Current conditions for cycling STOP Britain cycling!!!

France-paris-velib-tourTransport in cities is a steep uphill affair. If we ever are to transform the quality of the mobility arrangements in our cities, there are certain basic truths about it that need to be repeated again and again. By different people, in different places and in different ways.  Until we win.

Cycling in most cities:  You and I know it. It is broke. It cannot be “fixed”.  It needs to be reinvented from the street up. All of which is easy enough to say, but what in concrete terms does that mean? This article which appeared in the Guardian a few days back by Peter Walker,  reports on the testimony of Dave Horton a cycling sociologist who pounds the table on five basic truths of cycling in cities. Continue reading

International Advisory Council on Sustainable Transportation

Paris: 8 May 2011. We are, as of today, in the process of updating and completing this list of international colleagues, each of whom are working day after day on challenges, projects and programs, alone and with others, all in support of the principles of sustainable development and social justice, in cities and countries around the world. It is our intention to have the revised and expanded version on line in June. Continue reading

Bikes, Helmets and the Long Arm of the Law

We had a good look at this one back in 2008 in the context of advising local government concerning the issue of requiring cyclists to wear helmets on the then-being considered public bike project.

We asked for the counsel of a number of international experts with backgrounds and contrasting views in this area, and this short report summarizes their information and recommendations. Still looks pretty good in 2011.

* Click here for World Streets  report – Bikes, helmets and the law

Hangzhou – View from the saddle of one of China’s most liveable cities.

While Paris and London hog the world’s media attention with Boris’ Bikes and the Velib, by some accounts the Chinese city of Hangzhou now boasts the world’s largest and most used public shared bicycle system. Rory McMullan, contributing editor, reports on his impressions of the city, its transport network and the public bike system from an on-street carbon-free visit during the Chinese New Year.


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Cycling as the catalyst for more human and sustainable transport

The interest for a human and sustainable transport is growing in the public and private sector, at local, national and global level.  Our cities and our planet cannot rely on cars for our transport needs, even if they become more energy-efficient or even carbon neutral. We have to create accessibility for people. With current planning and design, roads are isolating people from important destinations.  The public domain should be designed with priority for people over motorised traffic.  Apart from emission reduction, mobility with zero emission should get value. It is the combination of a human-rights-based orientation with eco-efficiency, that will direct us to a real sustainable transport system. Continue reading

The Guardian comes to visit Paris and Vélib’

In the context of the start-up of London’s long-awaited public bicycle project next week, the British daily, The Guardian, sent reporter Leo Hickman to meet with the London start-up team, and then arranged for him to spend  a day with us in Paris talking about and riding the Vélib’. It just so happened that his visit corresponded with the third anniversary of Vélib’, so you editor was pleased to have this chance to compare notes. You have here the main text of his article in today’s Guardian, but for the full story and photographs, let us point you to the original here

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En Vélib’ dans les éco-quartiers By Vélib’ in Paris "eco-neighborhoods"

Okay, dear reader. If you want to get to the bottom of this update on how Paris’s famous Vélib’s are being integrated into the city’s mobility and land use plan at a fair level of detail, you will have to make your way through this largely untouched machine translation of an article just published by the Vélib team here in Paris. Courage!

(If you want to know you will know. If you don’t, you won’t.. .)

Vélib’ in Paris “eco-neighborhoods”


The month of April puts sustainable development in the spotlight for a week. On this occasion, you can learn about eco-neighborhoods with Vélib’. How do they favor motorized traffic? What is the mobility of tomorrow? Eco-neighborhoods are part of the climate plan of the City of Paris, which aims to reduce emissions of greenhouse gas emissions.

What is an eco-neighborhood?”

While Vélib ‘has participated in the increase in cycling in the city, sustainable neighborhoods begin to bloom in the capital. The users of Vélib ‘could well be among the first to borrow the bike paths of sustainable neighborhoods, which are biased to motorized traffic and public transportation. The construction of an eco-neighborhood based inter alia on the best life and living together. The urban setting has to be warm and alive and for this, sustainable mobility, natural heritage, security is taken into account, as well as biodiversity, water management, noise and air pollution. Building a sustainable community based mainly on the HQE (High Environmental Quality) rewarding the preservation of the planet and a better quality of life (noise, air quality, water …).

A sustainable community is thought of as environmental and energy challenges, but also by economic and social criteria. Eco-building, renewable energy, revegetation techniques are widely used in the context of eco-neighborhoods.

* Click here for more information on eco-neighborhoods

Vélib’, soft modes and sustainable neighborhoods: what is the mobility of tomorrow? Anne

According to Anne Faure planner present at the conference on mobility and eco-neighborhoods, organized last February 16 by the association Zukunftstrasse in partnership with the Club of cities and territories bicycle, motorized traffic is a fundamental criteria in the construction of an eco-neighborhood. For her, Vélib ‘has given visibility to cyclists.

The concept of eco-neighborhood was first developed in the countries of northern Europe. According to Anne Faure, the Grenelle Environment has encouraged its development in France where the projects sustainable neighborhoods are still very recent. “One can cite the examples of the BIA Good Grenoble or Lyon Confluence, these neighborhoods are close to the center and well served by public transport, the soft modes are also very present. Meanwhile, there is a proliferation of small projects in France, “she said.

According to Anne Faure, so that these new neighborhoods are truly eco-neighborhoods, it is necessary that they be served by public transport and car traffic and parking are limited. It is a difficult objective to implement but the view is changing. “Indeed, we must know that 40% of average emissions of greenhouse gases are produced by the building and 40% from transport. Other sectors, which include industry, only 20% “she adds. The BIA of Rungis and the Batignolles district in Paris trying to develop such soft methods. The Confluence area in Saint-Denis and the reconquest of warehouses in the Ile-Saint-Denis also take into account the overall problems of displacement. “But in France the focus is on the building with techniques such as thermal insulation, while in Germany the first experiments in the primary endpoint was a city without a car,” said Anne Faure.

The planner said that the construction of an eco-neighborhood refers to the principles of sustainable development based on economic issues (including development of commercial and non-polluting activities), social (including construction of housing and utilities) and environmental (focus attention on managing energy, water and waste). She said the principle of eco-quartier is a first step towards a new vision of the city: “This is of course to shatter the limits of eco-districts across the territory of the city. For this, we need these neighborhoods is easily accessible to everyone, so they serve as a model.

The eco-city tour of Paris’s Vélib’

Beyond the planned actions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, the City of Paris acts on the environment: adaptation of buildings, revegetation of Paris, creating green spaces, roofs, shared gardens … Sustainable Neighbourhoods part of this process. They are emerging especially in the outskirts of the city, on vacant urban land or concerted development zones (CAZ). Gare de Rungis (13th), Boucicault (15th) and Claude Bernard (19th) … Velib ‘invites you to visit the eco-neighborhoods of tomorrow, Cycling. Browse a few of them with iVélib ‘.

* The district Fréquel Hondarribia in the 20th district was awarded in November 2009 by the Department of Ecology to support eco-district, in the Category Sobriety energy. Station Vélib ‘No. 20016

* 1st eco-neighborhood in the capital, the Batignolles in the 17th district will be divided into three sectors: BIA-Cardinet Chalabre BIA Clichy Batignolles area Saussure. Station Vélib ‘No. 17110

* Planned for 2012, the BIA Pajot, located in the heart of the 18th district, will pilot an eco-neighborhood in Paris, where the architectural heritage will retain his place. Station Vélib ‘No. 18010

* Launched December 6, 2009, Macdonald warehouse, located Porte d’Aubervilliers, is the largest geothermal project of its kind in Paris and covers an area of 200 hectares. Station Vélib ‘No. 19032

Examples from abroad

In Europe, there are many sustainable neighborhoods, including the Netherlands,
Ava-Lanxmeer in Culemborg, Sweden, B001 in Malmo Hammarby in Stockholm, and Finland, Helsinki Vikki.

In the UK, BedZED is a neighborhood built in south London, between 2001 and 2002. Covering an area of 1.7 hectares, it accommodates 100 apartments, 2 500 m² of offices and shops, green spaces, an auditorium, a health center, a sports complex and a creche. Since its establishment, and compared to conventional homes, this eco-district has reduced its energy consumption for heating by 88% and electricity by 25%.

In Germany, the Vauban district in Freiburg im Breisgau was rehabilitated in 1996 according to strict standards QEH. Nearly 3 000 homes and 600 jobs have been created. The homes are powered by solar energy and produce more energy than they consume. The area has been developed for an optimal sun exposure, with environmentally friendly materials and roofs are vegetated. Automobile traffic is reduced and the space reserved for outdoor games and soft travel.

Switzerland also has many eco-neighborhoods, Geneva, Lausanne, Zurich, Bern.

Projects are underway in Austin, Texas, United States, and Wuhan, China.

Green Neighbourhoods (Quartiers verts)

The City of Paris has been engaged for several years a new policy of sharing public space. Green neighborhoods have been created.

The first of them, completed in 2003, Alesia Tombe Issoire, covers an area of 65 hectares and was built to improve safety and comfort of residents. The continuity of bike routes has been optimized, and speed of traffic has been limited. Much has also been devoted to the greening of the area, with the planting of 45 trees and 14 planters.

In the 12th district, the district Aligre favors soft travel with a velocity at 30 km / h, parking reorganized, or the creation of bike paths. Shrubs and planters were installed to revegetate the area.

* For more click

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There they go again, burying poor old Vélib. (Hey New York Times, read World Streets.)

The New York Times is generally doing a yeoman’s job of providing useful investigative coverage and commentary on the environment-climate-new mobility front. And for that we all are most grateful. However in this tough game no one goes ten for ten at bat, and in this article today on Vélib they have really missed the ball. Guess we have to be a bit careful concerning about what we read in the paper (Streets included, of course). Continue reading

Sharing as a sustainability strategy – Part I

A thirty second video with a panting “Pedal Power Doc” talking as he rides about sharing as a vital building block of anyone’s viable 21st century sustainability strategy. (“You can’t get there without it.”)
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Pedal Power (to the People)

Pedal Power, a new Canadian film about the phenomenal growth of city cycling produced by a Cogent/Benger Productions team under the direction of Christopher Sumpton and will be viewed for the first time today, September 24th, on national television in Canada ( , 8pm). Repeating:Friday September 25, 2009 at 10 pm ET/PT on CBC Newsworld.

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Public Bikes – How big a system? And why?

One of the complaints currently being voiced in the UK press about the new public bike start-up in the city of Bristol is that it is too small, insufficiently visible and generally hard to get at – and that it thus fails to achieve the level of massive use that is necessary if what you want is a city transformation project. Is that what your public bicycle project is supposed to do? Transform your city?
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Perils for Pedestrians comes to Paris to learn about Vélib

Perils for Pedestrians is a monthly cable TV program dedicated to improving the quality of the pedestrian environment in the US and Canada. Perils’ director John Z. Wetmore came to Paris to interview some of the locals to get their views on bicycles, public space, and Vélib’ for a series for North American cable television.

– John Z. Wetmore reporting from Paris

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Thoughts on a shared bike project in the UK: Part I

A newspaper article generally critical of the new bikeshare scheme in Bristol UK cites the city’s abundant hills and a general absence of bikes and stations as obstacles to success. We decided to publish the original piece (fair use) here, and then invite the team responsible for the project to state their case. What is actually going on in Bristol?

A Paris-style bicycle scheme in Bristol? Now there’s an uphill slog

* Click here for Guardian article by John Crace of Tuesday, 22 July 2009.

On a rainy morning, few takers for country’s first citywide ride-and-go plan:

It’s a miserable morning in the centre of Bristol. The rain is tipping down and only a halfwit would think of hiring a bike in this weather. So count me in.

Ride-and-go cycle schemes are a familiar part of the cityscape on mainland Europe. Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin all have well-established cycle networks, but somehow Britain has always rather lagged behind.

There are small local schemes in Southport, Cardiff, Hammersmith and Fulham, in London, and only yesterday Blackpool’s opened for business. But the closest we have to a whole-city scheme is in Bristol – Britain’s first designated Cycle City – where Hourbike operates with some support from the council.

The deal is straightforward. You register for a one-off fee of £10 and for that you get a code that lets you turn up to one of the cycle hubs and ride a bike. The first half-hour is free, any time over that works out at about £1 a hour (the idea is to undercut local car parking charges) and you can return the bike to any of the hubs dotted around the city.

Through the drizzle, I punch in the code, the electromagnetic lock is released and I have control of Daniel. The bikes all have names which are cuter than the cycles themselves because they are on the streets 24/7 and the idea is to make them solid and anonymous so that people don’t nick them.

So Daniel and I are ready but where to go for a test cycle? There are three other hubs in the centre and a couple more on the edge of the city near the University of the West of England, but I’ve no idea exactly where as there isn’t a map. Never mind. Andy, the street cleaner, should be able to help out. “There’s one outside the Royal Infirmary,” he says, “but I can’t say I’ve seen anyone using the bikes at either place.” Are you round this way often? “Every day”.

So I head off to hospital and soon discover another reason – apart from the weather – why no else is on a hire bike: it’s almost impossible to go anywhere in Bristol without going up a hill (I wonder if I’ll see any locals with colossal Tour de France-style muscled thighs). At the infirmary there’s a couple of bikes corralled at the hub, but still no sign of riders. Jim, a hospital technician, says he has never seen one.

There’s a bus stop next to the hub and no sign of a bus. Jo has been waiting for at least 10 minutes. Would she fancy a go on a bike? “It sounds like a good idea,” she says, “but I don’t think so.”

But it’s all downhill from here. “Maybe another time.”

I cycle round aimlessly for a while longer looking for another Hourbike but then reckon enough’s enough and tie Danny up for the day and head home.

It’s still early days. There are large parts of the city that still aren’t covered, though the bigger problem is winning punters’ hearts and minds. Tim Caswell, the managing director of Hourbike, which started the Bristol scheme earlier this year, refuses to be discouraged. “We’ve got about 300 people registered so far,” he says. “And with the help of the council we’re looking to increase the number of hubs and bikes so we’ve got most of the city covered. This is the way forward and we are committed to it.”

Getting it right is easier said than done. You can’t really pilot them by sticking a couple of bikes in the centre of town and hoping for the best, because people won’t see the point. It’s only when the full infrastructure is in place that it works. So you’ve got to be prepared to invest – and so far, especially with local government feeling the pinch, councils have tended to play safe by doing nothing.

“There’s a tendency to think there’s only one model,” said Phillip Darnton, who chairs Cycling England, an independent body set up by the government to promote pedal power. “Not everything has to be on the scale of the Paris Velib or TfL’s proposals for London. These are both large schemes aimed at significantly reducing commuter congestion: towns such as Southport, which has also just opened a cycle-hire scheme, are looking more to recreate the ambience of the seaside town, so they need something much less intensive.”

Even so, Britain does not have the best track record when it comes to promoting cycling. A bike hire scheme in Cheltenham has just closed and the London mayor, Boris Johnson, has managed to get on the wrong side of several councils with his plan to tear up several of their car parking bays to install cycle hubs and rob them of some revenue – so there’s still a lot of politicking to be done before London comes on stream.

So how come we’re so rubbish at cycle schemes and mainland Europe has been so successful? “It’s partly cultural,” said Marie, a Paris resident. “Cycling is seen as normal in France, whereas in Britain it’s often more about macho types in Lycra. But it’s also because people are less afraid of cycling in Paris because our drivers are so much better than yours.” Now there’s a thought.

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* Click here for reader comments to Guardian article. If you are interested in bike sharing or bikes in cities for that matter, these diverse voices make an interesting read.

* And here for the Hourbike promotional video

Next: We will now invite Tim Caswell, the managing director of Hourbike, the group responsible for this project, along with the city of course who are in fact the owner of this project, to hear what he has to say about the project and more generally his views of bikesharing in Britain, including perhaps why thus far the UK has lagged well behind the first tier countries.

Happy Birthday Vélib’: Now you are two

Well here you are dear child, already two years old and for such a young thing you have certainly been very active over these first 730 days. And all that while learning to speak to your visitors in English, Spanish, German and Italian, as well as French. Quite an accomplishment for a two year old. But that’s not all.

More than 50 million rides, going on three hundred thousand annual pass holders, and finally the full complement of 20,000 bikes on the streets. And as if that were not enough, here you are already venturing out into thirty surrounding towns and suburbs to give each of them Vélib’s of their own. You turned out to be too good a present for Paris to keep you for itself.

You, and the Paris and JCDecaux teams that make you work day after day, have been busy continually fine-tuning your bikes, maintenance procedures, station locations, software, like redistribution and everything else that it takes to make you an appreciated partner of Paris’s first-rate, internationally competitive, affordable new mobility system.

Few of us really understood at the beginning how important you were going to be, and I bet that even you did not fully appreciate the extent that you would become part of a major transformation process. And the degree to which you would become world known.

And those of us who hop on your bikes every day – our editor for example estimates that he has made more than 2000 trips, most of which worked out very well – are in a pretty good position to appreciate your contribution. It is not that you are perfect, oh no! but certainly good enough that for many of us you have become a part of our daily mobility solution, an almost always agreeable part of our day to day lives. You don’t have to be absolutely perfect, almost perfect will do just fine.

A trained Vélib’ user (it was you that trained us dear Vélib’) has a whole series of backup strategies just in case we do not find a working bicycle at the first station or a parking slot when making a mad dash for a transit connection — and for still somehow getting wherever it is we need to go when we need to get there. We love you most of all, but if the rain is too hard, the snow is falling, or we cannot find that bike, we have a workaround. That is part of our partnership deal with you.

And now let us have a look at your 2009 birthday gift.

This is an important day and we have been giving this a fair amount of thought over the last weeks, and when you give a gift you really want it to be useful, and used. And of course the best gifts are the ones that can be shared.

We would very much like to come up with a present this year that would help you to deal with the problems associated with your nice bicycles which are too often being vandalized or stolen. As the world knows, those are big numbers and really do need attention and ingenious ways of dealing with them. But that is sufficiently challenging that we have to back off this time and can only promise to give it thought we would share ideas from many parts with this as they come in.

So our gift this year is one that we hope you will like. We want to help you with what is probably your Number 2 operational problem, smoothing the distribution of bikes over the system. Here is what we propose.

A sketch plan for using small financial incentives for getting and improve distribution of bikes throughout the system.

We are well aware that smoothing the redistribution process is not one that is unique to Paris and that is a fundamental structural problem that needs to be dealt with just about everywhere in a strategic manner. So here is our gift proposal. By the numbers:

1. We propose you introduce an overlay software system to provide small financial incentives for anyone who parks a bicycle in a station which is empty (or almost empty). Which will also apply to anyone who picks up a bicycle from a station which is full (or almost full).

2. In other words, make us the users and the beneficiaries part of the solution.

3. This process can work of course only where there is a basic logistics/financial system which will support it. But in your case Vélib’ we think you have in place just about everything you need to make this one work. (And many of your brothers and sisters in other cities should be able to do this as well.)

4. The idea is to automatically credit a specific sum to registered users who provide these valuable services. There are several key details which need to be figured out before going ahead, which include the following:

5. What exactly should be the sum awarded to participants? One Euro, two, three? Well that will depend on balancing (a) what works as an incentive on the one hand, and (b) the costs you presently have to bear for manual distribution.

6. What exactly should be the “station threshold’, i.e., should the award be made only to those who add a first bike to an empty station, or should it be also made for second and third bikes being brought in? And ditto for freeing places in a full stand? This the operator will be well-positioned to figure out, and in any event by nature of the flexibility of the underlying logistics system, this can be played with and fine-tuned in the early stages of the project.

7. Behind all this, it is useful to have precise information on the cost of physically moving a bike at present. Our own best guess, not only for Paris but for the more than a dozen other systems that we have visited and observed, is that this has to run on the order of four Euros per bike, plus or minus 2. But this of course the city and the operator will know.

8. Such payments will of course be made only to people holding annual passes, However it may also be worth considering whether a special arrangement might be set up in which users register for the program and the financial incentives that go along with it.

9. An advantage of this approach, which we might call “dynamic redistribution” as opposed to physically lugging the bikes around, is that it is a continuous process, with all the advantages that this entails

10. One final advantage that comes to mind is that something like this increases the feeling of public ownership of the system, which in itself is one of the tools you need to fight against the problems of bicycle theft and abuse. It will not deal with all aspects of that challenge, but it is one of the many small steps that can be taken to drive down those numbers to something which is financially and socially tolerable.

So there you have it your Vélib’, World Streets present to you on this important day. And hey! as we were saying, this is the kind of gift that you can both use yourself and share with the world. So do it, and our friends in Barcelona, Montreal, Seville, Rome and the more than one hundred cities in the world that have already installed their own public bicycle system. And the thousand or so cities that are looking to you dear Vélib’ for ideas, encouragement and your example.

You have been a very good girl. Thank you.

Happy birthday Vélib’!

The best public bike system in the world?

Adam Cooper, Canadian, on why Canada’s BiXi is the best public bike system in the world
Watch out world, the city of Montreal is on the move: this time powered by pedals. The second largest city in Canada is now home to North America’s largest bike sharing program. The BIXI system (Bicycle + Taxi) is Canada’s first attempt at large scale bike sharing; and from my initial experiences I will say it is extremely well done, maybe even the best in the world.

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Happy Birthday Vélib’ (Oh dear, what’s wrong with you?)

Next month, on July 15th Paris will celebrate the second anniversary of the path-showing Vélib project. You have seen many different views from many corners of the planet about what is going on here: its perfection, its foibles, its extensions, and more recently news reports that it is about to go into the tank since there are no bikes left. With this in view, we thought we would celebrate this important anniversary with you here on Streets, with a series of visits and conversations in order to give you a State of the Vélib report as it gets ready to move into Year III. To set the stage, here you have our first Happy Birthday message.

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Honk! Battered Bicycles in Paris

Vélib, Paris’s pioneering, city-transforming public bike project has had its fair share (actually unfair share I would say) of vandalism and theft, and while it does not threaten the integrity and viability of the service, it is part of the landscape of public bikes and needs to be understood and taken into account. There is, in fact, a great deal that can be done to reduce the magnitude of these challenges , and indeed steps are being taken here. That said, let’s have a look at some of the examples of damage, which have been collected for us by vigilant Eyes on the Street Sentinel in Paris, Larry Langner.

And here you have a poster placed on one of the JCDecaux street signs in Paris, warning that: “Breaking a bike is easy. It can’t defend itself”.

And then: “16,000 bikes vandalised, 8000 disappeared. Velib is yours. Protect it.

For more examples, click to

* Editor’s note: Click here to read report on “Reports of Vélib’s Demise Greatly Exaggerated

Report: Bicycle Sharing Systems Worldwide: Selected Case Studies

CityRyde LLC, a bicycle sharing consultancy founded in 2007 based in Philadelphia, PA would like to add a cherry on top of the information the World City Bike Forum provides – a free report just released that focuses on the bike sharing systems we get asked about most frequently.

Enter “Bicycle Sharing Systems Worldwide: Selected Case Studies” – a high-level synopsis that includes critical information about major vendors and deployments such as JCDecaux with Velib’, Clear Channel Outdoors with SmartBike DC, Public Bike Systems with Bixi, B-cycle with Momentum B-cycle, CEMUSA with Nbici and Veolia Transportation with OyBike.

CityRyde has spent years researching and analyzing information about bike sharing implementations and their providers and strives to be the trusted source of bike sharing knowledge. For the first time ever, this information is compiled into a high-level synopsis which is easy to read and shared openly to the public.

“Bike Sharing Systems” focuses on the systems we get asked about most frequently, including major vendors and deployments such as JCDecaux with Velib’, Clear Channel Outdoors with SmartBike DC, Public Bike Systems with Bixi, B-cycle with Momentum B-cycle, CEMUSA with Nbici, and Veolia Transportation with OyBike. We have captured critical information about the systems including membership demographics, usage information, implementation costs, rental costs, bike share technology (bike, kiosk, locking mechanism), and implementation statistics.

Download this document at no charge by visiting our reports page at

Don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions, comments, concerns, etc.

Jason Meinzer,
CityRyde LLC –
Philadelphia, PA USA

Reports of Vélib’s Demise Greatly Exaggerated

Reports of Vélib’s Demise Greatly Exaggerated

New York City, by Ben Fried on February 12, 2009. From

If you’ve read this BBC story currently making the rounds, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Vélib, Paris’s wildly popular bike-share system, has suddenly been afflicted by an epidemic of theft and vandalism that threatens its very existence. Vélib bikes have been “torched,” strung up from lamp-posts, and smuggled across borders, the Beeb reports in alarmist tones. A spokesman for JCDecaux, the outdoor advertising firm that operates Vélib, calls its contract with the city of Paris “unsustainable,” and the whole system is referred to in the past tense.

So is Vélib destined to burn brightly only to flare out after a short time? Hardly. Vélib is here to stay, according to officials and transportation experts familiar with the details of its operations. The BBC’s portrayal of a mortal threat, they say, is best understood as a negotiating ploy on the part of JCDecaux. (Note that the JCDecaux representative is the only source quoted in that story.)

“Decaux is using media sensationalism in order to obtain more money from the city of Paris,” said Denis Baupin, who as Deputy Mayor for Transportation oversaw the Vélib launch in the summer of 2007.

The basic structure of the Vélib contract works like this. JCDecaux runs the whole system in exchange for the rights to 1,600 outdoor displays, turning its profit from selling that ad space. The city of Paris keeps the revenue from Vélib user fees, so it can claim to provide the service at no taxpayer expense. Now, with the full Paris network of 20,600 bicycles and 1,451 stations completed, penalties for inadequate maintenance are in the process of taking effect. Hence the hue and cry from JCDecaux.

“It’s in large part a PR issue,” says Luc Nadal of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Some aspects of the Vélib contract are still in flux, and the sky-is-falling press coverage gives JCDecaux a stronger hand in those negotiations. “Their bargaining position depends on the public’s perception.”

Not that bicycle abuse is a phantom problem. It exacts a real toll, but much of that cost has been anticipated and accounted for. Last July, the city of Paris agreed to pay JCDecaux 400 euros for every bike stolen in excess of four percent of the total fleet each year. Given the enormous popularity of Vélib — users have taken 42 million rides since its debut — the cost of those payments is minimal. Using the BBC’s figure of 7,800 missing bikes, the pricetag for the city comes to less than 2 million euros annually, out of 20 million euros in user fees.

“It averages out to about 15 stolen per day, out of 80,000 daily users,” says Eric Britton, founder of the Paris-based New Mobility Agenda. Hardly a fatal blow. “It’s like skinning a knee.”

Not only does the city already pick up a big part of the tab, but JCDecaux reportedly hauls in about 80 million euros per year from its outdoor displays, according to estimates cited by Britton. It’s difficult to know the exact figure — and how much is profit — because JCDecaux guards the data like a nuclear secret. Even the precise cost of replacing one Vélib bicycle remains unknown to the public. Inquiries we sent to JCDecaux’s headquarters in Paris have not been returned.

Public support for Vélib remains unflagging. “Vélib has been totally embraced by Mayor Bertrand Delanoe himself,” said Nadal. What politician wouldn’t jump at the chance to be identified with a program that enjoys 94 percent satisfaction among constituents?

This is largely a testament to JCDecaux’s success in operating the system. According to Baupin’s office, however, Vélib maintenance workers report that management has let upkeep slide in order to amplify the perception of vandalism.

JCDecaux’s media gamesmanship “is short-sighted,” said Baupin, in a statement translated from the French. “One should not lose sight of the remarkable success of this transportation mode due to a slightly underestimated rate of vandalism.”

Then there’s the matter of JCDecaux’s own self-interest, and whether the rumors and exaggerations will hurt the company’s attempts to secure bike-share contracts in other cities. Said Britton: “Why would they run away from a golden goose?”


The End of City Bikes: Vandalism, Theft and the End of the World

State of play: Vélib’, Paris Winter 2009

After several rounds of misinformed press panic attacks concerning vandalism and theft of public bicycles in Paris, set off by an article that appeared in the Parisian on 2 February ( propose we take a couple of minutes to check out the reality of the situation and reflect together on what it means both for the Paris project — and more generally for projects being planned or already in place in cities around the world. Because there is relevance there also.

Let us first have a look at the main reported figures which are to the best of my information pretty reliable ballpark numbers.

• 15,000 Vélib’s on the street in Winter 2009 (to go up to the contracted 20,000 in the Spring)
• 1200 stations currently in operation (not 1451 as originally announced ???)
• 42 million users (between 15 July 2007 at the end of 2008)
• Daily trips: anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 and on occasion more (depends on weather, strikes, holidays, etc.)
• Ave trip time: a bit more than 20 minutes
• Ave trip length: say 5-7 km.
• Daily repairs – ca. 1,500 (huge variations depending on weather, usage, etc.) – ca. 80% of which handled in stations by travelling maintenance teams Something like 2-300 have to be taken to repair shops
• 7,800 reported disappeared over 18 months
• Estimated cost of a replacement Vélib – ca $500
• 11,600 reported vandalized in the same.
• Work force – ca. 500
• Vélib receipts paid to the city of Paris (year 1) ca. € 20 million
• Who pays for lost and damaged bicycles: JCDecaux (Mainly, some participation by the city)
• Number large publicity panels enjoyed by JCDecaux – 1600

“End of Vélib” – Tragic death scenario as reported by press

Now that several of us have gotten busy to correct the somewhat, shall we say, misinformed spate of newspaper articles that reported apparently on automatic pilot concerning the “forthcoming demise” of Vélib in Paris (reference ), I think that the air has now been cleared and that we all have a more balanced appreciation of what this means

My best on this is that JCDecaux found themselves in a situation in which they were losing about twice as many bikes as they had originally planned for. Maybe a bit more. And while this certainly poses an accounting dilemma for their public bike unit, Cyclocity, the company overall is certainly doing well with their end of the deal through the revenues generated by the 1600 publicity panels, placed in strategic areas around the city.

In this particular case I do not think this is a life-threatening problem for Vélib, since it is in the clear interest both of JCDecaux and the City to make sure of this project moves along as smoothly as possible. I am confident that they are going to find ways to deal with this problem (and in fact there are all kinds of ways as far as I am concerned which I hope they will be thinking about and prudently implementing). We will just have to see how smart that they can be with this one. And if we consider the consistent flow of adjustments and improvements that they have introduced throughout the system over the first 18 months to rectify problems and improve performance, we have to be at least moderately optimistic about their chances here.

Reflections on vandalism and theft:

If your thinking about creating a public bike system in your city, you have to have a good feel for how public property is treated. Good indicators are public phone booth (if there any left), bus stops, vandalism on public transport, graffiti, etc.

For those who are surprised at the vandalism rate in Paris over this last year, we need to bear in mind that the stands and the bicycles are widely distributed over all social areas of the city, including some rather tough ones. The city and JCDecaux are to be congratulated for making sure that the bikes are available in all parts of the city. That is important.

Let us also bear in mind that over this last half-year plus, the circumstances of the economy and social unrest here have not been all that easy. There are problems with jobs and worries about the future. And these are probably strongest in the group of young unemployed males which in some parts of the city and climb up well above 30%. This is not a formula for social peace. (Nor is it one for public bicycle piece.:

Consider all those little bikes, once they are worked free from the stations, legally or by force, they then are out there on their own with no oversight or protection. Not surprising at the time of some social unrest, and giving the ubiquitous nature of the bikes, we are going to have problems with both theft and vandalism. That comes with the territory.

To put this into perspective let us take a look at how all this works out on the streets of Paris on an average winter day. 15,000 bikes out on the street, providing something like 100,000 trips spanning a total of more than half a million km, carbon free kilometers, LL with mostly minor maintenance problems on 10% of them (but not all at the same time since they are being repaired regularly throughout the day). This should not be very surprising t if you take into consideration that those bikes are being used by people of different skill levels, different weights, and different levels of caring. And once again most of those problems that do crop up just require a few minutes of maintenance and adjustment. If you are someone who bikes in the city and park your bike in public on a regular basis, this kind of constant tinkering will not be unfamiliar to you, even though you take good care of it because it your own bike.

On an average day something like 15 of those bikes will be stolen, one in 1000. And this is before any kind of remedial measures have been put into gear. Given the level of public service, health, and environmental advantages that they provide, I would say that 1/10 of 1% is not an impossible number to deal with. And that half a million carbon free kilometers for people who have to go from A to B when and as they want. is a pretty good deal for all concerned.

The bottom line for your project:

If you are planning or starting to put into service a new public bike system in your city you are going to have to give a lot of thought about the social environment in which they are going to appear. You can “play it safe” and try to cordon off your bikes into some “safer” part of the city. But if you do that you are going to miss the whole point, the fundamental point which is behind the system, which is that they are instruments for moving toward a fairer and more just society for all.

If your city has problems with youth unemployment and degradation of social infrastructure, you are going to have to figure out how to deal with that in your project. Likewise if you have gangs, you are going to have to face this directly and somehow figure out how to work them into the fabric of the system. You do not have to give up, and you will never be able to run away, so these are the kinds of issues which have to take into account from the beginning.

But hey! you can deal with it. You and the community behind you. It is teamwork, you see.

For the rest, keep your eye on Paris and see how they work this out.

Eric Britton,
Paris, 19 Feb. 2009


I may not be a great fan of on-street advertising in public places but I am a great fan of JCDecaux for what they have done in my city to create a new mobility environment that no one can miss. I hop on one of their free bikes anywhere from 2 to 6 times a day, and have fact relegated my own bicycle to much more occasional use in the past when it was my daily companion. Not to worry, we use the different bicycles for different reasons.

As a frequent user I have seen problems with the bikes come and go over the year and a half since the project got underway. There have been periods in which there have been real visible problems with chains, graffiti, the baskets, tires, or distribution of bikes, etc., But it is my impression that when I go to the nearest they stand today (there are four within 100 m of my house) I am a well serve client. Sure there can be times in which a given station one will not have a bike ready for me, but a short trot over to the next and there you go.

Better yet, before leaving home of office I click to my favorite informal Vélib website at There I can see in advance where the nearest free bike is, and at the same time check out to make sure there will be a parking spot for me available at my final destination. There are other ways to do it but this Is mine and it works.

Thanks JCDecaux. Thanks Paris.

Eric Britton
New Mobility Agenda, Paris