Trading Ads for Bikes

JC Decaux, the second largest outdoor advertising company in the world, owns just about every bus shelter and piece of street furniture that anyone has ever huddled under or perched on in the rain. In 1,500 cities across the planet, their posters and billboards add to the visual pollution. In an effort to improve their reputation—and make money—they have come up with a novel, and very green, scheme. They provide specially adapted bicycles and racks to cities and in return get contracts for more bus shelters. This appeals to cities wanting to reduce congestion and traffic and make urban life more attractive. In some cases the cities get a share of the revenue from the bike charges. The scheme started in Lyon and Vienna, is moving on to Paris and Brussels, with Barcelona and Toronto in the planning.

In Lyon, the bikes are parked in 173 computerised racks across town. To discourage theft, users submit credit card details when registering, and pay a deposit. There are now 52,000 subscribers, mainly using the bikes to commute from bus stops to work. Sixty six% of the users are between 18 and 34 years old, one third are students, and 60% are employed. On average, the city's 2,000 distinctive silver and red Velo’v bicycles are 'checked out' 6.5 times a day for an average journey of 17 minutes. The bikes have 3 gears, a basket and a lock. A microchip in the bike registers when it's taken from a rack, and when it's returned. Every time a bike is parked in a rack, its tire pressure, lights, brakes and gears are tested. Malfunctioning cycles are blocked from being rented. Pricing is approximately 1 euro per hour, but the first half hour is always free. Since 90% of trips are shorter than 30 minutes, the majority are free. A win-win situation or a pact with the devil? :: Financial Times