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.
Cost 400 euros each to replace
1,500 daily repairs
Staff recover 20 abandoned bikes a day
Each bike travels 10,000 km a year
42 million users since launch
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.
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Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.
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