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Paris’ bike rental woes

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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. That’s depressing. How are people just stealing the bikes? Are there no measures to ensure that people bring them back? And why doesn’t this happen with car rentals?

  2. Wow. This upsets me. Those bikes are nice and people are doing these things to them? Urg.

  3. This has more to do with an *advertising* company running a *bike* program they have no business running.

    Bike Share had problems here in toronto but since it was small it was able to be run more effectively and the people who used the program weren’t shitheads looking to ruin the bikes.

    But seriously, any plan to run a massive bike share should have built in a large budget for this type of shennanigans. I have no pity for either the company or the city: almost every example of ad-funded programs in the world leaves the City at risk and the ad companies ALWAYS come back crying that they are being short-changed. A contract is a contract: too bad in JCD is losing money on it. It was their plans and economic model that won them the contract .

  4. We used to Velib bikes when we were in Paris and it was a fantastic system. We did not have to use the Metro at all. It is a shame that people are stealing and abusing the bikes.
    Everyone who takes a bike has to pre authorize a deposit on their credit card. If the bike isn’t returned in 24 hours they cash the deposit (which I think was $400). So i imagine that they would make their money back, in addition to the rental fees.

  5. LR: That’s what surprises me about this, I remember hearing about it when I first read about this system. One would think that the costs of stolen bikes would be covered by that kind of set up.

    Still, hopefully this sort of thing doesn’t impact the viability of similar programs, like the ones set to begin in Montreal and, on a smaller scale, Ottawa.

  6. those bikes are really heavy so if people are managing to do tricks on them, then i say more power to them! as for the stealing, you have to enter a credit card number into the system before you can take out a bike, or it’s linked to your metro card which has your identification information, so JCD should be able to recoup its costs. the same thing happened to the bikes in copenhagen, except those bikes were literally bomb proof so they could withstand the abuse. i can’t help but wonder if they’re claiming the loss in preparation for a massive expansion to their contract so they can re-negotiate the terms. oh yes, it’s a conspiracy theory… but if you know JCD’s track record, you wouldn’t be surprised by the insinuation.

  7. The trashed bikes were probably stolen after someone has borrowed them and left them outside a store or something, or they are “borrowed” with a stolen credit card. Humans suck. But it was predictable.

  8. Boris sounds like he’s onto something. How secure could a borrower make the bike away from the stand? If these bikes were truly ‘mass transit’ for everyone, they might have been treated badly, but not trashed—too much work. If they were built with proper forethought.

    But if they’re restricted to folks with credit cards able to put a $400 charge on them, then there’s gonna be a sizeable population that can only access them by theft and who will justify their vandalism to themselves because velibs were elitist toys anyway.

  9. Actually the deposit was only 150 eur, simple math, isn’t it? But actually i am surprised what those guys can do with the bikes, because they were very very slow and heavy so, respect. Another disturbing thing was – you couldn’t rent two bikes on one credit card, or person, so if you decide to join a friend in a ride, but don’t have a card then you are stuck… but generally the system was really positive.

  10. @Lauren, I think it speaks more to the fact that JCDecaux, having sold the system at one cost/amount of advertising, are now looking for more. We’ve sold the city’s furniture to Astral for twenty frakking years – I bet we’ll see some similar ploy before that contract expires.

  11. Their website “claims” to give instructions in English, but only about 40% is translated, and the instructions on how to sign up are NOT TRANSLATED! I could not figure out to make it accept my credit card at the kiosk (not all text is translated there either) so I couldn’t rent a bike.

    Velib, your support for the American/Brittish/Aussie customer is an epic failure.