Bike-sharing hits rough spot in Paris

I more or less ignored some of the early reports of trouble with the Velib bike-sharing program in Paris, because they seemed thinly reported. But the recent Times article paints a troubling picture:

> With 80 percent of the initial 20,600 bicycles stolen or damaged, the program’s organizers have had to hire several hundred people just to fix them. And along with the dent in the city-subsidized budget has been a blow to the Parisian psyche.

The vandalism rate is astonishingly high, but the program nevertheless remains quite popular: Parisians (and tourists) take 50,000 to 150,000 trips per day. The level of bike damage presents a frustration to regular users, but the at this point the program seems so much a part of the city that its continued operation and expansion seems in little doubt:

> Still, with more than 63 million rentals since the program was begun in mid-2007, the Vélib is an established part of Parisian life, and the program has been extended to provide 4,000 Vélib’s in 29 towns on the city’s edges.

Reading the article, one gets the feeling that there is something peculiarly…Parisian about the problems the bike-sharing system is facing. A lot of the vandalism seems to be instances of youthful hooliganism perhaps inspired by some of the class divides in the city. As Streetsblog points out, other cities aren’t having these problems:

> But bike-sharing is a global phenomenon. So why we do only seem to read alarming stories about the problems in Paris? Part of the reason appears to be that bike-share operators in other cities have few alarms to sound. In Montreal, 5,000 public bikes are available through the Bixi system, launched earlier this year. Responding to the Times story, a Bixi spokesperson told the Montreal Gazette that theft and vandalism don’t affect the system very much…

> Like any good invention, bike-share tech is going to evolve over time. The first telephone looked like a fat brick with a hole in one end, and there was no way to tell if someone else was calling you. So it makes sense that Vélib has some kinks — it marked a huge step forward for bike-share systems, on a scale no one had ever tried before. Inspired by the Vélib model, cities all over the world are also trying to improve on it.

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  1. Dave - November 18, 2009

    I am glad they are not giving up. The number of daily trips made by these shared bicycles is staggering! As is the number of trips in the millions since 2007. The total is likely adding up to a huge benefit in avoided carbon emissions. I also suspect that the economic vitality of Paris has been enhanced by adding this transportation mode to their mix.
    It would be interesting to see various attempts to quantify the accrued value and benefits of this program (avoided carbon as well as financial), compared to the startup and O&M costs. For this and other cities…
    A local bike-sharing program in my city is in its infancy with less than 100 bikes, but we all must start somewhere!

  2. Alex - November 18, 2009

    Just goes to show how 2% of the people can screw things up for everybody. It seems like people could leave a credit card number as a deposit when they take a bike (some type of automated machine?) but the cost of implementing such a system might be prohibitive.

  3. Andrew L. - November 19, 2009

    Alex, you’re right that it’s sad how a small percentage of people ruin it for the rest.
    However, you already *must* use a credit card or identifiable account to rent bikes in the first place. My guess is that they’re being stolen when people lock them to a fence to grab a baguette. I’ve been to Paris twice since it’s launch (I was actually there when it launched in July 2007), these bikes are EVERYWHERE. Doesn’t surprise me that many are being vandalized, though. :(