Note to Boris: Operator claims running costs make hire scheme uneconomic

The Velib hire bike scheme launched only 18 months ago and already a firm favourite with Parisians is in danger of falling victim to the the darker side of human nature including a craze known as Velib Extreme.

According to Velib operators JCDecaux half of the original fleet of 15,000 Velib (an echo of the French for bike and freedom) bikes have “disappeared” in the 18 months since they appeared on Parisian boulevards, some have ended up in the Seine others have been spotted as far afield as Eastern Europe and North Africa.

Some have fallen victim to what has been dubbed Velib Extreme (an example of which is posted below) mind you this particular vid, some Velib freeriding, is hardly an example of the bikes being trashed and more a testament to the Velib's toughness. At the other end of the scale though according to Velib (and the BBC) one of their repairmen reported finding a customised Velib with fur covered wheels.

As an exercise in 'Greening Paris' they have been an undoubted success with over 42 million trips being made by Velib since launch. However the cost of maintenance and replacement is proving too high for the operators, speaking to Le Parisien newspaper, Remi Pheulpin, JCDecaux's director general, said: “The current contract is unsustainable. "It's simple. All the receipts go to the city. All the expenses are ours.”

According to M. Phelulpin the costs were "so high that a private business cannot handle it alone, especially as it's a problem of public order. If we want the Velib set-up to keep going, we'll have to change the business model." .

Not all Parisians are convinced though that the problem is one of simple vandalism, the point out that an average bike does 10,000km per year which amounts to a lot of wear and tear and that because they are hire bikes users simply aren't as careful with them as they would be with their own machine. It is also pointed out that the company must certainly have factored in the costs of vandalism to their original business model.

JCDecaux hoped to make money by selling advertising space on the hire stations and bikes (the company is a multinational billboard advertising outfit). The original contract gave the company a 10-year licence on 1,600 billboards across Paris, plus a cut of the revenue estimated at €20m for the first year. However since the scheme's launch nearly the entire 15,000 fleet has been replaced at at cost of €400 euros each.

  • 20,000 bicycles
  • 1,250 stations
  • Cost 400 euros each to replace
  • 7,800 "disappeared"
  • 11,600 vandalised
  • 1,500 daily repairs
  • Staff recover 20 abandoned bikes a day
  • Each bike travels 10,000 km a year
  • 42 million users since launch

Source: Velib

Local government has offered to contribute towards the cost of replacement but is refusing to help the company any further.

The problems with the scheme have lead to the postponement of a similar car share scheme for Paris which was to have seen a fleet of carbon neutral cars for hire being introduced later this year.

The Velib's problems will be watched with some concern in a number of other cities attracted by the model – not least London, where mayor, Boris Johnston has made the creation of a Velib style fleet of hire bikes a central part of his transport policy for the capital.

Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.


Tony Farrelly [2927 posts] 9 years ago

By any measure the Velib scheme has been a massive success. JCDecaux's big problem is surely that they didn't budget for a recession and a slump in the value of those 1,600 billboards from which they should in normal circumstances have made a very large pile of cash… they are probably still makin a reasonable sized pile I'll bet.

Certainly there is no way they wouldn't have budgeted for for a certain level of theft and vandalism and considering the bikes are doing an average of 10,000km a year it's not surprising most of the fleet have been replaced. And as for the stolen bikes, don't you have to register a credit card with the operators before you hire a bike? Surely they just debit your card for €400 job done.

The possible problem for London is not going to be freeriding youths on hire bikes but the fact that any operator using the French model is likely to demand a much bigger chunk of public money as part of the deal.

jezzzer [329 posts] 9 years ago

had a few days velib'ing around Paris a year ago and going back for more in a couple of weeks. it's good if you live there (and don't have your own, rather nicer bike ... and for €300 it would be nicer, well, lighter anyway!) but bloody awesome if you're a tourist ... i can think of no nicer way of pootling around paris.

i don't understand how half of them have been nicked - they lock into pretty secure-looking steel posts and yeah they have your c/c details and threaten hundreds of euros of fines if you don't return your bike. someone must have found a way of hacking the system or tricking the electronic posts to release them i guess.

anyone know how the numerous other cities with similar schemes (lyon, vienna, barcelona, zaragoza being the ones i've seen) are getting on with the same issues?