The bicycle rental system in Paris seems to have taken quite a knock at the hands of vandals, but authorities vow to persist undeterred.
The Velib, inspired by concerns over climate change, is hailed worldwide. Paris residents can rent a sturdy bicycle from hundreds of public stations and pedal to their destinations, an inexpensive, healthy and low-carbon alternative to motorized transport.
Daily use averages 50,000 to 150,000 trips, depending on the season, and the bicycles have proved to be a hit with tourists, who help power the economy.
But the programme could also be held to ransom by anti-social elements. Many of the specially designed bikes, which cost $3,500 each, are showing up on black markets in Eastern Europe and northern Africa. Many others are being spirited away for urban joy rides, then ditched by roadsides, their wheels bent and tires stripped, report Steven Erlanger and Maia De La Baume for New York Times.
In 2008, the number of infractions related to Vélib' vandalism rose 54 percent, according to the Paris police.
It is commonplace now to see the bikes at docking stations in Paris with flat tires, punctured wheels or missing baskets. Some Vélib's have been found hanging from lampposts, dumped in the Seine, used on the streets of Bucharest or resting in shipping containers on their way to North Africa. Some are simply appropriated and repainted.
At least 8,000 bikes have been stolen and 8,000 damaged so badly that they had to be replaced — nearly 80 percent of the initial stock, revealed Albert Asséraf, director of strategy, research and marketing at JCDecaux, the outdoor-advertising company that is a major financer and organizer of the project.
They have to repair some 1,500 bicycles a day. The company maintains 10 repair shops and a workshop on a boat that moves up and down the Seine. The vandalism is being attributed essentially to angry or anarchic youth.
JCDecaux reinforced the bicycles' chains and baskets and added better theft protection, strengthening the mechanisms that attach them to the electronic parking docks, since an incompletely secured bike is much easier to steal. But the damage and theft continued.
"We made the bike stronger, ran ad campaigns against vandalism and tried to better inform people on the Web," Mr. Asséraf said. But "the real solution is just individual respect."
The project is yet to break even. Vandalism is not making it any easier. Still they are pressing on.
After all, with more than 63 million rentals since the program was begun in mid-2007, the Vélib' is already an established part of Parisian life. The program has now been extended to provide 4,000 Vélib's in 29 towns on the city's edges.