UPDATE: Bikes left strewn on the floor less than 24 hours after launch 

A NEW era for cycling in the city began yesterday as a fleet of dockless yellow bikes appeared around Oxford.

Chinese firm Ofo - dubbed 'Uber for bikes' - officially launched in the city following discussions with local authorities.

The bikes appeared in St Giles yesterday lunchtime and later in the day a batch were dropped off at Oxford Station and across the road at Said Business School.

In the coming days more will emerge in other popular areas, such as Broad Street.

Journeys will be free during the six-week trial to encourage commuters, visitors and residents to use the service - which will become permanent if deemed a success by Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council.

Ofo UK operations director Joseph Seal-Driver said the firm was attracted to Oxford because of its ambition for a Zero Emissions Zone by 2020.

He said: “Oxford has taken some very positive steps to promote cycling and sustainable urban transport and we applaud their efforts.

“We are extremely excited to be entering a city that is actively demonstrating a passion for cycling and tackling air pollution and congestion."

Last week the city council published a 'code of conduct' for dockless bikes after a number of firms expressed an interest in starting up in Oxford.

Ofo has since employed a number of 'marshals' who will make sure the bikes are maintained and left near existing parking spaces and not in dangerous locations.

It works using a smartphone app and will cost 50p for half an hour if the scheme is rolled out in full.

It is the company's second foray into the UK market after launching a trial in Cambridge earlier this year.

The bikes were used on average 2-3 times every day and hundreds more could be rolled out later this year.

Cambridge City Council leader Lewis Herbert said Oxford would need to work to make sure it didn't become a 'leave and dump a bike anywhere' scheme.

He said he was currently working with Ofo on a 'properly managed' system for when the scheme expands.

But Oxford City Council's 'cycling champion', councillor Louise Upton said she was impressed with Ofo's co-operation so far.

She said: "We have been encouraged by the way they have engaged with the councils and the cycling community and are working with local bike shops to maintain their bikes, as well as being a living wage employer.

She added: "Dockless bike schemes could help us achieve this aspiration, but we need to make sure we get the right approach – one that encourages cycling but doesn't lead to bicycles clogging up the pavements of our small medieval city."

The bikes will be available for free - after downloading the app - for the next six weeks before a decision will be made on its future.