But this latest French utopia has met a prosaic reality: 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.
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.
Wow…blow to the Parisian psyche. Haven’t heard that kind of talk since Hitler marched troops down the Champs Elysee.
This kind of reporting shows again the double standard facing bicycle transport. All modes of transport are subject to theft and vandalism. When cars are stolen, nobody complains about the impact on city-subsidized police budgets. When buses and trains in the public transit fleet are tagged by graffiti artists, nobody complains about cost to repair the damage.
Velib is held to a different standard. That is because it isn’t transport but advertising. The program is run mainly by the multinational advertising firm JCDecaux as profit-making venture. Unfortunately, the global downturn in advertising revenue is hurting its bottom line.
Curiously, JCDecaux is not releasing its cost figures to maintain the program. This has led some to suspect the firm is exaggerating the problem as negotiating ploy. However, we do know how much public financing is required to sustain the program. If the figures published by the press are to be believed, Velib actually shows phenomenal cost-effectiveness.
Some data to consider:
- Paris City Council has agreed to cover $500 of the cost replacing damaged bikes, or $2 million per year
- 50,000 – 150,000 trips per day (depending on season)
We can only guess the costs for JCDecaux, but it is probably safe to say the overall subsidy cost of the program is a whopping 25 cents per trip.
Is there any other public transit program which comes even remotely close to this cost? In the US, we subsidize bus trips on the order of $2/trip, and passenger rail trips even more.