Friday, October 30, 2009

Cheap Bikes, High Cost

Steven Erlanger (NYT, registration may be required) writes a sad yet strangely hopeful article about the current state of an ultracheap bicycle rental program in Paris, a means to reduce carbon emissions and enhance healthy living. The problem is that 80 percent of the first bikes in the program have been trashed or stolen. Why?

Erlanger explains that all this increased mobility is an insult to people who lack access to the French capital city. Erlanger quotes transportation sociologist Bruno Marzloff who describes a sense shared by some poor immigrants that the bikes represent yet another perk for those who are already privileged:
"It is an outcry, a form of rebellion -- this violence is not gratuitous," Mr. Marzloff said. "There is an element of negligence that means, 'We don’t have the right to mobility like other people, to get to Paris it’s a huge pain, we don’t have cars, and when we do, it’s too expensive and too far.'"
That said, one must wonder at the wisdom of renting custom-made bikes costing the equivalent of $3,500 each, only to be surprised that so many are stolen or damaged.

Erlanger's article concludes with a description of efforts to dissuade people from trashing the bikes: "Posters showed a cartoon Vélib' being roughed up by a thug. The caption read: 'It's easy to beat up a Vélib’, it can’t defend itself. Vélib’ belongs to you, protect it!'"

Read the entire article: Reality Proves a Setback for Cheap Bike Rentals in Paris

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