Bicycle rental business in Paris is a tough one

I know I thought it was a great idea. I'm an eternally bike-y optimist. The private company that operates Paris' Velib automated bike rental program, though, has lost about half of the original 15,000 bikes due to vandalism or theft; JCDecaux says it can no longer afford to operate the city-wide network due to the replacement cost, as it pays all the fees to operate the system in return for the chance to advertise on 1,600 billboards citywide.

On the other hand, 42 million rides on the bicycles indicate the program is a success, and the city of Paris is now paying JCDecaux 400 euros for each bike stolen that exceeds 4% of the fleet, per year. And as Streetsblog reports, the number of bikes stolen; 15 out of 80,000 users; is hardly a huge number. Estimates are that the city of Paris collects 20 million euros each year from bike rental fees, and JCDecaux rakes in 80 million euros from advertising revenue.

Streetsblog calls the "reports of demise" a "negotiating ploy" on the behalf of JCDecaux, which wants to avoid paying the penalties in its contract with the city for failure to maintain the bikes -- and as it won't reveal the true cost of replacing bikes, or the revenue it generates, there's no telling whether any of its wailing and hand-wringing is true. But as other cities review the concept of rental bikes, everyone wants to know: does it really pencil out?

For the city of Paris, it does, and it's got to be good for the health and happiness of the citizens. The bicycle rental business may be tough, but it's questionable whether it's the wear and tear on the bicycles, or the dirty pool played by the parties involved, that makes it so hard.

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