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The Great Parisian Bike Experiment

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A couple of summers ago, Paris embarked on what seemed like a wonderful idea [2]:

The local authority in Paris has deposited 20,000
heavy-duty bicycles in 750 or so special racks around the city and
anyone who wants one simply swipes his or her ordinary travel card and
pedals off wherever they want to go.

The bike does not have to be returned to the same
pick-up point – you can take a bike from a rack near the Eiffel Tower,
cycle to the Pantheon and leave it in the nearest Velib stand there.

Mathieu Fierling, the deputy director of the scheme, believes it will suit Parisians and tourists alike.

"We've set things up so that the same card can be used
for public transport and for Velib. You can set up a subscription for
just one day or for a whole week and the subscription fee is minimal –
one euro ($1.38; £0.68) to anyone who wants a one-off go or 29 euros
($40; £20) for a year's subscription."

Seems like a great idea. But as an economist would have predicted, people don't take care of other people's property quite as carefully as they take of their own. There was no deposit involved with the bikes, just a inexpensive user fee. The outcome isn't pretty [3] (HT: Jeff Bliss):

Over half the original fleet of 15,000 specially made bicycles have disappeared, presumed stolen.

They have been used 42 million times since their introduction but vandalism and theft are taking their toll.

The company which runs the scheme, JCDecaux, says it can no longer afford to operate the city-wide network.

Championed by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, the bikes were part of an attempt to "green" the capital.

Parisians took to them enthusiastically. But the bikes have suffered more than anticipated, company officials have said.

Hung from lamp posts, dumped in the River Seine, torched and
broken into pieces, maintaining the network is proving expensive. Some
have turned up in eastern Europe and Africa, according to press
reports.

Since the scheme's launch, nearly all the original bicycles have been replaced at a cost of 400 euros ($519, £351) each.

It evidently worked better in Lyon, a smaller town. Maybe norms and a different culture restrained people there from abusing the bikes and the system.

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