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Thefts puncture Paris bike scheme

People queue up to return bikes in Paris on 15 November 2007
Over half the self service rental bicycles in Paris have been stolen

A popular bicycle rental scheme in Paris that has transformed travel in the city has run into problems just 18 months after its successful launch.

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.

Vélib extreme

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.

The Velib bikes - the name is a contraction of velo (cycle) and liberte (freedom) - have also fallen victim to a craze known as "velib extreme".

PARIS CYCLE SCHEME IN NUMBERS
20,000 bicycles
1,250 stations
Cost 400 euros each to replace
7,800 "disappeared"
11,600 vandalised
1,500 daily repairs
Staff recover 20 abandoned bikes a day
Each bike travels 10,000 km a year
42 million users since launch
Source: Velib

Various videos have appeared on YouTube showing riders taking the bikes down the steps in Montmartre, into metro stations and being tested on BMX courses.

Remi Pheulpin, JCDecaux's director general, says the current contract is unsustainable. "It's simple. All the receipts go to the city. All the expenses are ours," he said.

The costs, he said, were "so high that a private business cannot handle it alone, especially as it's a problem of public order. If we want the velib set-up to keep going, we'll have to change the business model," he told Le Parisien newspaper.

Customised

The original contract gave the advertising company a 10-year licence to exploit 1,600 city-wide billboards in return for running the scheme, plus a share in the revenue, estimated at 20m euros for the first year of operation.

City hall has recently agreed to pay towards the costs of replacing the stolen or trashed bicycles but is refusing to bail out the company.

Not all the bicycles receive rough treatment however. One velib repairman reported finding one of the bikes customised with fur covered tyres.

The scheme was modelled on one in Lyon, which appears to have been less troublesome, and has been extended to other cities in France.

It is also being copied overseas with London, San Francisco and Singapore all intending to set up similar schemes.



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