Note: This is part of a series featuring 2012 FT/Citi Ingenuity Award winners. Vélib' won in the infrastructure category.
Vélib' is the world's third-largest bike-sharing program, the largest outside of China, offering a way to experience the "City of Light" on two wheels. Launched in Paris in 2007, Vélib' is now widely regarded not just as a business success, but also as a social phenomenon and is credited with inspiring other major European cities to start their own bike-shares.
However, the bike-sharing concept is not new. JCDecaux, the company behind Vélib', first inaugurated the self-service bicycle rental system in Vienna in 2003, it was followed by several other European self-service bike projects before Vélib' launched six years ago. Our service is now widely spread, with bikes available in Dublin, Seville, Brussels, and even as far as Toyama in Japan.
The economic model that guided JCDecaux in conceptualizing and operationalizing the Vélib' system is the same as our business foundation for the past half a century which made us No. 1 in our industry: providing cities with state-of-the-art out-of-home products and public services, funded by first-class advertising displays on street furniture. Most importantly, this model allows for the delivery of quality services that benefit the community. In the case of the self-service bicycles, users pay only a modest daily or annual fee.
With 250,000 subscribers and about 30 million rentals annually, Vélib' has established itself as a means of daily transport for hundreds of thousands of Parisians and locals in Ile de France. Vélib' has also become a unique way for many tourists and visitors to discover Paris.
Beyond the sustainable concept itself, Vélib's success is guaranteed by excellent operational standards and by our mechanics, regulators, engineers, supervisors and customer advisors. There are nearly 400 employees engaged in maintaining the service 24/7, without a single interruption over the years.
Vélib' also had to face questions from some skeptical Parisians:
• Why did the City of Paris want to bring 20,600 bicycles to the streets of Paris, when the supply of public and private transport was already quite significant?
• Was it not just a contraption for the benefit of a handful of Parisians who were adept cyclists?
• Why clutter precious public space with potentially unnecessary docking stations positioned every 300 meters?
• Why make life difficult for motorists already confronted with regular traffic jams and parking problems?
• Why suddenly place these stations in front of stores and shops which would cause both noise and visual pollution?
All these questions were answered in the first few months by the tidal wave of public enthusiasm for the system. It provided users with an economic mode of transportation, with autonomy, convenience, and a way to spend leisure time and, socialize - all in an environmentally friendly way. In short, the system was embraced as a truly enjoyable and simple way to move around in a major world capital.
You have to experience Vélib' to fully appreciate everything it offers, which goes far beyond the simple process of cycling. Vélib' is now a Paris landmark. All research shows that this innovative idea is popular with Parisians and visitors alike. Vélib' is becoming a symbol and its popularity is growing -within the past few weeks Parisian outlets started carrying branded merchandise (notebooks, mugs, key rings ). Above all these products indicate a social phenomenon with an exceptional impact.
Vélib' has also been the subject of many sociological and scientific studies in recent years, including one case study taught at Harvard University.
Self-service bicycles are revolutionizing urban mobility, and can and must find their place in more major cities around the world.
New York has made this choice on the basis of a different economic model than the one proposed by JCDecaux, but with a similar ambition. We wish them success.