Paris’ Vélib public bike program plagued with vandalism, theft

When Paris introduced its Vélib program of rental bikes citywide in the summer of 2007, it was an immediate hit with both residents and tourists alike, and heralded as an example of a city making concrete efforts to “green” itself by giving people cleaner alternatives to taxis, cars and public transportation.

It’s safe to say that those behind the program were not envisioning the bikes being used the way they are in this video.

The BBC reports that the Vélib program is in serious trouble, thanks not only to misuse like this but to more severe vandalism and, worse, theft. Nearly half of the 15,000 bicycles that were first introduced 18 months ago are missing and presumed stolen.

And by vandalism, I’m not talking about punctured tires. There are instances when bikes have been found hanging from lamp posts, dumped into the Seine, set on fire or just literally smashed to pieces. The BBC says that since the program has started, every bike has at some point had to be replaced (to the tune of $520 each)

The company that runs the program (with the help of a government subsidy), JCDecaux, says it is becoming way too expensive to maintain the program citywide and there is talk of abandoning it.

Just how popular are the bikes?

They’ve been used 42 million times since their introduction (there are roughly 120,000 trips on them a day) and have brought in $25.3 million to the city. Their popularity is based on the fact that they are cheap to rent (you can buy a year’s “subscription” for unlimited rentals for just $40).

For now, JCDecaux is locked in a battle with Paris City Hall to change the business model behind the scheme which currently has the company footing most of the cost for maintain and replacing the bikes (a cost it says it can no longer shoulder alone).

No doubt other major cities that are thinking of emulating the program — among them London and San Francisco — have to be concerned watching the problems that have emerged in Paris.

As is often the case, a small percentage of people are ruining a good thing for everyone else. One doesn’t want to use this as yet more proof about how nothing good lasts, but…