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cities > newsfile > rentabike moves up a gear from curiosity to runaway success

Rentabike moves up a gear from curiosity to runaway success

Posted: 20 Aug 2005

by Jon Henley

The French are not short of groundbreaking cheap and efficient public transport. But now the Paris Metro and the high-speed TGV have a more humble, although no less hi-tech, equal - the Lyon rentabike.

V�lo'v rent-a-bike scheme. Photo: lyoncyclable.free.fr/velov.html
Lyon's Town Hall was the scene of the launch of the city's successful V�lo'v rent-a-bike scheme.
© lyoncyclable.free.fr/velov.html
Less than three months after its launch, the city's V�lo'v scheme, reportedly the largest of its kind in the world, is a runaway success. "Very quickly, we've moved from being a curiosity to a genuine new urban transport mode," said Gilles Vesco of the city council.

Some 15,000 Lyonnais are now registered users, and the 24-hour scheme's 1,500 sturdy silver-and-red bikes - which have three gears, a handlebar basket and a lock - are detached from their 100-odd computerised racks on average 6.5 times each a day. And this is just the beginning: by 2007, there should be 4,000 cycles and up to 400 racks in the city - which is one roughly every 300 metres.

Collective bike schemes started in the 1960s with the free "white bikes" of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, schemes which laboured under the hippy-era illusion that most users would be public-spirited enough to return bikes after use. They were not.

'Collective individualism'

The Lyon scheme adopts a system pioneered, on a much smaller scale, in Vienna and incorporates strong incentives not to abscond. Users must register in advance so that their personal details are on record, and they are then issued with a security code and a prepaid card, which they can top up at each rack's computer terminal.

"Our success reflects a cultural shift that you could call collective individualism," Mr Vesco told the daily Lib�ration. "Everyone chooses their own destination, route and timetable, but they use a collective means of transport."

But Mr Vesco is most proud of the fact that, among the scheme's many foreign admirers, the most enthusiastic has been Amsterdam, bicycling capital of the world.

V�lo'v is, apparently, a simple system to use, and is also cheap. With the prepaid card, which costs one euro for a week and five euros for a year, rental costs one euro an hour, with the first half-hour free.

In practice, that means borrowing a bike is as good as free, since 90 per cent of all V�lo'v journeys last less than 30 minutes. It is funded by JC Decaux, the billboard multinational, which agreed to launch and operate the bike scheme in part-exchange for the right to sell advertising space on the city's bus and tram shelters.

The company refuses to say how much it has invested in the V�lo'v scheme, which employs some 30 staff.

Each time a bike is returned to a rack the brakes, tyre pressure, gears and lights are digitally checked and the results sent to the control centre; any malfunction means the bike is not offered for rent.

There have been a few teething problems. Some racks are used far more than others, leading to shortages in the most popular spots, despite a computerised warning system that alerts the control centre. But users can consult every V�lo'v terminal to find out which nearby rack has bikes, and soon bigger racks will be built where needed.

Jon Henly is The Guardian correspondent in Paris.

logo Guardian Unlimited � Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005. This article was first published by The Guardian, (August 12, 2005). All rights reserved. Reproduced with kind permission.

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