Sunday, April 05, 2009


The Sydney Morning Herald reckons Paris's Velib low-cost bicycle rental scheme is "a huge success". Brigid Delaney's gushing report notes a few minor problems while totally ignoring the scheme's financial reality:
A popular bicycle rental scheme in Paris that has transformed travel in the city has run into problems just 18 months after its successful launch.

Over half the original fleet of 15,000 specially made bicycles have disappeared, presumed stolen.

They have been used 42 million times since their introduction but vandalism and theft are taking their toll.

The company which runs the scheme, JCDecaux, says it can no longer afford to operate the city-wide network.

Since the scheme's launch, nearly all the original bicycles have been replaced at a cost of 400 euros ($519, £351) each.

The Velib bikes - the name is a contraction of velo (cycle) and liberte (freedom) - have also fallen victim to a craze known as "velib extreme".

Various videos have appeared on YouTube showing riders taking the bikes down the steps in Montmartre, into metro stations and being tested on BMX courses.
Also, the bikes tend to accumulate at downhill collection points from which they must be redistributed. Now since it's doubtful Velib employees are riding the bikes back uphill it's reasonable to assume the machines are trucked to where they're needed. Sort of makes the whole thing silly, now don't it?


Anonymous Dylan in France said...

The scheme is having problems in Paris for the reasons you mention. On the other hand, though, it is going great guns where we live in France (Lyon) where it was introduced some years before it was in Paris.

Lyon's scheme doesn't suffer from the same sorts of theft (though undoubtedly there is some theft) or damage through 'extreme' idiocy (you do see the odd badly vandalised Velov bike). Indeed, unlike Paris where JCD is trying to either (a) get out of their contract, or (b) renegotiate for more money to cover their losses, in Lyon the sceme is expanding in geographical scope and becoming increasingly popular. The latest newsletter from the Lyon scheme shows an increase in kilometres travelled from Jan 2009 to Feb 2009 of about 30,000km and the bikes have been ridden a cumulative 42 million kilometres since being launched. The Lyon scheme is thriving and the Paris one dying: why?

We usually explain this in a couple of ways. The first is that Paris' scheme is abused by the many more tourists that the city gets and even the €150 'caution' (bond) you pay on renting a bike doesn't scare the cash-rich tourists off. Another - and frankly more popular - explanation is that Parisian locals are just spoilt pigs. Generally the people of Paris are detested by those French people who don't live there and, in turn, the Parisians look down their notice at the peasants who choose to live elsewhere than the national capital. If something can be blamed on simply being from Paris (bad driving, ignorance of local customs, detroying a Velov/Velib scheme) then it usually is.

Who really knows why the Parisian scheme is going so shockingly badly while the same scheme in Lyon is succeeding beyond all expectations but the gushing in the SMH is, as you point out, complete twaddle - as is the impression that Paris is the first city where such a scheme has been put in place. Not only did we have it years earlier in Lyon but, from memory, it was first launched in Vienna, Austria. A big 'fail' for the SMH on this story.

2:55 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home