Learning from Lyon: Free Public Transport that really works

Here is a “free transport project” that is working remarkably well: In the Spring of 2005 the community of Greater Lyon in cooperation with their supplier JCDecaux launched the world’s first mega Public Bike System, Vélo’v. The project put some 3000 bikes into service, available in about 300 stations spread for the most part over the City of Lyon. All this is successful, amply detailed in many places and continues to this day to yield yeoman service for some 60,000 registered users (including the author). To gain access to the system, in addition to one day or one week tickets, the user pays an annual fee of € 25, and when using a bike a caution is debited from the users credit card until it is returned to a parking slot. From a user perspective it is a very successful system and use experience.

* But where is the “free public transport” element?

We get to this in two steps.

The first is to underline that this is, even if not a bus or rail car, unarguably a public transport service.  Among many others that also need to be brought into the policy and practice frame. And perhaps the FPT discussions as well..

But then the touch of genius. The team behind Vélo’v “invented” FPT in the following way: Whereas your credit card will start to be charged if you keep the bicycle out for more than half an hour, the first half hour is free.  Got it? FREE PUBLIC TRANSPORT!

To me this was stroke of genius, and the fact is that since Vélo’v came on line, it created a new payment model which has been faithfully replicated with surprisingly few variants by more than one hundred cities on every continent.
One thing that is quite clever in this choice and calculation is that since the bikes are being used almost altogether as normal city transport the average trip runs about 15 minutes.

So you have plenty of time to get where you want to go and don’t even have to think about paying anything. this apparently small financial adjustment has brought you  into a new zone in your relationship with public transport.

So here is my question: What can we learn from Lyon about Free Public Transport? I think quite a lot.

# # #


PS. I really wish this had been my idea, but I was nowhere close to it at the time.  Next time maybe.


Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at https://goo.gl/9CJXTh and @ericbritton

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One thought on “Learning from Lyon: Free Public Transport that really works

  1. Here in Montreal we have the Bixi system, which also has the first 30 minutes free. One of the reasons why this system is successful, is a well designed and costly docking station is provided to secure the Bixi bike at the destination.
    I on the other hand, who owns a bike and arrives at my destination has to secure my bike to a piece of metal anchored into the ground called a bike rack provided for free,(therefore the cheapest) which functions like horses hitching post, centuries old.
    A functioning bike rack would be a major improvement for cyclist which has been overlooked and accepted as matter of fact.
    Nextgenbikeracks.com lists the problems and solutions.


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