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Vélib’s 10-Year Anniversary: Reflections and Bike-Sharing Trends

Vélib’, Paris’ iconic bike-sharing scheme, turned 10 this year since its launch in 2007.

(Little detail: as Vélib’ stands for “vélo” (bike) and “liberté” (freedom), it is imperative than the name contains the apostrophe(‘). This little stroke of French genius and ultimate chic can also be found in Vélo’v in Lyon, Vélo’+ in Orléans, Vélomagg’ in Montpellier, Vélopop’ in Avignon, so on and so forth… Did I mention cliché?)

Global Bike-Sharing Boom

As an idea that can be traced back to the 1960’s (see Citylab’s beautiful feature here), bike-sharing has since matured with anti-theft technology and the outdoor advertising model. If you look at MetroBike LLC’s Bike-sharing World Map below, you will see that bike-sharing has become pretty much a global phenomenon (with the exception of most parts of Africa, admittedly).

Or… an Up-and-Coming Bicycle Bubble?

And yet, just earlier this month, The Seattle Times reported that the city’s bike-sharing scheme will be shutting down after 3 years of operation. This is in spite of the bike-sharing boom that the U.S. has experienced, with the number of such programmes ballooning from 4 to 55 in the span of 6 years.

Even in France, Aix-en-Provence (which, together with Marseille, forms the 3rd biggest metropolis after Paris and Lyon) was the first city in the country to put an end to its bike-sharing scheme in 2011, citing a disappointingly low number of users. Since that year, the number of bikes per 10,000 inhabitants in France has stagnated, losing its initial dynamic.

In the World Map above, you can also find a glaring number of red warning signs that indicate abandoned bike-sharing projects. And in an article published by Le Monde in 2015, 10 years after Lyon has launched its bike-sharing scheme in cooperation with JC Decaux, problems with the “classic” bike-sharing model in terms of high running costs (due to vandalism and theft) have been identified.

What, then, can be changed to make bike-sharing more efficient?

Trend 1: Shift towards Long-Term Loan

Strasbourg and Grenoble are amongst cities that have modified the traditional Vélib’-like bike-sharing model, with a system of long-term loan ranging from 1 day to several months. This seems to be working well, reducing costs to a mere fraction with users themselves are responsible for maintenance of the bicycles.

Trend 2: Going Electric

The city of Paris demanded that 30% of its bicycle fleet should be electric in its upcoming 15-year-long contract. In Europe, Madrid was the first to go electric in 2014, allowing users to navigate its hilly streets without sweat. (Personally, I am curious about Lisbon which is an even hillier town. Unfortunately the details of its bike-sharing scheme has not been announced.)

Trend 3: Station-less Bicycles

I saved the best for the last: this is probably what everyone’s been talking about lately (at least in the bike-sharing world). The idea is that your bikes will be GPS-tracked and so there will be no dedicated docking stations needed, hence less cost for the infrastructure. A Chinese-born innovation, it has recently expanded into Singapore and resulted in the Singapore government’s scrapping its own plans for a national bike-sharing scheme.

This is a relatively short post that attempts to sum up the recent trends I have seen. Have you used Mobike/Ofo, the cool GPS-tracked brightly-coloured bikes? Is their “Uber for bikes” business model even profitable? Would bicycles be the solution to last-mile transportation?…What do you think?

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Good at daydreaming and procrastinating.

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