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French Incivilities

The Velib was meant to civilize city travel in Paris.  But these bicycles, each costing circa $3,500, are being stolen, destroyed, etc.  It is estimated that about 20,000 of them (about 80%) have been damaged or destroyed.  A sociologist says that there "was social revolt behind Vélib' vandalism, especially for suburban residents, many of them poor immigrants who feel excluded from the glamorous side of Paris."

"It's a very clever initiative to improve people's lives, but it's not a complete success," a user of the bikes said.   "For a regular user like me, it generates a lot of frustration," she said. "It's a reflection of the violence of our society and it's outrageous: the Vélib' is a public good but there is no civic feeling related to it."

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 15 Comments

Just another government/socialist boondoggle. If there really is a market for rental bikes, for God's sake let the market meet the demand. Why are people (i.e., liberals/leftists) so very stupid?

Leftists being stupid is a different question. There should be a way to hold the renter accountable for what happens to the bike. In this case there probably is a market for rental bikes...the reason the market doesn't meet the demand is that the rule of law and respect for property is insufficient to cover costs. I don't see how bikes differ from rental cars, motel roooms, appartments or rent to own. Rent to own for example is notoriously expensive, but the Rent to own stores really don't make very much money, because they lose a ton of money in meeting due process requirements for repossession, and most of the time what they repossess is in poor shape and the market for used appliances is barely worth transportation and storage costs. In most instances the rent to own stores would make more money if they never even pursued creditors that were in default...of course the habit of not being vigilant about bad debt, encourages default.

If the bikes really are used by the "bobos" and we assume that these have money..the solution is to make them pay a larger deposit. Of course when you raise costs, you kill off the market demand.

To say that this is a government or socialist boondoggle is going a bit far, and less accurate than saying that it is a question of being able to protect Reversionary future interests in the Grantor.

Of course this is simply to say that there is a market for all sorts of things the market does not provide because it has yet to figure out a way to meet the demand profitably.

So the french experiment proves what Redwald says, had the idea been workable in an easy way the free market would have provided the service absent the government innitiative. And yet without the government and rule of law markets themselves will cease to exist. In a state of Anarchy there is no such thing as a market for anything rental, because PP is everything. There is a market for public libraries, but without government and community support these would probably cease to exist. Universities would still maintain libraries but the cost of tuition makes these close to private libraries. Immagine what would happen if 80% of all books were never returned, burned destroyed, left as litter on the streets or resold on amazon or ebay. Even with free rental Libraries need late fees and replacement costs, they maintain reversionary interests that they need to be able to defend.

The french program is as workable as a public library or Hertz rent a car, all that is needed is the ability to make the present possesor accountable for waste to the reversionary future interest.

A similar program works quite well in Munich, but there are differences in national character, after all.

I have to agree with John Lewis ... there's a disconnect in the accountability element of this. The story says a swipe of a credit card is required. That implies knowledge of identity (presuming it's not a stolen CC) and the ability to assess penalties if needed.

What's not clear is how the "account" is "cleared" when a bike is turned in. If that element is on an honor system ... well, that's a problem.

John, could you elaborate on that "differences in national character" thing? Vienna, Austria also had a bike-sharing program, called ViennaBikes, that had to be halted in '02 due to vandalism and problems with bike returns. But then they revamped the program in '03 and it has been much more successful this time around. I'm not sure what you were hinting at (if anything), but some clarification would be good.

Indeed, Munich's system - Call-A-Bike - does work very well. It is operated by... wait for it... Germany's national railway service, Deutsche Bahn AG, and is also available in Frankfurt, Berlin, Cologne, and Stuttgart.
I have used it myself in Berlin and Stuttgart and found it extremely easy and convenient.

Barcelona's BiCing system is also great.

Systems are commonplace throughout Scandinavia as well. I've had positive experiences with it in Stockholm, and have heard good reviews from other cities, some of them from even relatively small towns.

could you elaborate on that "differences in national character" thing?

Surely in your European travels you've noticed the extraordinary talent the Germans have for following rules. One might say the same for the Scandinavians, although I've never visited those countries. It's something at which the French are considerably less skilled.

Well it is true that a lot of French cooking is "au pifo-metre" made up on the fly or by sight, feel. Germans if they can be represented by the cars they make, are more of an engineering bunch. So Germans are more scientific and the French are more artistic?

Some of the tricks done with those bikes look like a lot of fun, and I could see how if it was cheap to rent a bike and there was no mechanized measure upon returning it that could determined its condition...then there is no way to price in wear and tear that is excessive.

It would make it more expensive perhaps but if you had an actual person renting and receiving the bike, then you could save a lot of money on needing to repair them afterwards. I am sure Wal-Mart saves some money by having self-check out lanes...but they keep a person at the door who randomly double checks. I can immagine that if there was no one at the door, and a pure honor system was involved with nothing but self-checkout...that theft would rear its head quickly even with differences in national character. With some shady national character(say Russia), the person at the door would make $200,000 a year until the store closed down.

"Surely in your European travels you've noticed the extraordinary talent the Germans have for following rules. One might say the same for the Scandinavians, although I've never visited those countries. It's something at which the French are considerably less skilled."

Honestly, I can't say I've noticed a zealous adherence to rules in Germany nor a great deal of ignoring rules in France. I think the only way one can draw such conclusions when visiting countries is if they are looking to confirm their pre-existing biases. It sounds as if yours might simply come from those jokes about "In Heaven, the chefs are French, and in Hell the police are German" or similar avenues for dodgy bar-room knowledge of the world around us. Needless to say, the accuracy of and motivations for such stereotypes are dicey, at best. So, how would you explain Vienna's previous failure with a bike program, stemming from the exact same problems that Paris is experiencing? Are the Austrians a nation of scofflaws, too?

[As for the Parisian bikes, I strongly question their figure of $3,500 per bike. I've read figures for the exact same program that put their cost at $520 apiece - still not cheap, but more believable, seeing that these are not Olympic racing bikes: ]

Well, if you haven't noticed it there's no sense arguing the point. Suffice it to say that I have, as have many others, and I suspect that your insulting claim that it's nothing more than "pre-existing bias" is more a reflection of your own "pre-existing bias" against conservatives.

As for Vienna, it's simply not a "German" city in the way that Munich is. Its population is highly heterogeneous, which is one of the reasons why it's such a fun place. I suspect that a similar program in Salzburg or Linz would have encountered far fewer problems.

"As for Vienna, it's simply not a "German" city in the way that Munich is. Its population is highly heterogeneous, which is one of the reasons why it's such a fun place. I suspect that a similar program in Salzburg or Linz would have encountered far fewer problems."

I'm not trying to insult you, just attempting to find out from where you draw your generalizations. For example, in what sense is Munich "highly heterogenous" in a way that Vienna is not? Are you referring to the socioeconomic distribution of the population, or (as the terms heterogenous and homogenous are more typically used in such discussions) the national and ethnic composition of the place? Recent stats put Munich as being 23 percent immigrant, Vienna at around 17 percent. Even both of those exceed Paris, which is around 14%. Just curious.

Of course, I meant to say "in what sense is VIENNA "highly heterogenous" in a way that MUNICH is not?"

I seriously doubt any of these state-run systems work well...I'd bet that they are all heavily subsidized by the taxpayers. And to say that "market" fixes are meaningless because the "rule of law" is a necessary precondition for markets is to beg the question of government's rightful duties. I completely agree that government is the bedrock of civil society (no anarcho-capitalists here), but that's completely consistent with the notion that civil society (and not government) should be responsible for most economic transactions. Once government gets involved in "markets," they cease to be markets at all.

I do mean "national and ethnic compisition," Craig, but I'm not talking about recent patterns of immigration. Ask me again in another 100 years how that has changed Munich's culture. Vienna was for centuries the capital of a multinational empire, so that it was populated not only with Germans but also Magyars, Italians, Slavs, Poles, etc. Munich was capital of Bavaria, a homogeneously German, Catholic country. This helps explain why Hitler hated Vienna but loved Munich.

It's also not a simple matter of homogeneous vs. heterogeneous. Paris is homogeneous, but it is homogeneously French.

Sorry, I forgot to put my name on the comment above, so I'm "Anonymous." You probably figured that out, though.

Ok, I see. I presumed you were talking about recent immigrants, not ancestral origins, since Peter's post included the quote about the immigrants in Paris.

I'm still at a loss as to what meaningful "differences in national character" you're claiming exist between Germany and France. You talk about adherence to rules, but I've seen a recurring them on right-wing and right-leaning libertarian blogs about how France is obsessed with rules and regulations, they're the ultimate nanny state, etc. I won't bother to delve into the archives here at NLT, but I'm sure similar things have been said. In any case, several other French cities do have successful bike-share programs, that haven't had the problems that Paris has had recently...

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