As we celebrate the Olympics and competitive sports in all of its formats, let’s not forget that sports include more than the aspect of games. “To do sport” is faire du sport in French or “Fitness machen” in German encompass any kind of physical activity. In many countries, that has extended to how sports become ingrained their national consciousness. In this article, we take a look at bike sharing and how Vélib’ took over France.
It started in Paris - where Vélib’ launched in 2005 with 8,000 bikes across Paris. In its first year alone, the company made more than 16 million USD. Today, the company makes around 21 million USD on an annual basis with the funds going back to Paris. With 102 million USD in startup costs, how did Vélib’ cope?
As with most things sports, things go hand-in-hand with advertising. JCDecaux, a multinational firm, won an advertising contract to maintain Vélib’s cycles and set up the infrastructure necessary in a sort of “barter” system exchange for 50 percent of Parisian billboard space for ten years. With this deal, Vélib’ and in turn, JCDecaux, have become average symbols to associate with Paris and France. Although Vélib’ was not the first bike share (that award goes to Velo’v bike rental service in Lyon), it has become world renown and copied throughout the world’s other capital cities. Washington D.C. for example launched SmartBike DC in 2008 with 10 stations and 120 bikes. It is the first bike-sharing program in the USA.
Across the world, other cities have done the same with great results. Cities with large tourist influxes like Montreal, Barcelona and Hangzhou, China all use similar bike sharing systems with modular docking systems so that tourists can operate the bike system without interacting with other humans. Can you guess which city has the largest amount of bicycles? That would be Hangzhou, China with more than 78,000 bicycles.
Today more than a few American cities like Denver and San Francisco also utilize bike sharing programs. With a world focused on healthy living, particularly on beating the epidemic of obesity, bike sharing is the perfect way to ease pressure on public transit systems while providing a healthy alternative for both locals and tourists to get around. Another bonus? Less pollution.
Vélib’ reports that on an annual basis, they support 27.5 million trips. And due to the success, Paris has launched Autolib’ - a car sharing program similarly modeled to Vélib’. Is it thanks to Vélib’ that there are more than 900 bike sharing systems worldwide? Probably not. But the impact that Vélib’ had in making bike sharing “cool again,” shouldn’t be understated.
If you’re interested in reading more about bike sharing, check out Atlantic’s Citylab feature on the Bike Sharing Boom.
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