousands of bikes on its streets for the 2007 Rugby World Cup, and she was concerned Auckland would be found lacking by visitors to next year's cup without a similar option.

She noted the council had provided only seven bike stands on its $43 million busway between Britomart and Newmarket.

Mr Baguley said the council had received complaints from cyclists saying the company was monopolising bike racks.

"These things have completely cluttered up the few bike racks that are around the place."

He believed few of the hire bikes were ever ridden, and their main purpose appeared to be as advertising hoardings.