PARIS: As cities across Europe experiment with ways to get people out of their cars and into more eco-friendly modes of transportation, Paris is becoming a massive laboratory for one of the most innovative attempts to make money and help save the environment at the same time.
This summer, it will put 10,000 bicycles on the streets at 1,000 stations throughout the city - more than 20,000 bikes will be available by the end of the year - in an experiment with the potential to alter the city's urban transportation landscape.
"Our hope is that this will change the mentality of people getting around Paris, " said Céline Lepault, who directs the program for the Paris mayor's office.
And the city will not pay a cent.
In fact, it will be making money from the project, to the tune of €34 million, or $46 million, over 10 years. And users of the service, called Vélib, will pay next to nothing: after a nominal subscription fee of €29 a year, the first half-hour of each trip will be free, and each additional half hour will cost €1.
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The project is being financed by J.C. Decaux, the advertising firm, which will receive exclusive control over 1,628 urban billboards in exchange. The company landed the Paris contract after introducing a similar program in Lyon two years ago that became a success: it now has 50,000 subscribers and has doubled the number of bicycles to 4,000 for a population of 445,500. Paris has 2.15 million residents, a more lucrative consumer base for the program, which allows a rider to use a bike for a short period, ride it to another station and leave it for the next user.
Decaux's motives are not purely altruistic. It says it stands to earn €60 million a year in advertising revenue from the billboards. After the initial costs of setting up the bicycle system (about €80 million) and subsequent operating costs, plus a €3.4 million annual payment for the rights to the public space it will be occupying with its billboards, Decaux will take home the rest as profit.
The initiative will also turn the company into a leading player in the market for citywide bike rental programs, which are spreading fast across Europe and beyond, with programs in Brussels, Dublin, Marseille, Vienna and a smattering of smaller cities