Vélib' Bleus: How Do You Fix Public Bike Programs?

Posted by Patrick James

Paris's Vélib' bike rental system-wherein the city made thousands of bicycles freely available as alternatives to taxis, cars, or other less environmentally-friendly modes of transportation-has earned praise from cycle-happy people and media outlets around the world (including us). However, the program has been plagued by vandalism, theft, and the high costs of repairs/replacements.Of the 15,000 original bikes, more than half have disappeared (and are suspected stolen). And quite a few have been intentionally damaged; a number of the more cavalier bike borrowers have taken to filming their exploits on the bikes and uploading them to YouTube, calling their flippant (if funny) fad "Vélib' Extreme." Here's a look at one of those:

Granted, a few bunny hops aren't worth getting bent out of shape over. However, to date, the city has had to replace nearly all of the original bikes-each of which costs about $500. More than 10,000 bikes have been "vandalized," and the city is performing some 1,500 repairs a day. That could scare other cities out of adopting the practice.So we've go to ask: Is the program a failure? It doesn't seem sustainable to replace a fleet every year and a half, but Vélib' seemed like such a winner. What could be done to reduce the theft and vandalism?