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Energy COOL 4: Bike to the Future????

March 24th, 2007 · No Comments

Since diving into the deep end when it comes to energy issues, almost every day sees new fascinating concepts, approaches, and technologies. Fascinating … exciting … even hope inspiring at times. And, as well, as the passion builds, so many of these are truly ‘iPod Cool’.

This is the fourth of a new series, renamed Energy COOL energy, where we can share some of the exciting things that are going on in the energy world. Today’s forcus, an innovative business model for improving city transportation and getting people into bicycles …

One of the world’s largest advertising firm, JC Decaux, has developed a new approach to increasing bicycle use in major cities. Cyclocity is spreading like wildfire.

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Introduced in Lyon in May 2005, Cycocity is now deployed in many cities through Europe (Brussels (note: French Wikipedia on Brussels program), Vienna, and Cordoba and Giron). Cities from London to Sydney are talking about adopting Cyclocity. And, Cyclocity is heading to Paris:

On July 15, the day after Bastille Day, Parisians will wake up to discover thousands of low-cost rental bikes at hundreds of high-tech bicycle stations scattered throughout the city, an ambitious program to cut traffic, reduce pollution, improve parking and enhance the city’s image as a greener, quieter, more relaxed place.

By the end of the year, organizers and city officials say, there should be 20,600 bikes at 1,450 stations — or about one station every 250 yards across the entire city.

A number of features make this system innovative and contribute to its success … and what looks likely to be explosive growth.

Energy SmartThe set up gets around one of the classic challenges of doing Energy Smart decisions: the difference between cost to buy (the purchase price) and the cost to own (purchase price plus operating cost). For example, home appraisers pay little attention to energy efficiency investments that reduce annual utility costs which lowers their value in the mortgage/real estate market even though this can have a major impact on the cost of actually owning that home. This is a problem for governments around the world (okay, maybe not Abu Dhabi …): difficult choices as to investment resources.

In this case, the private firm is responsible for 100% of the capital expenditure, upfront costs — from bicycles to the metering to sign out and return bicycles. And, the city receives 100% of the annual revenue from bike rentals and a fee from the company. In exchange, JC Decaux gains control over advertising spaces.

The company will pay start-up costs of about $115 million and employ the equivalent of about 285 people full time to operate the system and repair the bikes for 10 years.

(Note, if you’re in Paris and looking for a job, maybe you want to check out Cyclocity’s jobs notice (warning pdf).)

All revenue from the program will go to the city, and the company will also pay Paris a fee of about $4.3 million a year.
In exchange, Paris is giving the company exclusive control over 1,628 city-owned billboards, including the revenue from them, for the same period. About half the billboard space will be given back to the city at no cost for public-interest advertising.

So, roughly for the profits from 814 Paris billboards, there will be 20,000 bicycles available in the city and the Paris government will receive $4.3 million per year plus all revenues from bike rentals. Hmmm … that is starting to sound it might be a reasonably good deal for the taxpayer, the citizen, the environment and, well, private business as well.

The system is designed to both encourage use and to keep the bicycles in service. For example, the bicycles are quite sturdy — roughly 1000 Euros ($1300) each (and that is buying 1000s per year). They also have some form of GPS system attached to them, which enables tracking location.

But, the key path is through the fee structure. First, all users have to sign up for the program and have a several hundred dollar deposit to be able to rent out a bike. (Which is done with a credit-card or membership card at automated tellers at the smart bike racks.)

And, once you have a bike in hand, you’re incentivized to pedal away. The first 30 minutes is free, then a small charge for the next 30 minutes, and so on …

In Paris, for instance, renting a bike will be free for the first 30 minutes, $1.30 for the next 30 minutes, $2.60 for the third half-hour, and $5.20 for the fourth half-hour of use and every 30 minutes after that

There are frequent users (many times per day) who go the entire year without paying anything for a bike ride, as all their trips fall within that 30 minute window.

So, does this approach have an impact? Is it meaningful? As per reporting in The Washington Post, Paris Embraces Plan to Become City of Bikes:

In Lyon, according to deputy mayor Touraine, the city’s 3,000 rental bikes have logged about 10 million miles since the program started in May 2005, saving an estimated 3,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being spewed into the air. Overall, vehicle traffic in the city is down 4 percent, he said, and bicycle use has tripled, not just on account of Cyclocity, but also because the program has prompted a boom in private bicycle use and sales.

Note, this is a 3000 bicycle program — 15% per cent of the size of the coming Paris program. And, well, this is looking Energy COOL to me.

  • Reduced pollution
  • Reduced traffic (which, by the way, further reduces pollution through less gridlock)
  • Implementable quickly
  • Acceptable to the “no tax” crowd — especially due to the public-private partnership

And, well, probably at least some healthier people getting more exercise while they move around.

The users biggest complaint: that ‘one-way’ commuting can overwhelm the bike racks (think a University building at 10 am …) and make it harder to “return” a bicycle at the destination.

I will take that complaint … but have only one serious question:

  • Which American city will be the first US Cyclocity? UPDATE: And, thanks to Colorless Green Ideas, we have an answer: Portland, according to today’s article, is looking to do a variant of this.
  • Okay, a second … and when????
  • Okay, and third: Is this part of the path to Energize America, prepare for Peak Oil, and reduce Global Warming impacts?

NOTE / UPDATE:

Thanks to Nu for the tip. Velorution has some good discussion of Cyclocity and the Paris program.

Liberation had an excellent article, which points to irregularities in the bidding process that won this for Decaux. The key competitor — Clear Channel from the United States. Clear Channel filed a protest of the award in the beginning of February. The Paris system is on the web at Velib.

Energize America bumpersticker
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