The city of Lyon is located in the central part of France, about two hours south of Paris via TGV. It has a long and rich history as the capital of Gaul in the Roman Empire, a worldwide center of silk production, and a stronghold of the French resistance during World War II. Today, Lyon is the third largest city in France, has a thriving high tech and pharmaceutical industry, and is considered the gastronomical capital of a country known for its cuisine and wine. Unfortunately, with size and industry came pollution, overcrowding, and traffic jams. In the mid-1990s, only 18% of its citizens had easy access to public transportation versus 30% in other towns of equivalent size.
By 2000, Lyon’s city government had constructed an above-ground light rail system to complement theexisting underground metro and bus network in an effort to extend public transportation to more people. However, the outdoor station’s stops needed shelters to protect waiting passengers from the wind, rain, and snow. In an innovative program, the marketing and advertising firm, JCDecaux, in cooperation with Lyon’s development office, created “street furniture” to house the benches, ticket vending machines, route maps, and time tables. JCDecaux constructed and maintained the sites in exchange for the revenue from advertisements placed on the shelters. The program was a win-win for both organizations.
The success of the cooperative tram and bus shelter project, and the city’s continued interest in easing pollution and traffic jams in the commercial center of the city, led them to seek out additional change. They asked JC Decaux for input. JCDecaux had been testing the idea of a self-service bicycle program inVienna, Austria and Córdobo and Gijon, Spain and they proposed adopting and implementing a “bike exchange” network in and around Lyon in mid-2002. For Lyon and its neighboring city of Villeurbanne, it was a risky and large-scale proposal.
The vision—common now in many European cities, but completely novel at the time—was that commuters and pedestrians could pick up a bicycle at installations around the city—near metro stops, businesses, or large public venues—and use it to shop, go to work, or simply get from one part of town to the other more conveniently than a car or the bus, metro, or light-rail system. The original idea was that the bike could be used for free for less than an hour and at very low prices if used for longer periods. (To get a picture of the system and its different parts today, go to www.velov.grandlyon.com.) “It is our intent to turn bicycles into a mode of daily travel for workers in the city,” said one government official.
An initial budget of €2 million per year was estimated to invest in bikes, registration systems, installations, and support operations until about 2007. To support the project, the city also envisioned construction or remodeling of several parking garages to encourage people to park their cars on the outskirts of town and then pick up a bike to finish the commute. Two parking garages in the downtown area had already begun offering free bicycles for those who parked their vehicle there.
The project—named Vélo V—was presented by the city’s mayor before the second annual “day without a car” festival. Vélo V would be managed by JCDecaux. They would own and maintain the bikes and finance operations through advertising receipts. The head of the city’s development function suggested that it was a bold attempt to “effect a radical change in the philosophy” of the urban community. At the time, less than 3% of the people in Lyon used a bicycle, against 10% in Strasbourg and other cities. The proposal was supported by Les Verts, France’s Green political party, but the president of the local nongovernmental transportation union was upset that there had been little dialogue with various concerned organizations.
The goal was to launch a 24 hours/day operation in May 2005 with 1,200 bicycles in 120 stations. According to a JCDecaux regional manager, they expected 2,000 bikes in 180 stations by October and projected 3,000 bikes in 2006 and 4,000 bikes in 2007.
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