Bicycle Utopia: Free Bikes in Paris!

Free city bikes have been a utopian dream for a long time now. I’m not sure where it started, but I recall that about 20 years ago some European city decided to buy a bunch of bikes, paint them yellow, and then let people use them at their convenience (readers, any idea where this first happened???).

The idea was that one could step out of a store, grab the first yellow bike they found, ride it to their next destination, and then leave it there for whoever needs it next.

Naturally people began stealing the bikes and painting them different colors, or simply locking them up so that others couldn’t use them. Bicycle Utopia was a failure.

Over the years a handful of other cities have tried the same system with various degrees of success.

This July, Paris is launching their own version. Called Vélib’, the Parisian version will drop 20,000 red-painted bikes onto the city streets for locals and tourists alike to peddle around to their heart’s content.

The program is based upon a smaller version in the city of Lyon which has now been operating successfully for two years. In anticipation of the Parisian version, Benji Lanyado, writing for the Guardian, recently took the Lyon system for a test drive.

Unlike the original program in which the bikes were just dropped off anywhere, the Lyon system requires that riders insert a credit card into a special bike rack in order to release one of the bikes. If it is never returned, the user is charged €150. If the bike is placed back into another special rack anywhere in the city within half an hour, there is no charge. Every hour after that costs €1.

What a great system!

Lanyado spent a fine day popping from one destination to another, enjoying the three-speed bicycles and all the wonderful sites that Lyon has to offer. I can’t wait until this arrives in Paris!