In a previous post, I mentioned the bicycle rental schemes that have already been deployed in some cities and which are being contemplated elsewhere. The theory is certainly an appealing one: making a fleet of bikes available for visitors and residents to rent at reasonable prices, encouraging sustainable transport, exercise, and an appealing urban character.
Unfortunately, the scheme in Paris has run into significant difficulties with theft and damage. Over half of the original fleet of bicycles has been stolen, and 1,500 a day require repairs due to abuse or vandalism. The company running the scheme has told the city that, since the theft and damage costs are so much higher than expected, the original financing agreement based around free advertising space is not adequate.
The outstanding question is how such abuses can be curbed without undermining the value of the whole scheme. For instance, credit card holders could be required to make a deposit equivalent to a bit more than the value of the bikes (about 400 Euros each), which would be refunded when the bicycles are returned. That would, however, exclude anybody who didn’t have access to that kind of credit. It also wouldn’t necessarily deal with the problem of vandalism. Strong public pressure to treat the bikes well might help protect them, but it is a difficult thing to encourage – especially since the kind of people likely to enjoy abusing bicycles are also the kind of people more mild-mannered citizens are unlikely to publicly challenge.