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Sunday, July 13, 2008

The short-term bike rental scene

Here's a report from Paris.

Comments (20)

Fewer bike rage incidents, I suspect -- those rental bikes are too heavy to whack somebody with.

I was in Paris in May, and they really are everywhere. A whole rack of them in the Rue Cler, and people pedalling them all over town.

Still, I wonder how long a $239 charge for a non-returned bike can stand up to a $3460 cost per bike. I can see why they could end up in Morocco. I can also see a quick use for your stolen credit card, if it has a chip.

BTW, Paris also seems to have self-cleaning, (now-free) public toilets that seem to still be there and working just fine after several years. Probably won't be able to sell any of Portland's revolutionary potties over there.

Here's Mayor Tram's other takeaway:

In 2001, Yves Contassot, then deputy mayor for the environment, said of motorists: “It is only by making them live in hell that we’ll get drivers to renounce their cars.”

The Velib bikes cost $3,460 to build, but they charge $240 to your credit card if you steal it (assuming a "thief" was dumb enough to use his/her own credit card).

That's socialism in two paragraphs.

Remember the yellow bikes?

"Portland - the City where no idea is too ridiculous"

You naysayers might want to read the actual article. The system is working pretty well in Paris (and Lyon, Bordeaux and a few other towns in France).

I was thinking that the bikes, being heavy and clunky, were reasonably theft-proof (despite the high losses so far), but evidently not. Here, I suppose they'd be melted down and sold for scrap by meth addicts.

The system will survive the 15% annual theft rate (for bikes) because they allowed the vendor to install 1,628 new billboards in Paris, which produces $94 million/year in advertising profits.

Is Portland ready for hundreds of new billboards? Does anybody think those ads will be as lucrative as they are in Paris, France? Does anybody know what other advertising based businesses are experiencing right (Comcast and the newspapers are sure crying the blues).

Remember "free" (advertising supported) wi-fi?

It occurs to me that if a person has $239 to risk (on each ride), that person could afford to buy his or her own bike.

It occurs to me that if a person has $239 to risk (on each ride), that person could afford to buy his or her own bike.

It occurs to me that you've missed the point entirely.

I think what we really need to ask is why this system needs to be run by the city. After all, if bike rental were such a profitable system that Portland needs the rental kiosks, then you'd also think that some enterprising private bike shop or shops would be all over a similar system. I'm willing to bet that the reason why they won't has less to do with the potential theft issue and more to do with liability: do you want to be the owner who gets hit with a lawsuit when a frame breaks or a tire blows out at precisely the wrong time?

Another issue that I haven't heard concerns repairs. Considering that most of the bike rentals are supposed to be going to tourists and day trippers, what do they do if they get a blown tire or a bent rim? Are the renters responsible for the cost of repair if the bike's stolen from outside a restaurant and later recovered after it's been ridden down a staircase, or if it gets its tires slashed by a friendly downtown sociopath? Who's going to be doing the repairs, and will they be liable if the repairs aren't done right? We've got a lot of issues involving the repairs, and nobody wants to discuss these because the whole idea of bike rental kiosks "is so cool".

Don't get me wrong: I like the concept of bike rentals. However, i also like the concept of L-5 space colonies, and I know how wonderful pipe dreams can be murdered by reality. Until the CoP has a real plan for contingencies for this plan, it's going to be dead within six months, after wasting ridiculous amounts of money, and the only thing drowning the smirking giggles of opponents will be the whining of hipsters about how "If they'd just given it more time to work."

My problem with this is that it's a solution for a problem Portland doesn't have. In Paris, the center of the city is remarkably and comparably light on car traffic. It might have something to do with the $10/gallon gas or the amazing subway system. I don't know. The problems they do address with the rental bikes are: 1) that people don't necessarily want to give up the space for a bike (where their real estate prices approximate Portland's after the next 3 milliion people move here--if ever); and 2) money--in the city of $5 bottles of water, a bike is not necessarily in everyone's budget.

Do we have problems with space for storing bikes here? Are bikes too expensive in Portland? No and no. I don't see how rental bikes, a la Paris, will do much at all to increase bike ridership here. If you saw a central city as relatively devoid of cars as Paris is, Portlanders might finally get on their bikes. You've got to be a little braver than the average Joe or Jane here to commute by bike; not so in Paris. By my estimation, we're about $5/gallon away from that happening.

I'm all for anything that encourages bicycling, but I'm not sure this will, as moliere points out. It would be good for tourists, but in that case, why not provide some incentive for hotels to have a selection of bikes?

I'd say the number of people in Portland who own bikes is far higher than the number who ride them. So why would any citizen of Portland rent one?

Downtown Portland, by the way, is pretty easy for biking, since all the traffic signals (except on Burnside) are set for 12 mph, a moderate biking speed.


"In Paris, the center of the city is remarkably and comparably light on car traffic."

You're speaking of Paris, France, right? Still, not the one I know and would rather not drive in. Nor the one discussed in the article in question.

Perhaps I'm confused on what the "center of the city" means. Or what it's comparable to.

There is no way—absolutely no way—any sort of bicycle rental enterprise can succeed in America. Absolutely no way. You can sell Americans anything — Hummers, meth, NordicTrack treadmills, Xanax, Amazing Grace Shower Gel, Angel Baby Shampoo, Thetan Amway vitamins, Tickle Me Elmo's Tuscany-Inspired Golfing Lifestyle Subdivision—but never, ever, ever, ever bicycle rentals. I mean, take a look around, for God's sake. We're going to shoulder our harpoon to slay the hated White Whale on a rented bicycle?

Dear Allan L - Thank you for the kind remarks. They were so useful to the discussion.

Sorry, Trek, it wasn't a polite comment on my part. I apologize for that. What I could have said was, people do rent things that they own or could afford to buy. Zipcar is an example. And the short-term, one-way rentals that are the centerpiece of the Paris bike program are especially convenient. The bikes are not there for us tourists: the article notes that stone-age US credit cards won't even work in the machines. They are there for casual, short-term, largely one-way use. With this kind of use, the renter has little risk. You pay the annual fee, you get as many free 30-minute uses as you want, and when you reach your destination on each occasion, you return the bike, at which point your risk ends. Try that with your own bike!

Tom R- Yes-centre ville--the 1st, 5th, etc--as in the area where tourists are--along the Seine, the Louvre, Pompidou, etc. No, you probably don't want to ride your bike to a train station in Paris; in fact, that's not where you see people riding the bikes. In the very center of Paris, it is notably light on traffic compared to Portland. I actually tried renting a bike there(but the machine didn't seem too excited about my American credit card). I would not, however, try riding my bike down 4th Avenue or Broadway in Portland.

The point is, the City could give me a bike and I still wouldn't commute in Portland. The problem (if they want to increase ridership) is competing against the auto traffic, not the lack of available bikes.

I have to agree with Molliere. I just got back from a week in Paris and used Velib extensively. But it occurred to me again and again how unlikely this system was to work in Portland.

Paris is unbelievably dense--far, far exceeding anything current or in the distant future for Portland. Let me know when the vast majority of our population lives in 5 story walkup apartments.

Paris has tens of millions of tourists annually.

Parisians shop daily because they have small apartments and small kitchens. Few parisians own bikes because they don't have room to store them.

Paris installed more than 1000 of these so that they are quickly and conveniently available.

Where would anyone *GO* if we installed such a system? Other than tourists tooling around downtown and the Pearl and some short stop downtown office workers, I really can't see the viability here.


Thank you for your courteous and thoughtful reply--I apologize if my response was a bit brusque, a thought that occurred to me, of course, after I hit "Post." I didn't mean it to be.

Nevertheless, I still disagree--we do not have traffic in Portland such as I've seen in Paris. There really is no comparison, although you may be correct in your observations of the areas you mention. One certainly wouldn't see that on a cab ride from CDG, or on a stroll down the Champs Elysees.

Your observations, however, are contrary to my observations of the Paris I've seen on the whole. I don't have any problem with that, and will keep your opinion in mind the next time I'm there. Who knows? I could be missing something.

Still, that doesn't change the problems in Portland, and I can only wait and see on that. Your point on the different challenges here and there is well taken.

For me, the greatest problem is finding some way for bicycles and autos to co-exist on the same streets. I confess I don't have a satisfactory answer--much as I contemplate it--and news reports only underline the difficulties...

Has anyone solved this problem where cars are king?

This is a hilarious bike rental situation... you've gotta watch it.

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