TfL said this afternoon that it was putting a notice in this week's Official Journal of the European Union seeking expressions of interest, with publishers having until April 21 to register interest.
The tender follows an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading and agreement from Associated Newspapers, which publishes the free morning Metro as well as the Standard and the Daily Mail, to give up its exclusive rights to the afternoon and evening free paper distribution slots on the Tube network.
TfL said that it had already received "significant amount of interest from publishers".
Richard Parry, director of strategy and service development for London Underground, said: "This tender means not just more choice for passengers on the Tube. Any additional money generated from a new contract will be invested into London's transport system driven by TfL's £10bn five-year investment programme. All round this is good news for Londoners."
Potential bidders include Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell, News International and the Guardian Media Group.
Desmond, who complained to the OFT about Associated's exclusive deal with London Underground in May 2003, is reported to have a freesheet called London-i ready for launch.
Another possible bidder is News International. It had a paper ready to go three years. That launch was sunk by lack of a distribution deal.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone is a keen backer of the new free evening paper. He wants to see Londoners get a choice of papers other than ones from Associated, which he has had a well documented falling out with. The Mayor refused to apologise to the newspaper group in February after a furore concerning a Jewish Evening Standard reporter whom he likened to a "concentration camp guard".
"It's a matter of public record that other newspaper businesses would be willing to distribute a free afternoon paper and might even pay more than we are getting for the Metro deal," Livingstone said last month.
If you have an opinion on this or any other issue raised on Brand Republic, join the debate in the Forum.