Eighteen months into a wildly successful launch, the Parisian bike-sharing program VÃ©lib - a portmanteau of vÃ©lo (bicycle) and libertÃ© (freedom) — has run into serious problems with theft and vandalism of the bikes. Launched in 2007 as part of an effort to "green" Paris, now over half of the original 15,000 customized bikes have been stolen, in a mania some have dubbed the "VÃ©lib extreme".Since the program's inception, the bike sharing network has been used 42 million times, but almost all the original, supposedly "vandal-proof" bikes have been replaced at a cost of 400 euros each.
Some of the VÃ©lib bicycles have been found hanging from lampposts, dumped in the Seine River, smashed and burned. There are even videos online showing riders taking them down the steps into the mÃ©tro or onto BMX courses (come on people, let's be a little more responsible here - soyez un peu plus responsable s.v.p)!
"Problem of public order"
Remi Pheulpin, director general of JCDecaux, the private advertising company that runs the bikeshare scheme, says they can no longer afford to maintain the program. "It's simple. All the receipts go to the city. All the expenses are ours," he said.
The costs are so great, says Pheulpin, that "a private business cannot handle it alone, espcially 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."
Originally, the contract gave JCDecaux a 10-year licence to use 1,600 billboards around the city in return for operating the network, plus a portion of the estimated 20 million euros of expected revenue during the first year. The city has recently agreed to pay for the cost of replacing the bicycles but refuses to bail out the company.
What will happen in other potential bike sharing cities?
Lyon has a similar program, which served as a precedent prior to the launch of Paris' VÃ©lib. Fortunately, it has not encountered the same problems. Other cities, such as London, San Francisco, Singapore and MontrÃ©al (I dread to think of what will happen to the BIXI with the number of MontrÃ©al bike thefts) are all intending to initiate similar plans. It will be interesting to see if these cities will learn from Paris' example to anticipate these problems.
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