At 20,000 bicycles and growing, Paris’s on-demand bike rental service, Vélib’, has become an indispensable part of the city’s public transportation system—and a model for similar programs around the world. But as bike shares have expanded from just 13, in 2004, to more than 855 worldwide, their economic viability has come into question, as some struggling programs, like Seattle’s Pronto and Montreal’s Bixi, have required city buyouts. A few key lessons can be learned from Paris’s program: It’s dense (the city boasts 1 bike per 97 residents, with stations set about 1,000 feet apart), open to a range of ages (with five specialized models, including the original by industrial designer Patrick Jouin), and securely backed by corporate sponsorship.
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