The Velib – A review


For some people the concept of a bicycle is changing, due to the introduction of smart bicycle sharing schemes. Users of these bicycle sharing schemes see the bicycle less as a personal possession and more as a system and service, much like the metro or the bus. One viewpoint could be that the there is a move towards the bicycle as a collective.


The first example to look at is the Vélib in Paris; it may not have been the first smart shared bike scheme, but it is certainly the first that got the world to sit up and take notice. To say hey, if this can work in Paris; where the drivers are crazy and the roads and roundabouts are large and full of cars, perhaps this can work for us too!

I was living in Paris before and during the introduction of the Vélibs and it was a pretty slick operation. It seemed as if overnight these bike stations were put in place, then one day they were all filled with bikes. I had my own bike at the time so did not use them initially, but did take notice of the way that they were used and later studied it when I was completing my cycling report.

The following review is a snapshot from my cycling report.


The bicycle sharing scheme Vélib was launched in July 2007. It is a great system with one message; the Vélib bicycle offers freedom. The Vélib provides a revolutionary method of transport provision that allows participants to gain freedom in the city, at a low-cost. The scheme allows registered participants to pick one of the thousands of bicycles available at Vélib Stations and then drop it off at another station, once they have reached their desired destination.

The Vélib system seems to have switched the lights on for the Bicycle in Paris and sparked the curiosity of Parisians and tourists alike. It has undoubtedly been a key player in changing the way that the bicycle is now perceived within the city. As with anything that causes a change to how the system has previously worked, there will always be supporters and non-supporters.

IMG_6470However, there are an increasing amount of Parisians that see it as a form of public transport and although they use the Vélib regularly, they have not considered buying their own bike. Initially, I felt that once people were introduced to the idea of using a bicycle; they would soon opt to choose their own bicycle as it would offer an even higher level of freedom than the Vélib

However, I discovered that there are many people who do not consider this issue in the same way; the Vélib is waiting and ready for use wherever you are in central Paris, much like when you need to catch a bus, or take a metro, it is viewed more as a method of public transport.

The Vélib also reduces some of the problems of private bicycle ownership, such as the problems of theft, maintenance or finding a secure place to park. Although these problems still exist, as there are numerous reports of vandalism and maintenance problems with the Vélib, the difference for the user is that the cost of replacement or maintenance is not placed upon the individual, but on the service provider; JC Decaux. This is an interesting viewpoint, particularly as on Parisian Vélib user stated he believed that the majority of cyclists on Paris are now more inclined to use the Vélib service. That in Fact;


“Today the Majority of people who travel to work on a bicycle will travel to work on a Vélib. in fact, the evolution of bicycle behaviour seems to be heading in that direction” translated from opposite

He also stated that:

“The people who still own their bicycles, are the people that are passionate about cycling, or whom like to have a special bicycle, with technical characteristics, that are perhaps a little more sophisticated.”

There does certainly seem to be an increase towards this method of thinking; that the bicycle is part of a service and not an individual product. This point was also discussed with Pierre Toulouse, a representative from Mieux se Deplacer a Bicyclette.


“In Paris, the use of the bicycle no longer exists only by the use of your own bicycle. It is a behaviour that has moved on, that never really worked due to theft, parking and upkeep of your bicycle. Today Paris is moving towards the bicycle in free service – the Vélib.”

Mieux se Deplacer a Bicyclette has been trying to promote and increase the use of the bicycle in Paris for many years and it is clear that any system that can increase the profile of cycling and make drivers more aware of the cyclists presence should be applauded.

Parisian Bicycle culture is still in development and part of the battle is changing people’s state of mind and behaviour, which is a difficult task. However, it is obvious that this change in attitude has to come from influences from a higher level. As Pierre later stated:

“As a form of communication, the Vélib is great. It helps to promote the idea that cycling is possible and even easy. When the city authorities make bikes available. there are lots of people who will say, if the city proposes it, then it must be a possible form of transport. They are the people who don’t normally”

This process of thought was backed up by speaking to Vélib users, who stated that with the Vélib everything goes quicker and there is a new sense of personal mobility.

IMG_6479 IMG_6480

Although, as with anything that tries to change the status quo or places a multitude of people in a situation which may not be their norm; not all reactions to the Vélib and increased bicycle culture are positive.

There are arguments put forward such as “The Vélib’s are simply not possible, they are the most dangerous method of transport.” or that “The Vélib users think that everything is allowed in Paris and they are worse than cars without a licence.” These two points can be validated, as many Vélib users do not know the rules of the road, or simply believe that being on a bicycle gives them complete priority on the road. (not true in Paris).

This is just a bit of a roundup of various points I looked at concerning the Velib. It is safe to say that the Vélib has had a large and varied impact on the cycling culture in Paris and has played an important and highly visible role within the last few years.

However, there have been many other factors that have played a vital role in the successful launch of the Vélib and the increase in cyclists….

(I will update another piece of this report that discusses cyclists opinions on the increase in infrastructure in Paris over the last 20 years sometime soon, in the meantime – here is a visual snapshot)



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