Velib in Paris – Wheels are coming off…

The wheels are coming off the track for the Vélib bicycle programme in Paris, a subject I have been following since its inception. According to this BBC write-up (taken in turn from Le Parisien), the Parisians seem to have taken a little too much liberty with the vélo liberté…
Velib Bicycle in Paris
It seems that, after 18 months, the verdict is that the Vélib system in Paris simply does not function. The city of Paris has had to indemnify JCDecaux for the damage and disappearance of so many bicycles. In fact, 19,600 out of 20,000 bicycles have had to be replaced or repaired, with nearly 8,000 of them having disappeared (into Eastern Europe and Africa). The replacement value of each bike is 400 euros, not cheap, eh? And, then there is the Vélib Extrême / Freeride trend which has popped up on YouTube.

What a poor statement. The youtube site dislaims: “none of the vélibs in this film were mistreated…” Appropriately, the accompanying music is Highway to Hell. Why has the criminal underworld descended on Paris? How many Parisians are responsible themselves? How is it that the similar programmes work so much better in other cities? And, importantly, for cities wanting to replicate the Parisian system (London, San Francisco…), how can such base vandalism be avoided?

Barcelona’s City Bicycle Program – Nice Bicing

Barcelona features–like Paris’ oh so grey Vélib or London’s bright yellow OYBike–a city-sponsored rent-a-bicycle-easily program called Bicing. The small-wheeled red bicycles (photo to right) can be remarked easily, being ridden by mostly Barcelona citizens on grey days and sunny days alike. Started in March 2007, the Bicing program is notable for one thing: it is thought to be only for the Barcelona residents! Every local person (e.g. taxi drivers and pedestrians) to whom I spoke said that these bicycles could only be rented out by the locals. This is in contradiction to the brochure which clearly is written in English (as well as Catalan and Castillan, of course) and states that the bike can be rented out for all your touristic visits. Moreover, the majority of the bike stations are located at the highly touristic centres. Even the Bicing website, which is only in Catalan and Castillan, talks about the usage for tourism purposes.

For further reading on Barcelona’s Bicing, please go here: Treehugger or BlastBlog.

The Barcelona program is an overriding success if you listen to the citizens. That said, with only 1500 bikes (100 stations), there must be some challenges in terms of availability, etc. Paris’ Velib now boasts around 20,000 bicycles. London’s program, begun in August 2004, is largely focused on the western region of London (I can’t find how many) bikes there are in the OYBike program). Other cities that feature a similar bicycle program include Copenhagen (2000 bikes), Stockholm CityBike (with the same bikes as Bicing, but in blue), Lyon Velo’V (1500) and in Germany, for those traveling one-way along the Ruhr Valley, in the revier rad network, there is the Hase low-rider bicycle.

Certainly, with all these programs cropping up in Europe, you would hope the same eco-friendly initiatives might take root in certain cities in the States. In Asia, in certain cities, it might be like bringing coals to Newcastle… although with the increase in motorcycles (Hanoi, etc.) and cars, keeping the bicycle tradition wouldn’t hurt. Anyone know of any cities in the US considering or doing a similar program?

Strikes in Paris Part II

Strikes in FranceAfter living through this week’s strikes in Paris, I thought I’d share a few observations for those of you who haven’t the pleasure of experiencing it in direct.

1/ Mayor Delanoë’s Velib program is going to benefit massively from the strike. You would have thought that the velib (public bicycle service if you have not heard of it) was designed as a counter measure for public transportation strikes (accompanying the personnel-less #14 metro line). His appeal for people to stop driving into Paris (car pool or other alternative) to limit the surge in pollution (and promote Velib?) was an interesting twist — a tacit way to support the strike?

2/ Special taxi lanes are good, but not enough. There are still a majority of streets that don’t have special taxi/bus lanes which means that most taxis still get stuck up in the traffic, bringing the supply of taxis to a wicked halt. There were stories of hour(s) long waits at the main train stations. I haven’t heard of any specifics, but I can imagine that the usually horrendously long wait for taxi drivers at the Roissy (and Orly) airport was brought down to near zero (a rarity — one usually sees upwards of 2.5 hours of queuing for the taxi drivers). Don’t expect me to lay out any sympathy for the taxi drivers though.

3/ For friends visiting Paris this week (one for the very first time), they were fortunate it wasn’t rainy (as were those of living here, of course). For some, it was the first time they got to see red flags flying. A friend visiting from the UK missed his eurostar train back because it took more than 1 3/4 hours to go from the 17th arrondissement to Gare du Nord (no more than 5.5 kms). But as Bill writes, the Velib is not the answer to it all (the rigidity of the park system remains a problem):
“I should have rented the bike as soon as I left you. Would have made it with time to spare. The bikes are terrific as are the bike lanes. As it was I almost made it, but couldn’t find the bike rack for returns!”

4/ The anti-strike manifestation is due to begin this afternoon (3pm) at the République, the symbolic site that is more-or-less associated with the Left (politically speaking), but was also one of the principal sites of the 1944 Résistance uprising. Rather than brave the cold and traffic to get there (still don’t have fully operational public transportation), I’d rather observe the manifestation from the pleasures of our living room.

5/ If the strikes don’t end soon, I may yet consider getting my own bicycle! And I certainly understand how, over the years, people have been ‘driven’ to using a motorcycle or scooter… When you combine the construction-related traffic on the southern side of the périphérique (circular road around Paris) along with the effects of the strike, the 1-hour delay announced just to drive the bottom arc of the periph is quite disconcerting. In any event, I would be a buyer of motorcycle stocks these days, in Paris (if the capital markets had such an offering!).

Strikes in Paris, Blogger & Yankees

strikes in parisWith a transport strike in Paris now underway, a breakdown with Blogger today (although it wasn’t exactly a strike, it almost felt like it) and the general strikeout by the Yankees (and maybe soon the Red Sox in the ALCS), it seems that strikes are in the air. And it doesn’t stop there. A quick google of union strikes and you will find the UK’s Royal Mail undergoing its largest dispute in the last 11 years (narrowly averted strike tomorrow). On the other hand, the German train drivers have called a strike for tomorrow as well. Even the BBC is under threat. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t speak about how my Philadelphia Flyers are striking it hot (4W 1L in first five games).

The threat of the Parisian strike over-running into Friday and Saturday means that the Rugby World Cup Final and runner up match could be impacted. Fans flying in from RSA are in for a rough landing… In a show of good sportsmanship, I encourage all Parisians to drop off Velib bicycles at Roissy CDG Airport to help transport the South African and English fans into and around Paris. Finally, the plan to have Vélib…was it not a hidden way (by Mayor Delanoë) to try to get around the chaos of the strikes.

Tomorrow promises to be a messy day in Paris (notwithstanding the timing of the divorce announcement by Cecilia Sarkozy; what kind of strike prompted this decision one might ask?). Hopefully, a resolution and the sun (forecast) will come out in time for good fun rugby to take place. And, of course, victory for the Rose of England.

Nos Amis Les Bobos – Piece à Paris

Cette pièce comique, écrite et mise-en-scène par Mr Alain Chapuis, est un vrai délice. Rempli avec un humour qui permet de se moquer de soi-même, “Nos Amis Les Bobos” est une petite pièce qui remet les snobs Bobos dans leur place. Ma femme et moi avons bien rigolé. Les acteurs ont même été pris, pendant quelques instants, par le fauxfou-rire d’une femme dans l’audience.

Il s’agit de quatre couples qui, avec des relations complexes — voire tordues — qui aiment Arte et les expositions de Fernando Botero, qui sont « Politically Correct » (i.e. ouvert à l’homosexualité), qui s’opposent à la mondialisation, le racisme et la pauvreté. Ils sont même fans du Vélib. Mais, ils vivent pas mal. Ils se décident, un peu par hasard, d’aller en Afrique pour accomplir un voyage humanitaire – sous la bannière du tourisme équitable. Parfois grotesque dans son propos (et ça crie beaucoup), cette comédie fait surtout beaucoup rire. Petite salle qui, au complet, permet seulement 80 places – donc intime.

Théâtre Mélo d’Amélie: 4, rue Marie Stuart – 75002 Paris
Métro Etienne Marcel

Pour d’autres avis, voir:
Oldi Blog
Le Blog de Gladys

Velib – new service to rent bicycles in Paris.

English Version (version française ci-dessous):

En velo tout lemonde!! I have just found out, via This French Life blog, about the “Velib” service that goes into effect in Paris this Sunday – a day after the 14th July celebrations and synchronized with the beginning of the Tour de France. There will be 75 stations dotted around Paris where you can pick up 24/7 via self-service a bike (pictured right) and drop off at various hubs. Substantially larger (with 20,000 bicycles) than a similar service already started in Lyon, this is a wonderful way for Paris to go green and attempt to catch up on cities like Amsterdam, and even London which I mentioned in an earlier blog has more and more bicycles. You can get a 1-day, 7-day or even a yearly subscription. Just mind the cars and motorcycles. And let’s push for more bicycle lanes!*

*Some Commentary courtesy of IHT: “Vélib’ is the brain child of Paris’s mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, a Socialist and longtime green campaigner who has pledged to double the number of cycle lanes in the French capital by 2008 and reduce car traffic by 40 percent by 2020. Since he took office in 2001, Delanoë has built almost 200 kilometers, or 125 miles, of additional cycle paths, ripping up car lanes and earning him accusations from drivers of aggravating congestion in the city.”

Version française:
“Let’s go city-biking!” J’ai juste découvert, par l’intermédiaire de ce blog (This French Life), que le « “Vélib” service » qui entre dans l’effet à Paris ce dimanche – un jour après les célébrations du 14 juillet et pile poile au début de la Tour de France. Il y aura 75 stations pointillées autour de Paris où vous pouvez prendre 24/7 par l’intermédiaire de ce service un vélo et le déposer à de divers hubs. Sensiblement plus grande (avec 20.000 bicyclettes) qu’un service semblable déjà commencé à Lyon, ceci est une manière merveilleuse pour que Paris aille vert et essaye de s’approcher vers des villes comme Amsterdam, et Londres (dont j’ai mentionné dans un blog antérieurement a de plus en plus des bicyclettes). Vous pouvez obtenir un ticket d’une journée, de sept jours ou même un abonnement annuel. Juste à se méfier des voitures et les motos. Et poussons pour plus de voies pour bicyclettes ! *

Grâce au commentaire de l’Herald Tribune IHT: « Vélib est l’enfant de cerveau du Maire de Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, d’un militant vert socialiste et à long terme qui a mis en gage pour doubler le nombre de ruelles de cycle dans la capitale française d’ici 2008 et pour réduire le trafic de voiture par 40% d’ici 2020. Depuis qu’il a pris le bureau en 2001, Delanoë a construit presque 200 kilomètres, ou 125 milles, de chemins additionnels de cycle, diminuant les ruelles de voiture et lui gagnant des accusations de la part des conducteurs d’aggraver la congestion dans la ville. »