Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Way out for city traffic congestions, air pollution and global warming?

Utopian "bike-sharing" ideas had been tried in Europe in the 1960s, most famously in Amsterdam. However, the bikes were stolen and became too beaten-up to ride.Cyclocity, a subsidiary of the outdoor advertising behemoth JCDecaux first successfully operates Lyon's program of bicycle rental in which city dwellers and visitors can rent bikes from one station and return them at other station. JCDecaux developed a sturdier, less vandal-prone bike, along with a rental system to discourage theft: each rider must leave a credit card or refundable deposit of about €150 ($250). In Lyon, about 10 per cent of the bikes are stolen each year, but many are later recovered. However, the program can be considered successful.

This success has lead to Cyclocity been awarded a 10 year public-private partnership deal to operate a similar service in Paris in return for the right to use the city's exclusive right to use over 1628 city-owned billboards. In the deal, by July 15, Parisians will have available thousands of low-cost rental bikes at hundreds of high-tech bicycle stations scattered throughout the city. The rental will be free for the first half hour, €1 for the next, €2 for the third, and so on.

By the end of the year, there should be 20,600 bikes at 1450 stations - or about one station every 250 metres across the entire city. Based on experience elsewhere - particularly in Lyon, France's third-largest city - regular users of the bikes will ride them almost free. JCDecaux is expected to recoup its cost of running the system from its exclusive use of Paris billboards. Sounds like a great arrangement.

Anthonin Darbon, director of Cyclocity said 95 per cent of the roughly 20,000 daily bicycle rentals in Lyon are free because of their length. One can expect the ratio to be the same in Paris.

The program is expected to cut traffic congestion, air pollution, make parking of vehicles easire and enhanced Paris's image as a greener, quiter and more relaxed place. Let us hope that the program will be a success and that other cities will be encouraged to introduce similar service. Already, is is reported that London, Dublin, Sydney and Melbourne are considering similar rental programs.

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