Velib: A-Holes #$%^ing it Up

In another example of a-holes ruining it for everyone else, and another dent in my Euro Bike Utopia fantasy, the Velib bike share program is in jeopardy.

While millions of trips we’re ridden, Velib Extreme also emerged with vandals riding the bikes down steps, into metro stations, and on BMX tracks.

I remember YellowBike efforts being derailed by theft as well, even after they painted the bikes bright yellow.

Velib Stats

  • 20,000 bicycles
  • 1,250 stations
  • Cost 400 euros each to replace
  • 7,800 “disappeared”
  • 11,600 vandalized
  • 1,500 daily repairs
  • Staff recover 20 abandoned bikes a day
  • Each bike travels 10,000 km a year
  • 42 million users since launch

Who’s to blame? Social decline or the end of western civilization? I don’t know, but Velib’s problems aren’t going to help bike sharing grow.

Media Coverage


Velib is back in the news on NPR.

Uploaded by Jason Whittaker | more from the Bike Hugger Photostream.


While the bike share concept is good on paper, adverse human behaviour will always muck up the works.  Bike share programs need to go the way of car rentals in that an additional fee is charged for insurance to cover any loss or theft.  That way bike share does not need to be government subsidized and would protect the business owner.

“Bike share programs need to go the way of car rentals in that an additional fee is charged for insurance to cover any loss or theft.”

They already do that. To get a Velib you have to have a EMV chip equipped credit card (all Euro cards do, almost no American cards do). If the bike doesn’t come back you get dinged 150 Euros. Safe bet that at least some of these thefts are being done using stolen cards. In the US it’s estimated that “purchasing” items with stolen credit cards/bad checks accounts for more losses than direct property thefts - safe bet Europe isn’t radically different in that respect.

Car rentals are different in that you need both a credit card and a drivers license. Of course even with that car rental companies still lose a lot of cards as do car dealers.

I was the founder of Austin CarShare, and carsharing could be full of potential abuses like this. The key is member accountability and giving people the boot if they can’t handle vehicle sharing. If someone damages the bike, fine the last person who had the bike. If a bike goes missing, the renter gets to buy the bikeshare a new bike AT FULL RETAIL PRICE and get their membership cancelled. Real financial penalties help self regulate most of the membership and those who can’t hack it get shown the door. Vehicle share isn’t for everyone.

The other thing that strikes me about this is the shear number of bikes they have in the fleet. You’re not going to be able to keep them all going all the time. Attrition and repair have to be factored into a business plan.

This program has been a success in general. Operating budgets, fees, and fines need to be adjusted, and it should be OK.

The second problem of course is that the business model relied on selling advertising on the bikes and the scheme was ran by an advertising agency.

Ad revenue is down because of the current economic climate so the ad agency may just be looking for an excuse to exit the scheme or ask for more cash from the city.

Err, most of this is coming from BBC.  It ain’t so.

***The BBC’s portrayal of a mortal threat, they say, is best understood as a negotiating ploy on the part of JCDecaux. (Note that the JCDecaux representative is the only source quoted in that story.)

“Decaux is using media sensationalism in order to obtain more money from the city of Paris,” said Denis Baupin, who as Deputy Mayor for Transportation oversaw the Vélib launch in the summer of 2007.

The basic structure of the Vélib contract works like this. JCDecaux runs the whole system in exchange for the rights to 1,600 outdoor displays, turning its profit from selling that ad space. The city of Paris keeps the revenue from Vélib user fees, so it can claim to provide the service at no taxpayer expense. Now, with the full Paris network of 20,600 bicycles and 1,451 stations completed, penalties for inadequate maintenance are in the process of taking effect. Hence the hue and cry from JCDecaux.***
Streets Blog Post


What’s your source on this counter report? 3 news agencies picked up the near death of Velib and in a quick search, I found nothing to the contrary. Please continue here cause this makes it even more interesting.

I’m a little confused by the stats. If they recover 20 bikes a day, that is 7300/yr. Does that make up for the 7800 that are lost, or is it really 15,000 lost, of which approx. 1/2 are recovered? That seems unlikely because that would be most of the bikes in the program.

When I was in Paris this summer it looked like the program was going strong. Working bikes were in almost every rack, and I saw an uber-efficient replacement wagon sweep through and pick up a batch of bikes with mechanical difficulties and replace them repaired bikes.

I was really jealous that I didn’t have the right kind of credit card to rent one. Does anyone know if you can request an EMV card from your credit card company?

Note that I just blogged the story with my commentary and the Stats from the BBC article. Raiyn’s “it’s a ploy” argument I didn’t see in any of the news. I don’t doubt that, but it’s a new angle. When we were in Rome, that had what looked like the same bike share, but it was NOT for anyone. You had to commit to it and was intended for bike commuters to replace cars. Not to just grab and ride around.


I wasn’t trying to criticize your posting, I’m just trying to wrap my head around the information.


Yep no problem.

@ DL
I included the link in the post. Everything between the asterisks is pulled directly from Reports of Vélib’s Demise Greatly Exaggerated
by Ben Fried on February 12, 2009

Right now I don’t have time to develop too much on this but here are some thoughts:

Ten months ago I resigned all my public transportation subscriptions and switched to Velib (with a few metro tickets just in case).

Problems finding useable bikes this summer have been rather scarse, and inexistant this winter. The system works a lot better than it did a year ago.

While before it was not uncommon to see stolen or vandalized Velibs, these have been getting rarer and are now odd finds,

My opinion is that people have become accustomed to see and use Velibs. While the initial implementation was really chaotic, it doesen’t feel as bad as these articles (which all share the same sources by the way) seem to suggest.

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