Free Bikes Flop in Brussels

You've read about the brilliant success of the Vélib' in Paris--the free bike system that enables pedestrians to pick up a bike in one place, drive it, and leave it at another station, all for little or no money. Barcelona is also having a love affair with theirs as is Lyons. But somehow the Brussels experiment, CycloCity, has flopped. During three days of research, this treehugger came across only one station in the centre of town, and it was full--almost no one had taken a bike (see picture). Perhaps one could blame it on the cobblestones, or traffic, or climate but Paris, Lyons and Brussels share similar urban traits. Antwerp also has cobblestones and traffic and it was over-run with cyclists, many with carriage contraptions attached to the front of the bicycles for their children. It seems that in Brussels only the tourists use the bicycles to get from one tourist site to another, not the locals. But why is this...

Part of the reason appears to be the lack of commitment on the part of Brussels and JC Decaux (the advertiser and sponsor). There are very few (20) stations set up around town. There are also very few bikes provided: 250 for a million inhabitants, compared with 20,000 bicycles for two million Parisians. There is no link or co-operation with the 19 suburban areas because they have their own system set up with a competing advertiser, Clear Channel.

There is a charge for the first twenty minutes of the ride in Brussels, as compared to Lyons and Paris where it is free--this is seen as an important factor in the success of their schemes. The starting fee is a disincentive to give it a try. In addition, the bicycles themselves are much heavier than the French ones and only have three speeds; which is problematic in a hilly city like Brussels. Local solutions adapted to suit local cultures seem to be key to success. :: CycloCity

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