Urban-bicycle schemes in Vienna and Paris

The threat of climate change makes alternatives to motorized transportation in metropolitan areas increasingly important. Overloaded subways can hardly handle more commuter and thus different means of transportation are needed.

Recently both cites – Paris and Vienna – have introduced a self-service bike rental system: “bike-hire” stations distributed over the city allow you to pick up your bike from one service point and drop off to another. People simply register with their bank card and cycle one hour – in Vienna – or half an hour – in Paris - for free. The registration will guarantee that cyclists return the bike and keep the system running. Who could imagine that the good old bike is currently experiencing a comeback?

Bicycle station in Paris, by AP

Bicycle station in Vienna, copyright Citybike Wien/Peter Anzböck

Although both cities share the same rental system / technology the ambition is different. While the Viennese Citybike might only encourage people to give cycling a try, the Paris Vélib offers a real alternative to driving or public transportation. The amount of rental station in the French capital is simply amazing: 1,451 bike terminals, equipped with 20,600 bicycles provide access at nearly every corner of the city. On the contrary, the Vienna Citybike is rather diffident. Only 54 bike terminals and 600 bikes spread mainly over the historic center and make it challenging to find a station.

Even more surprising is the different design of the Parisian and Viennese city bikes. The Austrian bicycle looks more like an old fashioned grandma’s bike, with solid rubber wheels, no gearshift and advertisement on it. The Paris model, however, is an aerodynamically shaped bicycle equipped with pneumatic wheels, three gears shift and a lock. It simply looks Parisian - Vive la petite différence!

Both Citybike and Vélib are operated and financed by JCDecaux, No. 2 in worldwide outdoor advertising. (JCDecaux has acquired Gewista, the former Austrian outdoor advertising company) In return JCDecaux got the exclusive rights to the French capital's 1,628 billboards. (see Economist, Vive la Vélorution!) Surprisingly the French bicycles are still ad-free.

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