‘It’s a nightmare’: Cyclists furious over bike hire chaos in Paris

Paris authorities threatened sanctions Wednesday against the new operator of the city's Velib bike hire system over a chaotic rollout that has left cyclists seething.

'It's a nightmare': Cyclists furious over bike hire chaos in Paris
Photo: AFP
The grey bikes are a familiar sight in the French capital, popular with tourists and commuters alike a decade after the scheme was launched — but now they are virtually absent from the streets.
In October, Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced a splashy overhaul that would see a third of the bikes replaced with electric ones, with the rest also getting a sleek redesign.
But after weeks of disruption, just 64 docking stations are operational out of a total 1,460 that are supposed to be up and running by the end of March.
Hidalgo told France Bleu radio that city hall officials were “banging our fists on the table at this company”, with her transport deputy Christophe Najdovski threatening to hit Smovengo with “penalties”.
“It's clear that we are not at all satisfied with the new contractor's performance,” Najdovski told AFP.
The Velib consortium also said in a statement that it was considering financial sanctions against the new contractor as frustrations grow among its 300,000 subscribers.
Smovengo has blamed the delays on electrical problems and a legal dispute with JCDecaux.
In addition to seeing most docking stations standing empty, cyclists have been complaining that the mobile app to locate bikes has been crashing and that calls to customer service go unanswered.
Photo: AFP
Cyclists' group Paris en Selle (Paris In The Saddle) called the situation “a nightmare”, saying cyclists should be given three months' free use as compensation.
More than a thousand have signed a petition urging compensation, while angry cyclists have been taking to Twitter in droves.
“Nice app which doesn't work,” complained Alexandra Davis, an illustrator and graphic designer. “I've basically been paying for three months for a service I can't use.”
Velib is in danger of losing customers to alternative hire companies that have been popping up in Paris such as the lurid green Gobee bikes, which can be left anywhere, located via GPS.
The public hire scheme is nevertheless sticking by its goal of having all its stations operational by the end of March — while admitting the rollout might stretch into early April.
Prices are going up from 29 euros for an annual non-electric pass to 37.20 euros ($45), with authorities arguing the new bikes are lighter and have upgraded features.
In London, a yearly public cycle hire pass costs £90 (101 euros, $122), while Madrid's all-electric scheme costs 25 euros a year.
Can you Velib' it: New rival bike-sharing scheme hits Paris streets


Long waiting lists in Paris cycle shops as city gets on its bike

Cycling is booming across the globe as people seek to avoid crowded buses and trains on their commute in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic - or get back into shape after long months of lockdown.

Long waiting lists in Paris cycle shops as city gets on its bike
Cyclists on the newly car free Rue de Rivoli. Photo: AFP

But with bicycle sales exploding in many countries, the craze has left manufacturers and retailers out-pedalled by demand.

In Paris, where mayor Anne Hidalgo has been working hard to put cycling on the map, vastly increasing the number of bike lanes in recent years, would-be buyers often have to wait weeks for a brand new ride.

READ ALSO Is Paris close to achieving its dream of becoming a 'world cycling capital'?


Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has been working hard to make the city more bike friendly. Photo: AFP

“For three or four weeks now, I've had a dozen or so clients waiting.

“And I've had to return money to a few because I simply have no idea when I'll have bikes for them,” independent Paris retailer Federico Mosca told AFP.

One customer, 31-year-old Nicolas, said he had visited eight different shops before getting lucky.

Even then, he was forced to bust his budget and buy a more expensive model because the cheaper bike he wanted was sold out.

“I was looking for a specific bike and had given myself a month to buy one, but it's not available anywhere,” he said.

Leading retail chain Decathlon said it also has waiting lists, but can refurbish second-hand bikes for impatient customers.

French bicycle sales doubled in May and June compared to the same months last year, according to the sporting and cycling federation.

Sales are booming in most countries around the world.

Decathlon calculated that in Europe overall, sales “have increased two- and even threefold”.

In China, demand has increased fivefold since lockdowns were eased.

And in the US, sales of bikes have exploded, with online purchases alone skyrocketing in May by 5,000 percent over the figure for the same month last year.