Paris City Hall takes over rollout of disastrous Velib bike-hire system

Paris city hall is taking over the installation of new stations for the Velib bike-hire system, following weeks of disastrous efforts by its new operator that have the city's cyclists seeing red.

Paris City Hall takes over rollout of disastrous Velib bike-hire system

Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced last October a splashy overhaul of the popular programme, giving the contract to the French-Spanish upstart Smovengo.

A total 1,460 stations are supposed to be up and running by the end of March, but the grey bikes remain virtually absent from the city streets, enraging many Parisians who usually rely on the hire bikes for their daily commute.

Only a few hundred stations have been set up so far, and fewer still are actually in operation.

“We are taking the situation in hand, with much closer oversight by the city,” Hidalgo's transport deputy Christophe Najdovski said Thursday.

“We have the teams, the technicians, the engineers who know how to lead this type of operation,” he added, saying they would focus first on hooking up existing stations to the electrical grid — many have been running on batteries, making them prone to failure.

Smovengo has blamed the delays on electrical problems and a legal dispute with JCDecaux, but the city has twice fined it one million euros ($1.2 million) for failing to keep up with the planned station rollouts for January and February.

Velib will also refund its roughly 300,000 subscribers for the month of January as a “gesture of compensation” for the delays.

By late January, only 113 of the bike system's docking stations were working — well short of the 600 that had been promised by the New Year, with 1,400 supposed to be working by the end of March.

The disruption began before Christmas and the delays have enraged cyclists.

READ ALSO: 'It's a nightmare' – Cyclists furious over bike hire chaos in Paris

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

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.”


On your bike! How France plans to convert commuters into cyclists

The French government wants more of its working population to head to work and back by bike. Here’s how they’re gearing up for the plan.

On your bike! How France plans to convert commuters into cyclists
Photos: AFP

The stereotypical image of a Frenchman may be intrinsically tied to a bicycle as much as it is to a beret or a baguette, but the reality is very different. 

Only 3 out of every 100 workers in France commute by bike, with car driving being the primary means of transport for 70 percent of the working population.

On Friday French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will meet with the country’s Eco Transition Minister François de Rugy and Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne to try and curb that trend by unveiling the government’s brand-new bike plan.

The mission is to triple the number of cycling commuters in France in the next six years, up to 9 percent by 2024.

Here are the main points the French ministers will lay out in the western city of Angers on Friday:

Cycling lessons at school

France wants to rear a new generation of cyclists by making sure every child can learn to ride a bike at school if they don’t have the chance to at home.

The target is that all pupils know how to ride a bicycle by Sixième (6e), when school kids are 11. There won’t however be any funds for bike purchasing assistance for families.

More cycle paths

France’s government wants to enlist more budding cyclists by expanding the bike lane network nationwide.

The State will give a total of €350 million to French municipalities that “have bike paths interrupted by other road infrastructure”, such as ring roads, slip roads or any other road meant for bigger vehicles and which could pose a danger to cyclists. 

Less dangerous

Under the new bike plan it will become mandatory for all French municipalities to have clear bike markings on the road surface just before traffic lights, giving cyclists a safe place at which to stop and also acting as a warning for drivers.

Town halls will have ten years to comply to the measure and it will also be extended to municipal roads in towns where the speed is limited to 50 km/h.

Safer parking for bikes

Although unlikely to be enforced by law, France wants the country’s SNCF rail system to build secure parking for bikes at its stations. In fact, the government would like municipalities across l’Héxagone to follow suit, all in a bid to stop a longstanding problem in France: bike theft.

According to a 2017 study by France’s National Observatory of Delinquency and Criminal Responses yearly bike thefts have remained at roughly 400,000 for the past fifteen years.

A study by France’s Interior Ministry put the number at around 308,000 bike thefts in 2016, up from 248,000 in 2008, still clear evidence that bike theft in France is rife.

READ ALSO: Forget the Paris Velib' bikes chaos, there is an easy solution

Bike number plates

Another crime-stopping measure set to be unveiled is the introduction of number plates for bikes, or at the very least a clearly marked registration number that identifies the cyclist as the rightful owner.

According to France Info, the measure is focused primarily on the sale of professional bikes but can also apply to older second-hand bikes as well.

French police will have access to a record of these bike registration numbers when trying to catch thieves.

Bike expenses paid by employers

Cyclists will have the right to a transport expenses allowance paid for by their company, in the same way as commuters’ train, bus and petrol costs can be claimed back from their companies under the current indemnité transports en commun regulations.

The French government wants cycling to get the same treatment as other means of transport and will replace this new measure with the already existing bicycle mileage allowance.

This “sustainable mobility fee” will see commuters using bikes get up to €400 a year from their companies, whilst the government itself will also offer €200 packages to its workers.

SEE ALSO: Ten roads in France you just have to cycle