Sad news for advocates of green urban transport: The wildly successful and widely copied public bike program in Paris appears to be on the verge of collapse. Apparently, the bikes—which anyone can check out at street kiosks, with a refundable deposit—have been vandalized and stolen at high rates. Videos abound on YouTube of people trashing them. And some of the bikes have ended up as far away as Africa. The company that provides the bikes says that without further support from the city, it won’t be able to continue footing the bill every time a bike goes missing—each one costs over $500. In a fleet of 20,000 bikes, nearly 8,000 vanished while over 11,000 were vandalized.
The program was widely admired—San Francisco and London both have plans to emulate it. But what does Paris’s administrative problems teach other cities? Would it even happen elsewhere, on the same scale? It’s worth noting that similar programs exist in Lyon and Copenhagen, and they haven’t had the same troubles. Meanwhile, you might look at Paris’s bike problems as merely an indicator of very deep sociological problems in the city—its immigrants are infamously discriminated against. Remember, this was a city riven by riots two years ago. London’s bike program might fare similarly; San Francisco’s might not; and Singapore’s almost certainly will not. While there’s clearly an issue to be solved with better policing, it’ll only go so far.
UPDATE: The administrators of the program are now saying that it is in no danger of disappearing. They say that the costs of stolen bikes run to only 2 million euros a year, against a program cost of 20 million a year, and that thefts were accurately anticipated. Moreover, they claim that the maker, in saying that it was too expensive to continue the program, is actually grandstanding, in hopes of negotiating a better contract. More info here.
[Image via Streets Blog]