Free bikes freed  FEB 12 2009

The wonderful free bikes program started 18 months ago in Paris has run into some trouble.

Over half the original fleet of 15,000 specially made bicycles have disappeared, presumed stolen. They have been used 42 million times since their introduction but vandalism and theft are taking their toll. The company which runs the scheme, JCDecaux, says it can no longer afford to operate the city-wide network.

Reports have some of the stolen bikes showing up as far away as Eastern Europe and North Africa.

Update: But even with the thefts, the program is still making money for Paris & JCDecaux and enjoys a 94% satisfaction rate among Parisians.

Last July, the city of Paris agreed to pay JCDecaux 400 euros for every bike stolen in excess of four percent of the total fleet each year. Given the enormous popularity of Velib -- users have taken 42 million rides since its debut -- the cost of those payments is minimal. Using the BBC's figure of 7,800 missing bikes, the pricetag for the city comes to less than 2 million euros annually, out of 20 million euros in user fees.

(thx, adam)

Update: Late correction...the Paris program is, of course, not free. (thx, afsheen)

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