BIKE sharing company Hourbike Limited has announced that it will withdraw from the contract to run the the bicycle hire scheme at the end of this month (March 31).

Hourbike had a six month notice period on its existing contract with Reading Borough Council (RBC), but the company has struggled to cover the costs of operating the ReadyBike scheme, and has opted to withdraw early from the contract with just a month's notice.

The decision means there will now be a gap in cycle hire provision in Reading as the council investigates possible options.

A number of existing bike hire companies have expressed an interest in taking over the operation from this summer.

As was the case with the existing Hourbike contract, which began in August 2017, any new arrangement would again involve zero subsidy from the council for the future operation of the scheme.

The cycle hire market has evolved significantly since the ReadyBike scheme was first launched nearly five years ago, when initial set up and operational costs were paid for by central government.

Hourbike has subsequently struggled to cover the operating and maintenance costs of running the scheme.

A lack of sponsorship and marketing deals has added to financial pressures.

The council continues to see an important role for cycle hire in its future transport strategy, and now intends to enter into detailed discussions with a number of existing bike hire companies who have expressed an early interest in operating the ReadyBike scheme from the summer.

The gap in provision means ReadyBikes will not be available for hire and will be placed in storage after March 31.

Tim Caswell, from Hourbike Limited, said: "It is with some sadness that Hourbike has had to give notice from operating ReadyBike in its current form.

"Bikeshare globally is undergoing great positive change with a number of global players investing significantly in new mobility technologies that have the real opportunity to change the way we travel in our towns and cities.

"The long term future for bikeshare in Reading is therefore very good, it is however unfortunate that current factors have significantly impacted a small business such as Hourbike."

Councillor Tony Page, RBC's lead member for strategic environment, planning and transport, said: "Hourbike have solely operated and maintained the ReadyBike scheme in Reading since September 2017 with no financial support from Reading Borough Council or the local council tax payer.

“Hourbike’s decision to withdraw with just one month’s notice means we have no option but to mothball the bike hire scheme for a number of months, pending a decision on the future operation of the scheme.

"The positive news is that the council has been made aware of a number of other successful bike hire operators who may be interested in operating ReadyBike in the future

"The council will now enter into discussions with those operators, and any others which come forward.

"We expect to be in a position in the summer to announce how the ReadyBike scheme will operate going forward.

"It is also important to emphasise that any new arrangement would again involve no subsidy from the council for the future operation of the scheme, as was the case with the previous Hourbike contract."