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Rental bike journeys skyrocket in post-lockdown Paris

Anne Hidalgo bikes around Paris on the city's rental bike service Velib, September 2019.
Anne Hidalgo bikes around Paris on the city's rental bike service Velib, September 2019. AFP / Stephane DE SAUKTIN

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s mission to make the city more cycle-friendly as people slowly return to work is paying dividends for the operators of the Velib Metropole rental bikes, who have seen a spike in the number of users.

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In the days following the lockdown easing that began on 11 May, operator Smovengo said the number of annual subscribers jumped by 15,000 – something it also attributes to favourable weather conditions.

Since then, the number of journeys per day has continued to increase, going from 75,000 on the first day, before peaking at 119,000 Velib trips on Saturday 16 May.

“This is a key moment for us," Smovengo’s general manager Jacques Greiveldinger told French daily Le Parisien. “It's up to us to be up to par…to build loyalty and reassure people of the reliability of our service.”

Velib’s 338,000 subscribers have also changed their cycling habits by adapting their routes and their schedules. Instead of distinct “peak hours” in the morning and afternoon, cyclist journeys are spread out throughout the day, with numbers peaking in the afternoon.

Plus, journeys are longer, with more people coming into Paris from the suburbs. The average distance travelled has increased by 33 percent, and two out of three journeys are made on the blue bikes that offer electrical assistance.

The self-service bicycles were rarely used during the seven-week lockdown, when residents were required to fill out a permission form when leaving their homes. The bikes have also been criticised for their unreliability – particularly during a major transport strike in December and January that brought much of the city to a standstill. 

Velib’s fortunes have now been reversed, with Smovengo promising the system has been properly reinforced. Engineers are now able to carry out up to 4,000 repairs a day, both in the field and in the workshops, with each repaired bicycle being disinfected before it’s returned to the station.

Telling Parisians the city would not be “invaded by vehicles” upon exiting its lockdown, Hidalgo gifted 50 kilometres of lanes usually reserved for cars to the city's cyclists.

Major routes such as the famous rue de Rivoli, which cuts east to west through Paris along the Seine; the Boulevard Saint-Michel, which runs north to south through the Latin Quarter; and the Étoile tunnel, which passes beneath the Arc de Triomphe, are now mostly the preserve of cyclists. 

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