November 11, 2009

Vélib Thievery

Vélib, the Parisian bike-sharing program, is great. But it would be incorrect to pretend that tout est parfait dans le meilleur des mondes (lit. transl.: everything is perfect in the best of worlds). Vandalism and theft has been a problem, and the latest news aren't good: About 80% of the original 20,600 bicycles have been damaged or stolen and the resources required to fix them or replace them are straining the program's budget. There's even a black market for stolen Vélib bikes in Eastern Europe and Africa...

The NYT writes:
Many of the specially designed bikes, which cost $3,500 each, are showing up on black markets in Eastern Europe and northern Africa. Many others are being spirited away for urban joy rides, then ditched by roadsides, their wheels bent and tires stripped.
The first thing that jumps at me is the reported cost of the bikes. Maybe the New York Times has bad information, but if the bikes really cost that much, that's probably the first thing that should be changed.
JCDecaux must repair some 1,500 bicycles a day. The company maintains 10 repair shops and a workshop on a boat that moves up and down the Seine.JCDecaux reinforced the bicycles' chains and baskets and added better theft protection, strengthening the mechanisms that attach them to the electronic parking docks, since an incompletely secured bike is much easier to steal. But the damage and theft continued.

There will always be a certain amount of vandalism (especially if France doesn't solve its problem with the alienation of the banlieues), but using such expensive bikes makes them a much bigger target for thieves who want to make a buck, and they inflate the replacement costs, making the whole scheme a lot less profitable (and thus sustainable) than it could otherwise be. It must be possible to make rugged bikes for less than that...
In some areas, it can be hard for would-be cyclists to find working bikes. But despite these problems, Vélib has had 63 million rentals since mid-2007 and surveys show that Vélib users are still happy with their experience.
It will be very interesting to see if, as other bike-sharing programs grow, they attract the same kind of problems as Vélib or if this is more of a specifically Parisian problem.

Via NYT + Treehugger

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