Oxford could soon have its own low-cost, 24-hour rent-a-bike scheme in an effort to cut traffic congestion, as seen in several European cities.

Oxfordshire County Council has pledged £100,000 to pay for a feasibility study.

The scheme could see a network of bike stations set up at key points in the city, including the train station, Westgate Centre, park-and-ride sites and city hospitals.

Although plans are currently at an early stage, council chiefs hope a credit card-payable rent-a-bike scheme would take a significant number of cars off the city's roads. They say they want to make any scheme cheap and convenient.

A rent-a-bike scheme started in Paris last July recorded more than seven million bike trips by the end of the year.

It is believed the county council wants to replicate the French capital's blueprint of providing robust bikes, which weigh about 20kg, to make them unattractive to thieves and sturdy enough to withstand damage from vandals.

County council cabinet member for transport Ian Hudspeth said: "Cutting congestion has got to be the prime motivation, but the scheme would bring lots of other benefits to individuals, including helping them live more active lifestyles.

"Congestion is a difficult area to quantify, but we'd hope it takes a significant number of cars off the road.

"It will also help to declutter the city and enable us to remove some of the bike racks there, which can be quite unsightly. There would have to be a small charge for bike rental but we want to make it as cheap and convenient as possible rather than having something unwieldy that wouldn't work."

News of the scheme was welcomed by James Styring, chairman of Oxford cycling campaign group Cyclox.

He said: "I think it's great news. The county council seemed quite sceptical about this a couple of years ago, but they must have changed their minds after seeing the visible success of schemes in cities like Paris.

"I'm certain there would be uptake from both tourists and city residents.

"Even people who own their own bike will probably use them as there are some places in the city where you don't want to leave an expensive bike.

"In cities that have introduced these schemes, it's extraordinary how quickly bikes take over the land- scape.

"Some cross-city journeys are complex on a bus because they run on exact routes, but bikes are great for commuters because you can literally go anywhere you want."

The council's feasibility study starts in April and, if the scheme is viable, it could be introduced in the city before summer 2009.

Last year Oxford University announced its own plans for a bike loan scheme in the city.