Paris flagship bike rental scheme turns one
Despite vandalism and road safety issues, 94 percent of Parisians say they are happy with the cheap cycle-hire scheme introduced by Velib.16 July 2008
PARIS - A flagship bike rental scheme in Paris marked its first birthday on Tuesday, hailed by city dwellers as a welcome new fixture despite teething problems with vandalism and road safety.
"Velib," as the cheap cycle-hire scheme is called, has clocked up 26 million rides since its launch a year ago and claims 200,000 signed-up regular users, residents and tourists who have adopted the eco-friendly new system en masse.
In all, 16,000 of the sturdy, grey bikes have been rolled out in some 1,200 docking stations across the city, and their number is set to rise to 20,000 by the end of summer, according to advertising giant JCDecaux, which operates the scheme in exchange for ad rights in the city.
Ninety-four percent of Parisians said they are happy with the scheme, according to a TNS Sofres poll, not least those who have adopted it as a nifty way to get about during the city's notorious transport strikes.
The scheme is even credited with helping secure re-election in March for the popular mayor of Paris, the Socialist Bertrand Delanoe, who championed its adoption, and London is among a string of capitals pondering a similar scheme.
An editorial Tuesday in the left-wing Liberation newspaper praised the bike-sharing scheme as heralding a new kind of city "less arrogant and a bit more humane."
"It's definitely changed my lifestyle," said Claire Gourjon, 36. "I take the metro much less, it's faster and you feel more in touch with the city.
"Except of course when it starts to rain, or you pick a bike with a broken chain!"
The average ride lasts 18 minutes, with the system designed to encourage short rents: rental is free for the first half hour, after which a progressive fee kicks in.
Registered bikers pay EUR 29 a year for the service while occasional cyclists can use a credit card to pay a one-off fee.
To celebrate its first birthday, 365 Velib users will be lined up on the Champs Elysees to welcome the Tour de France cycle race across the finishing line on 27 July.
But there is also a flip side. Vandalism has been a far worse problem than expected, with 3,000 bikes wrecked in the past year.
Stolen bikes are turning up abandoned in the Paris suburbs, and sightings have been reported as far away as Morocco, although JCDecaux refuses to say how much the vandalism has cost it.
Road safety has proved a major challenge as hordes of - sometimes novice - cyclists invade the streets of Paris, jostling for space with cars, buses and trucks despite a fast-growing network of cycle lanes.
Of the three cyclists killed since the start of the year in Paris, two were Velib users.
Cyclists account for two to three percent of road traffic, but account for seven percent of all road injuries, according to the city.
In total, three users have been killed since Velib was launched, prompting city authorities to announce a major safety campaign, with reckless cyclists getting "yellow cards" warnings.
Despite the teething problems, however, a French court gave the green light last week for the scheme to be extended outside the city walls, to a first ring of neighbouring towns, without having to open a new bidding process.
And Delanoe also plans for a similar car-rental scheme, to be dubbed Autolib, with 4,000 cars put up for short-term rent in Paris and its immediate suburbs late in 2009.
[AFP / Expatica]
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