Bike-sharing: It’s something about Paris

Public bicycles in Montreal. Credit: Flickr user pdinnen

The high damage and theft rates of Paris’ Vélib’s, public bicycles for hire, was portrayed as an idea that had had its time.

‘French ideal of bicycle-sharing meets reality’ sniggered the headline of a New York Times story at the weekend, reporting that 80 per cent of the bikes ended up vandalised or stolen.  Some end up being shipped to eastern European or north African countries; others are just trashed for fun, or to vent frustrations in a city polarised between the wealthy urbans and those who live in the banlieues, where unemployment is rife.

Several Parisiennes bemoaned the social discord behind the widespread vandalism,  with one user saying “It’s a reflection of the violence of our society and it’s outrageous: the Vélib’ is a public good but there is no civic feeling related to it.”

It’s easy to mock bike sharing schemes. The notorious free schemes attempted in Amsterdam and Cambridge were indeed stories of idealism and failure.

But a decent handful of big European cities operate successful schemes, and cities in the UK, US and Australia are also planning to join in.

Bixi, which operates a bike sharing scheme in Montreal and has contracts to launch schemes in Boston and London, was quick to point out that its bikes are just fine. From the Montreal Gazette:

“Our bikes are very robust and Montrealers have a great respect for the Bixi program,” said Michel Philibert, a spokesperson for Stationnement de Montréal, which oversees the bike rental program.

“Montreal is not Paris. The theft of bikes here is not a major challenge.”

The first season of Bixi bikes in Montreal (the bikes are shelved during winter months) ends on November 30. After that, police will reveal the theft and damage rates.

And it’s not curtains for the Paris scheme, either. While the programme’s costs are said to be rising, JCDecaux, the outdoor advertising company that operates the scheme, has no plans to stop.

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