Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Details of the Velib deal and operations

(as of March 21, 2008, 8 months after launch) Details on stations, communications,bikes, utilization, contract. Here is Velib link, note you can change language in top right corner.

Stations: Each Velib station is positioned along a section of sidewalk, or a carve-out from curbside parking. Typically, these are not on the prime thoroughfares, but on the smaller streets that abut them. There is a 6 foot high kiosk and 10 or 20 knee-high locking stations cemented into the ground. You reserve the bike at the kiosk, choosing a specific bike (the parking stations are numbered), and then push the button on the station of your chosen vehicle and it releases.

Communications: The kiosks communicate using GPRS to the server. The bikes themselves have no electronics. One half of the stations get connectivity through one cell phone company; and the other half through another, with the idea being that if one cell provider goes down, at least half the bikes will still be accessible. In their third day of operations they had a 2-hour outage. Since then, all has been well.

Have sturdy-ish front basket, three speeds, front and back fenders, chain guard, front and back lights powered by generator, lock, very hard seat, up-right riding stance.

Utilization: 60-90,000 trips daily in winter; 150-170,000 trips daily in the summer. This is about 7-12 trips per day. 97% are less than ½ hour (cleverly accommodating almost all trips you would do in the city). Almost 200,000 people have signed up for annual memberships, reaching their estimated goal for first year four months early.

They have to move about 18% of the bikes using a small truck with a flatbed trailer attached. This corresponds roughly to the commute into Paris in the morning and the reverse commute back out. You can understand this movement of bikes here.

The advertising deal with Paris
(I didn’t read the contract; this is information from Albert xx, the person at JC Decaux who is in charge of this project). The city of Paris aggregated all its street advertising (primarily bus shelters and some flat stand-alones) into one single bundle, as well as eliminating 20% of the existing advertising (no doubt the least visible spots). Companies were asked to bid on the contract. In addition to the amount the city would normally get for selling its advertising space, the city required that the bidders sweeten the deal the building and operations of bike-sharing for the city of Paris. The contract is for 10 years.

I see this as something of a clever bribe: You want our prime city’s prime eyeballs? We want our cut of the revenues plus Velib. There is a long story about how the bid (and rebid) unfolded, with the result that Paris got a promise for 20,000 bikes. Decaux’s previous bike efforts, in 8(?) other cities only totaled 12,000 altogether. So Paris got a deal on a totally different order of magnitude, which corresponds to the value of Parisien eyeballs relative to those in other cities. This makes me realize that there are very few cities in the world that are likely to be able to extract as large a “bonus” as Paris did.

Decaux says it spent 90 million euros in 2007 on Pairs: to build Velib and swap out the flat-panel stand-alone advertising for new ones that rotate three different ads. One friend, Eric Britton, tells me that when DeCaux reinstalled the new panels, it rotated some of them that were parallal to the curb, to become a right angles with the curb, obstructing the sidewalk. Decaux claims it was only able to pull off this deal by installing the rotating sign boards which bring in three times the revenue because they support three times the advertising.

Remarkably, from contract award to Velib launch, only 4 months passed. As many as 700 people were at work on the project last year. They are down to 400 staff people now. While there are plenty of things you can imagine that would improve the system, I have to give them enormous credit for pulling off a system that is 85% right is just four months. Over time they will hopefully tweak and improve the system. In fact, starting this week, they will be offering a 15-minute “credit” for people that return bikes to 40 stations they have identified as chronically under-biked. And surprise, surprise, many of these stations are at the top of the hills.

Oh, Decaux has experienced way more vandalism and theft than it had in any of its other cities. No doubt (hopefully) they will figure out to minimize this problem.

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