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Montreal Bixi beware: Paris bike share is burning

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This is a lesson Montreal needs to pay close attention to: The BBC reports that half of the original 15,000 Velib bikes available for rent across the city of Paris have disappeared.  JCDecaux has been running the program for the past 18 months, but says it can no longer keep up with costs on its own:

Hung from lamp posts, dumped in the River Seine, torched and broken into pieces, maintaining the network is proving expensive. Some have turned up in eastern Europe and Africa, according to press reports.

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. [See video above]

The original contract gave the advertising company a 10-year license to exploit 1,600 city-wide billboards in return for running the scheme, plus a share in the revenue, estimated at 20 million euros for the first year of operation.

City hall has recently agreed to pay towards the costs of replacing the stolen or trashed bicycles but is refusing to bail out the company.”



  1. I don’t want to be pessimistic but I always think that installing this kind of system of rent-a-bike like the one in Paris or Barcelona to Montreal environment will not be a economic success because here in Montreal whoever wants to ride a bike (as a way of transportation) have one, it is a small city, a walk friendly environment, we have the winter, it is not a tourist center (thank god!) and (unfortunately) the automobile is the king. The only way to be an economic successful is with advertising (a problem that Paris and Barcelona is combating now) which I am really scared that happen here in Montreal where -still- is a city where there is not advertising polluted! (Be aware of what it is coming with the screens on taxis!!!)

    The problem when every time I said this commentary, people believe I am against bikes which I am not. Actually I am a bike user and I in favour to use it every time it is possible, but let be honest of what it is possible to do here.

  2. I thought part of the beauty of this system was that whoever was taking out the bike was ‘known’ to the system such that if the bike wasn’t returned, or was returned in a trashed condition, that there would be some accountability. Is that not the case?


  3. These city-wide bicycle programs are idealistic and unpractical.

    It would be far less expensive and more effective to refurbish cheap bicycles and sell them for $20 or give them away for free, as several non-profit bike workshops are already doing across the island of Montreal (ie. Santropol, Mile End, Concordia). Most of the people who work at these workshops work for free or for minimum wage. What’s cheaper than free labour and $20 bikes?

    A multi-million dollar municipal bicycle program?

    $2500 bicycles?

    Whoever’s crunching the numbers for these city-wide bicycle schemes are on crack.

    The Paris bike program is run by a for-profit corporation (JCDecaux) that is only taking part in the program because they’re receiving advertising rights in Paris. If they weren’t receiving something in return they’d do bupkis. So essentially the program itself it for-profit. No wonder people are trashing their bikes: it’s a protest – subconscious or not – against funding $2500 bikes when there are people starving on the street. (a euphemism, obv).

    The Paris bike program has only been up and running for a little over a year and JCDecaux is already appealing to the French government for financial aide or the program will soon be bankrupt.

    Why is Montreal giving millions $$$ to a program that will only go bankrupt? Why don’t they wait 5 years and see if it’s even successful first before jumping on board and instituting a program that is, at this point, a money pit.

    But hey, anyone who knows Montreal also knows that the organized crime factions in this city LOVE money pits.


    Montreal should follow Cuba’s example and collect all the trashed bikes littering the city, refurbish them, and give them away for free. There are literally thousands of abandoned and half-trashed bikes all around Montreal. Most just need $15 in parts and a tune-up. These should be picked up and repaired instead of going to the trash dump.

  4. I will wait for Montreal’s system to be up and running in the spring before condemning it.

    I also think that if anyone was half serious about using a bike they should buy one (and a good lock), and if they need a bike downtown during the day, buy one and keep it downtown, it’ll pay for itself soon enough.

    That said, Bixi is an interesting green addition to the the “transport cocktail.” Yes it’s experimental and cutting edge, but it’s better to move forward then stay stuck in the car-is-god mindset.

    We need to curb car use in the city and this might help. A little.

    But if I were to spend 10,000,000 dollars, I’d want it spent on paint to make every street a bike+car street (i.e. bicycle lanes and designated roadways). Where barriers are used to create a bicycle path, I’d also use removable concrete barriers (New jerseys) to remove the barrier in the winter.

  5. Ni, that’s a great suggestion about the city refurbishing abandoning bikes and giving them away.

  6. Montreal not a tourist centre? OK…

    BIXI is run by Stationnement Montréal (a front for organized crime no doubt) so I don’t think that it will go broke.

    I use my bike often in the spring/summer/fall, but not as often as I would like because a) I live in Rosemont, am a student at UQAM and work in LaSalle. On days that I both work and have class, it is simply not practical for me to bike each leg of the journey and then be left with the prospect of a LaSalle-Rosemont trip at the end of a long day. b) I’m not a big fan of riding in the pouring rain c) plans change and I hate being stuck with my bike, particularly when I’ve had many drinks.

    BIXI will be a godsend for me. I can take the bus to metro Laurier and bike the rest of the way to school. (when the program expands to my neighbourhood in phase 2, I’ll have the option of riding all the way). If the weather sucks I can simply do my usual bus/metro and ride the return leg if things clear up. I can boot around downtown on trips that are too short to take transit yet are too time-consuming if I’m on foot. I’ll continue to ride my bike for trips to the store, friends etc., but I will now have the option of leaving it at home when it’s not convenient to be ‘stuck’ with it all day.

    BIXI is not designed as a bike replacement program, it’s meant to be an extension of transit; a layer between walking and taking the bus/metro. In cities that have similar programs, personal bike sales have gone up as people who would normally never consider riding anywhere try it and like it.

    There will be problems at the outset as there always are when any new system is implemented, but I think that this has the potential to really change the way people think about getting around town. Give it time to mature and adapt.

    As far as waiting another 5 years is concerned: forget that. Paris is not the only example in the world, it’s simply one of the latest and largest. BIXI has taken the experience of many programs into consideration, not just Paris.

    Rather than choosing the doomsday scenario and expecting BIXI to experience all the problems of Vélib, why not use one of those other cities as an example? Many have had programs running long before Paris had one.

    Velib’ – Paris
    Vélo’v – Lyon
    VélôToulouse – Toulouse
    Le vélo – Marseille
    Bip! – Perpignan
    Vélodi – Dijon
    Vélo+ – Orléans
    Véol – Caen
    Vélocité – Besançon
    Bicloo – Nantes
    Vélostan – Nancy

    Bicing – Barcelone
    Sevici – Sevilla
    Bizi – Zargoza

    OYBike – London

    Roma’n’Bike – Roma
    Bicincittà – Savigliano, Parma
    BikeMi – Milano

    Offenbach am Main



    Samba – Rio de Janeiro

    Bycyklen – Copenhagen

    Cityräder – Helsinki

  7. That’s for sure, but whatever happens to Vél’lib, it has made Paris qualitatively more cyclable.

    It is certainly a plus for anyone who lives in the vast suburbs (stereotyped as poor, ethnic and violent, though there are all kinds from Clichy-sous-bois to Neuilly)and works or studies in Paris proper.

  8. I guess it’s the difference between: a single for-profit corporation making millions in profit off Montreal’s need for alternative transport by renting expensive bicycles to residents vs. several non-profit organizations giving away refurbished bicycles to help the environment and promote cycling in the city without making a dime or taking a dime from Montreal.

    I agree that the city should spend this boon of $10 million to extend Montreal’s bike paths. It would confirm Montreal’s commitment to accepting cycling as an official mode of transport rather than categorizing it as a recreational activity.

    I’m a cyclist and cycling enthusiast, it is my main mode of transport in the summer. I have no problem with the idea of instituting a city-wide cycling program until it involves giving millions away to folks who don’t need the money and who should fund the project out of their own pocket since it is a for-profit business that they intend to make profit from.

  9. I am not overly optimistic about Bixi’s chances of success given their current pricing model, but they are planning these rates because they intend for the program to be self-sustaining.

    Rio Tinto is putting up the money to build the bikes since they are hoping to sell their product (aluminum)

    And Devinci is also providing their services for similar reasons:

  10. so, how exactly does the rental system work there? usually if you rent something and don’t return it, the renter gets all over you with collection agencies and you have to pay more that what the thing is worth, like with apartments, cars, tools and library books.
    also, i think that its the natural tendency of people to push things to the limit when they get a new tool, so the ‘abuse’ of the bikes in terms of bmx-ing and going down steps is obvious, so just make sure that they sign a release form saying that if they die while doing stupid things on the bike, it not your fault, and also they will pay for anything they break. end of story.

  11. Once again, this city is horny for a service which has a slot for payment built in. If it really wanted to make this city more green, it would remove snow faster (a million cars running idle can’t be a good thing) and stop re-opening the Grand Prix file (burning fossil fuel for entertainment purposes will only negate the green window dressing).
    This will go bankrupt eventually but only after its initiators have collected their massive bonuses and kickbacks.

  12. Disaster. Vandalism in downtown Montreal will destroy this project by the time the next Stanley Cup playoff game is played there. The idea is a good one, but I don’t think many North American cities could handle it, least of all Montreal.

  13. On Sept 9, a Montreal Gazette article, re a survey done by McGill’s Urban Planning Dept. showed that 86% of the Bixi rides simply replace other forms of green transport.

    Unfortunately, the benefits for the environment provided by Bixi have been grossly overstated. The Bixi organization simply provided unrealistic figures that would show them in a very good light.

    I suspect that based on the financial info that came out recently, that the same was likely done with their financial projections.

    STM Chairman and Bixi’s main promoter is Michel Labrecque. Labrecque is the founder and past-president of Velo Quebec. He was appointed Chairman of the STM by Mayor Gerald Tremblay last Nov. On the last election day Tremblay’s party used Velo QC headquarters as a call centre and Projet Montreal lodged a complaint re the potential conflict of interest.
    In 2010, Montreal taxpayers and the STM are giving $972,000 in $$ and tangible support to Velo Quebec, that I am aware of.

    The Bixi idea seems wonderful, but some honesty about its actual benefits and cost would be greatly appreciated.

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