Paris cycle hire scheme extended to suburbs

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Paris’ cycle program is the largest scheme of its kind in the world and has inspired similar bike-share efforts in cities across Europe.

Boulogne-Billancourt -- The French capital's hugely popular cycle hire scheme, Velib, rolled outside the city for the first time on Tuesday as the first of 29 suburbs was plugged into the network.

Boulogne-Billancourt, just west of Paris, cut the ribbon on 21 docking stations filled with gleaming new bikes, with the easy-access scheme to be extended to the inner suburbs surrounding the capital by the end of the year.

Each of the suburban towns, from leafy Boulogne to rougher suburbs like Montreuil or Aubervilliers -- will get an average of 10 docking stations, with a total of 3,300 cycles to be placed by year's end.

Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who championed the original scheme and who lobbied for it to be extended to the suburbs, inaugurated the Boulogne network.

The city of Paris is stumping up eight million euros (10.6 million dollars) for the set-up of the suburb network, while JC Decaux, the advertising group that covers the cost of Velib, picks up the bill for labour and local authorities for roadwork.

Velib, a contraction of "velo" and "liberte," the French words for "bike" and "freedom," is the largest scheme of its kind in the world, and has inspired similar bike-share efforts in cities across Europe.

The scheme has been adopted en masse by Parisians, clocking one million rentals in its first 18 days, and its citywide fleet of 20,000 bikes, docked in 1,450 stations, now boasts more than 40 million rides.

But it has also fallen prey to serial acts of vandalism with some 7,800 bikes stolen and 11,800 damaged since it was launched, at a huge cost to the operator JC Decaux.

An average of 100 to 150 Velibs go missing or are damaged every week, with battered bikes turning up as far away as Morocco -- or used as teenage stunt-bikes in YouTube videos.

Rider safety has also been a concern, with Velib users accounting for four of the five cycling deaths reported in Paris in 2008.


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