Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tragedy of the Commons: French Bicycle-Sharing Program Goes Flat; 80% of Bikes Stolen or Damaged

NY TIMES -- The latest French utopia (Vélib’, Paris’s bicycle rental system) 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, as not everyone shares the spirit of joint public property promoted by Paris’s Socialist mayor, Bertrand Delanoë.

At least 8,000 bikes have been stolen and 8,000 damaged so badly that they had to be replaced — nearly 80 percent of the initial stock. JCDecaux must repair some 1,500 bicycles a day. The company maintains 10 repair shops and a workshop on a boat that moves up and down the Seine.

It is commonplace now to see the bikes at docking stations in Paris with flat tires, punctured wheels or missing baskets. Some Vélib’s have been found hanging from lampposts, dumped in the Seine, used on the streets of Bucharest or resting in shipping containers on their way to North Africa. Some are simply appropriated and repainted.


At 10/31/2009 12:05 PM, Blogger john a. bailo said...

I paid $220 for my Trek 7000 -- which is an all around commuting "hybrid" bike. The biggest addition were some Michelin tires.

So, you're telling me, Paris folk could have bought 6 of my bikes for every one of those Trabant-style USSResque bikes?

At 10/31/2009 1:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This story is a great example of the human nature of some people that the left never believes exists.

The French created a program for people to share bikes. At face value it seems like a good idea. The roads in European cities are narrow and car ownership is expensive.

But they completely over look that there is a class of people that get by on fraud and theft (and government good will(theft)).

Many of the ideas of the left have merit. The problem is that they don't put procedures in place to protect the general population from the leech class.

And to make matters worse, instead of buying bikes from China at $50 a unit, they spent $3,500 a unit which is only going to motivate the leech class to steal the bikes.

At 10/31/2009 1:57 PM, Blogger pakurilecz said...

a fine example of what happens when you don't have any skin in the game. What bureaucrat would be concerned about the bikes? they don't belong to him, he makes the same salary if the bikes are there or not. Now imagine if this service were provided by a private sector firm? That firm's employees would be looking for ways to track the bikes'locations, and making sure they weren't stolen. Wonder what the loss rate is for companies like Hertz, Avis, et al is? I'm sure some of their cars get stolen, but nothing like 80% of their inventory.
wonder if there was any sort of deposit associated with the bikes
perfect example once again of why government shouldn't be trying to run a business

At 10/31/2009 3:21 PM, Blogger juandos said...

I love this story!

Wow! If there was ever (among the tens of thousands already out there) a lesson why parasitic socialist liberals should NEVER be allowed to make a financial decision...

'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'...


I'm betting that the socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe didn't lose a
a penny of his own money on this expensive silliness...

At 10/31/2009 3:57 PM, Anonymous Benny "Tell It LIke It Is Man" Cole said...

This was a bad idea--just like the way we subsidize rural telephone service to the tune of $8 billion annually in the United States.
People should pay their freight.
I wish we could rid ourselves of all subsidies, and the parasitic military.
I think we could obtain 10 percent annual increases in our living standards for several years in a row, although rural areas would depopulate a bit.

At 10/31/2009 4:32 PM, Blogger Roger said...

This is a rental program (although run via the government). Apparently French "privacy" laws prohibit the company that maintains the bikes from looking at who rented them--so there is no recourse against those who damage or steal them.

At 10/31/2009 5:34 PM, Anonymous Benny "Tell It LIke It Is Man" Cole said...

If it was a good idea, then private companies could rent bikes out. Why make it a government program?

At 10/31/2009 6:51 PM, Anonymous gettingrational said...

The city of Paris is expanding the bike program into 29 suburbs at an initial cost of 8 million euros.

A subsidy of up to 400 euros is also available from the city of Paris for individual bike purchases. I wonder what the tax rate is for car rentals, restaurants and hotels?

At 10/31/2009 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Benny "Tell It LIke It Is Man" Cole,

I don't buy for a minute that the government spends $8 billion for rural telephone service. Government may tax people $8 billion for rural telephone service, but the money is going somewhere else much like gas taxes don't go to road repair.

At 10/31/2009 8:10 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

This is another example how government spends more than $1 of inputs for less than $1 of output, through inefficiencies and capital destruction, utilizing limited resources. Moreover, it's promoting crime.

When the private sector spends $1 of inputs for more than $1 of output, some view the profit, or capital creation, as evil.

With few autos and bikes, what are they going to do now? Take the bus? The government may tell them to take a hike. At least that'll be "green," like the Middle Ages.

At 10/31/2009 8:30 PM, Blogger funinthelibrary said...

Sounds like an Hour Car program for bikes is in the future. Markets work.

At 10/31/2009 8:39 PM, Blogger Richard Rider, Chair, San Diego Tax Fighters said...

This story is getting pretty wide media play. Fortunately the NY TIMES didn't connect the dots -- else they probably would have forgone publishing the story.

I would bet that much of the $3,500 per bike is the per bike cost of the elaborate racks and the credit card machines that have to be attached to take and transmit payment. How else could any idiot -- even a French Socialist idiot -- spend $3,500 on a rental bike?

At 10/31/2009 10:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Checking what I could, JCDecaux planned for the bikes to cost $1,300. A number of different sources put the final price at $3,500 for the bike. But it does seem the price is just for the bike and not any other related equipment.

At 10/31/2009 10:43 PM, Blogger Angela said...

SOmebody needs to update Wikipedia:

I remember seeing a 20/20 type show do a segment on these type programs a few years back. I believe it was called "The Yellow Bike Program." They were filming in NYC, and it was pretty clear that it wasn't going to work.

At 11/01/2009 1:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The today show does a once a year segment for a week, "Where the hell is Matt Lauer". This past year he was in Holland and was asking some of the local about using bikes. They were saying that using bikes for transportation was common but everyone owned a POS since they got stolen all the time. When I lived in NYC, you'd see these rusted out frames of bikes on the street with 2 or 3 locks on them. There were cars on the street with signs in the window saying the car was unlocked and there was no radio and phone in the car. I guess if a society or community rejects the concept of private property, there is nothing morally wrong with theft.

At 11/01/2009 3:32 AM, Blogger QT said...

At least that'll be "green," like the Middle Ages.


At 11/01/2009 4:20 AM, Anonymous richard said...

$3.500 a piece, 20.600 of them.

That's $72m.

Fixing 1500 bikes a day: Say the fix will take one hr ($25) and some spare parts ($25) and some overhead ($15). That's about 100K/day, or 36m/year.

If the bikes are beyond repair after 2 years, that would mean $72m in costs per year. I don't know how much advertising revenue JCDecaux and Mr Delanoë think they would raise from this, but I doubt if it would be this kind of money.

At 11/01/2009 10:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not PC, but I'd like to see a breakdown on the thieves. Like the people who burned cars in France, I'd bet their new new immigrant class (mostly Middle Eastern) is highly represented. Of course, the French will never release that data, assuming they have it.

At 11/01/2009 11:11 AM, Blogger Eric Britton said...

Mark. Be a bit careful about what you read in the paper. I realise that you preusme that our freinds over at thier HYT do their homework, and indeed normally they do. But not this time, sadly. Check it out the reality of the situation at We do our research. Eric Britton

PS. And BTW, I am a bit horrified at the virulence, and the self-contented ignorance, of about half of your comments here.

At 11/01/2009 12:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eric Britton,

While likes to mock us silly Americans and our newspapers, a search of the site didn't turn up the cost of the bike.

I found a reference that JCDecaux planned for the bikes to cost $1,300 but not what they actually end up costing.

Would you be so kind as to tell us what one of these bikes cost?

At 11/01/2009 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From source reference:

Not that bicycle abuse is a phantom problem. It exacts a real toll, but much of that cost has been anticipated and accounted for. Last July, the city of Paris agreed to pay JCDecaux 400 euros for every bike stolen in excess of four percent of the total fleet each year. Given the enormous popularity of Vélib -- users have taken 42 million rides since its debut -- the cost of those payments is minimal. Using the BBC's figure of 7,800 missing bikes, the pricetag for the city comes to less than 2 million euros annually, out of 20 million euros in user fees.

"It averages out to about 15 stolen per day, out of 80,000 daily users," says Eric Britton, founder of the Paris-based New Mobility Agenda. Hardly a fatal blow. "It's like skinning a knee."

If you do some simple math, that 2 million euros the city pays is really 3 million euros. And you also find out that the French use a 520 day calendar.

But after going though all of reference material, one still does not learn the cost of the bike.

At 11/02/2009 11:06 AM, Blogger Braxton Hicks said...

Ahh, yes Utopia, like Communism, looks good on paper, but does not take human nature into account. Free Market Capitalism, Baby!

At 11/02/2009 12:07 PM, Blogger stevedp86 said...

The system works well in Copenhagen...

If I remember correctly, you put in 20DKK ($4) and when you return it, you get your 20DKK back.

I also may be that Scandinavian people seem to just be more considerate!

At 11/05/2009 4:21 AM, Anonymous Ian Random said...

I wonder if any of the bikes made it to Igor Kenk's collection of 3,000 stolen bikes.

At 10/10/2010 8:42 PM, Blogger HFT said...

Just went to Paris .... every common bike stand had at least 50% broken / vandalized bikes -- embarrasing and ridiculous


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