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How Do So Many Vélibs End Up at the Bottom of the Canal ...

How Do So Many Vélibs End Up at the Bottom of the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris?

Shopping carts, scooter carcasses, strollers, various types of chairs … and Vélibs. Lots of Vélibs (a transportation solution in the form of a bike sharing program in Paris). These days, passersby crowd around the canal Saint-Martin in the 10th arrondissement of Paris in order to photograph the objects that emerge from the mud as the canal is

Vélib Bike at Bottom of Canal Saint-Martin, Paris, France

Shopping carts, scooter carcasses, strollers, various types of chairs ... and Vélibs. Lots of Vélibs (a transportation solution in the form of a bike sharing program in Paris). These days, passersby crowd around the canal Saint-Martin in the 10th arrondissement of Paris in order to photograph the objects that emerge from the mud as the canal is being emptied. “Out of commission” for three months, the canal will be entirely drained as of Friday, January 8, 2016.

But how do the dozens of Vélibs, whose grey carcasses can be seen lying in a few centimeters of muddy water, end up there? The answer is rather simple: they were stolen, often torn from their docking stations, no doubt used for a quick trip, then swiftly disposed of. Or they accidentally fell in the water after a drunken night.

The figures of this delinquency reported earlier this week by Mathieu Marquer, member of the comity of Vélib users, between 2010 and 2013, are frightening. According to the Paris Urban Planning Agency (Atelier Parisien d’Urbanisme), around 20,000 Vélibs are stolen each year. Almost 19,000 thefts were documented in 2014, and almost 20,000 in 2013. In 2009, it was worse: almost 23,000 bikes stolen. Since then, the security system has been improved.

According to the Paris Urban Planning Agency, 91% of snatched bikes are nevertheless found. They are repaired, when possible, in a workshop in Saint-Denis. But not all the bikes are fixable. Between 2,000 to 6,000 bikes are destroyed every year.

View of Canal Saint-Martin being Drained, Paris, France

The thefts, and the damages, are concentrated mainly in the northeastern districts, and nearby the Seine-Saint-Denis area. In other words, the districts adjacent to the famous canal. There are ten times more Vélibs stolen in the 19th district than the 17th, even with a nearly equivalent number of inhabitants.

Obviously, all of this is expensive. Since July 15, 2007, the service’s inauguration date, at least 85,000 Vélibs have been manufactured, as shown by the serial numbers on the most recent bikes. And at least 50,000 have disappeared or been destroyed. It is for precisely this reason that the system costs so much to the community, around 4,000 euros annually per bike, according to the calculations of economist Frédéric Héran. This calculation includes bikes, reparation, and regulation, but also the loss of profits in terms of advertisement, which cannot be denied by the city of Paris or by the distributor, JCDecaux.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that 13,000 to 17,000 Vélibs are in circulation in Paris and in its close suburbs, instead of the 24,400 initially planned in the contract between the city and the distributor. The higher number, 17,000, corresponds to the winter months, when vandalism is less frequent. And the lower number, 13,000, corresponds to the summer months, when thefts become frequent and that the Vélibs are more likely to finish their lives in the canal.

Does your city have a bike share program? How can these programs be more effective and prevent theft? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.. 

Original article, originally published in French here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Carmen Phillips is a graduate of Oberlin College and is currently pursuing her masters in French Translation at Kent State University. Carmen spent the last year in Lyon, France teaching English to primary school children and had the opportunity to i...

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