*Paris Embraces Plan to Become City of Bikes*
By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 24, 2007; A10
PARIS, March 23 -- Paris is for lovers -- lovers of food and art and
wine, lovers of the romantic sort and, starting this summer, lovers of
On July 15, the day after Bastille Day, Parisians will wake up to
discover thousands of low-cost rental bikes at hundreds of high-tech
bicycle stations scattered throughout the city, an ambitious program to
cut traffic, reduce pollution, improve parking and enhance the city's
image as a greener, quieter, more relaxed place.
By the end of the year, organizers and city officials say, there should
be 20,600 bikes at 1,450 stations -- or about one station every 250
yards across the entire city. Based on experience elsewhere --
particularly in Lyon, France's
third-largest city, which launched a similar system two years ago --
regular users of the bikes will ride them almost for free.
"It has completely transformed the landscape of Lyon -- everywhere you
see people on the bikes," said Jean-Louis Touraine, the city's deputy
mayor. The program was meant "not just to modify the equilibrium between
the modes of transportation and reduce air pollution, but also to modify
the image of the city and to have a city where humans occupy a larger
The Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delano?, has the same aim, said
his aide, Jean-Luc Dumesnil: "We think it could change Paris's image --
make it quieter, less polluted, with a nicer atmosphere, a better way of
But there is a practical side, too, Dumesnil said. A recent study
analyzed different trips in the city "with a car, bike, taxi and
walking, and the bikes were always the fastest."
The Lyon rental bikes, with their distinctive silver frame, red
rear-wheel guard, handlebar basket and bell, can also be among the
cheapest ways to travel, because the first half-hour is free, and most
trips are shorter than that.
"It's faster than the bus or metro, it's good exercise, and it's almost
free," said Vianney Paquet, 19, who is studying law in Lyon. Paquet said
that he uses the rental bikes four or five times a day and pays 10 euros
(about $13) a year, half for an annual membership fee and half for
rental credit that he never actually spends because his rides typically
last just a few minutes.
Anthonin Darbon, director of Cyclocity, which operates Lyon's program
and won the contract to start up and run the one in Paris, said 95
percent of the roughly 20,000 daily bike rentals in Lyon are free
because of their length.
Cyclocity is a subsidiary of outdoor advertising behemoth JCDecaux,
which runs much smaller bike businesses in Brussels, Vienna and the
Spanish cities of Cordoba and Girona. London, Dublin, Sydney and
Melbourne reportedly are considering similar rental programs.
The Cyclocity concept evolved from utopian "bike-sharing" ideas that
were tried in Europe in the 1960s and '70s, usually modeled on
Amsterdam's famous "white bicycle" plan, in which idealistic hippies
repaired scores of bicycles, painted them white, and left them on the
streets for anyone to use for free. But in the end, the bikes were
stolen and became too beat-up to ride. A number of U.S. cities,
including Portland, Ore., have also experimented with community-use
JCDecaux experimented with designs and developed a sturdier, less
vandal-prone bike, along with a rental system to discourage theft: Each
rider must leave a credit card or refundable deposit of about $195,
along with personal information. In Lyon, about 10 percent of the bikes
are stolen each year, but many are later recovered, Darbon said.
And to encourage people to return bikes quickly, rental rates rise the
longer the bikes are out. In Paris, for instance, renting a bike will be
free for the first 30 minutes, $1.30 for the next 30 minutes, $2.60 for
the third half-hour, and $5.20 for the fourth half-hour of use and every
30 minutes after that. That makes the cost of a two-hour rental about $9.10.
Membership fees in Paris will be steeper than in Lyon, from $1.30 for
one day to about $38 for a year.
The Paris deal will bring the world's biggest bicycle fleet to the City
of Light in a complex, 10-year public-private partnership.
JCDecaux will provide all of the bikes (at a cost of about $1,300
apiece) and build the pickup/drop-off stations. Each will have 15 to 40
high-tech racks connected to a centralized computer that can monitor
each bike's condition and location. Customers can buy a prepaid card or
use a credit card at a computerized console to release a bike.
The company will pay start-up costs of about $115 million and employ the
equivalent of about 285 people full time to operate the system and
repair the bikes for 10 years. All revenue from the program will go to
the city, and the company will also pay Paris a fee of about $4.3
million a year.
In exchange, Paris is giving the company exclusive control over 1,628
city-owned billboards, including the revenue from them, for the same
period. About half the billboard space will be given back to the city at
no cost for public-interest advertising.
Based on statistics from Lyon, company officials estimate that each
bicycle in Paris will be used on average 12 times a day, for a total of
about 250,000 trips a day, or 91 million trips a year.
In Lyon, according to deputy mayor Touraine, the city's 3,000 rental
bikes have logged about 10 million miles since the program started in
May 2005, saving an estimated 3,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being
spewed into the air. Overall, vehicle traffic in the city is down 4
percent, he said, and bicycle use has tripled, not just on account of
Cyclocity, but also because the program has prompted a boom in private
bicycle use and sales.
The main complaint voiced by riders is that at certain times in certain
places -- such as mornings at local universities -- all the racks can be
occupied, making it impossible to return a bike. "I'm going to start
using my own bike, because sometimes there are not enough spaces in the
rack" at school, said art student Cecile Noiser, 19.
Company and city officials said that because the system sends in
electronic data about which bikes are where, they are exploring ways to
redistribute bikes using trucks to better match customers' needs.
Touraine said the glitches are minor compared with the benefits.
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