Randomness (r_ness) wrote,
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French Ideal of Bicycle-Sharing Meets Reality

Vélib’ in Paris seems to be having more trouble than BIXI in Montréal, if the NY Times is to be believed.

From http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/31/world/europe/31bikes.html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted=all:
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.


Renters of Vélib' bicycles in Paris say it can be a challenge to find functioning ones among those that have been vandalized.

With 80 percent of the initial 20,600 bicycles stolen or damaged, the program’s organizers have had to hire several hundred people just to fix them. And along with the dent in the city-subsidized budget has been a blow to the Parisian psyche.

The heavy, sandy-bronze Vélib’ bicycles are seen as an accoutrement of the “bobos,” or “bourgeois-bohèmes,” the trendy urban middle class, and they stir resentment and covetousness. They are often being vandalized in a socially divided Paris by resentful, angry or anarchic youth, the police and sociologists say.

Bruno Marzloff, a sociologist who specializes in transportation, said, “One must relate this to other incivilities, and especially the burning of cars,” referring to gangs of immigrant youths burning cars during riots in the suburbs in 2005.

He said he believed there was social revolt behind Vélib’ vandalism, especially for suburban residents, many of them poor immigrants who feel excluded from the glamorous side of Paris.

“We miscalculated the damage and the theft,” said Albert Asséraf, director of strategy, research and marketing at JCDecaux, the outdoor-advertising company that is a major financer and organizer of the project. “But we had no reference point in the world for this kind of initiative.”

At least 8,000 bikes have been stolen and 8,000 damaged so badly that they had to be replaced — nearly 80 percent of the initial stock, Mr. Asséraf said.

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.
The Daily Telegraph says:
It is rare to find a Parisian who has not pulled a Vélib’ out of its docking bay ready to pedal off only to find that the chain was missing or the wheels were blocked. At one stage, it was easy to spot a faulty bike, as a previous user would have obligingly turned the saddle round. Now that there are so many ruined bikes, the backwards saddle rule is no longer reliable; only a thorough prior examination before choosing a cycle will suffice.

As for thefts, JCDecaux even has full-time employees who do nothing but scour the capital for stolen or abandoned bikes; they pick up around 20 every day from the streets or police stations, though many are taken further afield. At least one has been found in Romania. Many are stolen and customised almost beyond recognition.
On the one hand, I am suspicious of any analysis that blames problems on France's immigrants, because that often seems to be the favorite French explanation for social dysfunction. Disaffected French youth in general strikes me as more plausible. On the other hand, I haven't been in Paris since the Vélib’ system rolled out, so I don't know from direct experience how bad things actually are. But the numbers sound pretty awful, given that they started with 20,000 bikes.

Certainly the condition of BIXI bikes and stations were nowhere near as bad in Montréal this summer. Perhaps young Québeçois are less angry and resentful than French youths? Boy, wouldn't the French hate that comparison.

I guess we'll see how things go when they roll out the system in Boston next year.

Edit: bikeradar.com suggests that JCDecaux is exaggerating the scale of the problem in order to get a better deal out of the city.

Also, that $3,500 price seems out of line.
Tags: transit, travel
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