Paris, France’s 2007 plan to help cut carbon emissions by implementing a shared bicycle-rental system will continue despite major setbacks, the New York Times reported Oct. 31.
The rental system allows inhabitants or visitors in Paris to take bicycles from public docking stations across the city and pedal to their destination. Bike rentals require a credit card deposit and a fee of one Euro per day or 29 Euros for an annual pass.
But 80 per cent of the original fleet of 20,600 bikes have either disappeared or been damaged since the program’s inception two years ago. The bikes, which cost $3,500 each, have appeared broken in ditches, tossed into the Seine or on their way to black markets in northern Africa.
The idea of communal rental bikes is a great initiative and a unique way to take action as a city against climate change. But without provisions for vandalism, the plan made idealistic assumptions about the city that created it.
With novel projects like this one, it’s difficult to find a reference point from which to calculate possible losses. But the severe damage to Paris’s bikes indicates the plan should consider taking a new direction.
With many of the bikes stolen and found in low-income neighbourhoods, it’s possible social issues are at the heart of the problem. If marginalized populations are vandalizing bikes as a form of rebellion, their resentment should be addressed as an issue of its own.
Rather than investing large sums of money in bikes the population clearly isn’t respecting, the City of Paris should consider improving infrastructure for cyclists. By using money that would be spent on the rental project to add a network of bike trails and turn some streets into cyclist-only zones, the culture of biking in Paris would be safer and more accessible to the general public.
By strengthening infrastructure and making biking a more attractive transit option, the City would move towards achieving carbon-cutting transportation methods without incurring the costs of vandalism.
Parisians could buy an inexpensive bike to use in the city with the money they save by not participating in the rental program.
With a strong public transit system and a large following of cyclists, Paris is well-placed to be a leader in green city transit. Paring back on public bike rental and repair costs would let the City channel those funds into other productive initiatives.