Even with successful technology available, bike shares spread slowly for the next decade. Modest public systems popped up across the globe, but it wasn’t until 2005 that Lyon took it to the next level. The French city installed 1,500 bikes and the impact was immediate and dramatic. In less than a year, the system had 15,000 members and each bike was averaging 6.5 rides per day. That was enough to get the attention of officials in Paris, which quickly set the bar.
In 2007, Vélib’ took Paris streets by storm, launching with 7,000 bikes at 750 kiosks and growing to more than 20,000 bikes at 1,450 in just a single year. How could a city government front the more than $140 million initial price tag for such a system? It didn’t. And it doesn’t shoulder the significant operations costs, either. Paris followed the model of Lyon: The entire system is paid for and operated by a private marketing firm that receives free advertising space and shares with the city half of any revenues from membership and usage fees.
Buying into Sharing –The Canadian Example
Washington, DC, put bike sharing on the map in North America, but it was Montreal that shifted the landscape.
Alison Cohen, executive director of Alta Bicycle Share, a company that manages and operates bike share systems for a variety of clients (including Capital Bikeshare), was inspired – and informed – by Vélib’. “I went over to Paris and, although I loved the system – it was truly amazing – 50 percent of bikes I rode had something wrong with them,” she said. In her opinion, instead of contracting to advertising firms most concerned about marketing, “we need systems that are run by companies that really care about and are focused on the bicycles.”
From her mouth to Montreal’s ears: In 2008, the city’s parking authority made a $15-million investment to, well, reinvent the wheel. They established the Public Bike System Company (PBS), which developed a custom bicycle – created by award-winning designer Michel Dallaire. “We worked very hard to develop a bike designed specially for bike sharing systems,” said PBS’s communications director, Michel Philibert. “This bike is very functional, very secure – and very cool ... Today, we have more than 14,000 of these bikes around the world.” The city later severed its ties with PBS and the formerly government-run organization went private.
In April 2009, a nonprofit BIXI program in Montreal, launched by PBS, put 2,400 of those award-winning bikes and 300 sleek, solar-powered kiosks on the streets. Members signed up so quickly – 6,300 annual subscribers, 47,000 users and 225,000 BIXI trips in less than two months – the system expanded to 5,000 bikes almost immediately. Philibert wasn’t surprised. After all, bike-sharing is not just practical and ecological. “Bike sharing is very cheap; cheaper than a bus ticket,” he said. “And in Montreal, you are always within five minutes walking of a bike share station, so it’s very convenient.”
America Takes a Piece of the Pie