Could Those Free Bikes Show Up in Chicago, Too?

Windy City Mayor Heads to Paris to Take a Look at Decaux's Program There

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JC Decaux's "Bike Revolution" might be coming to the U.S.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley made local headlines last week when he visited Paris to consider a Windy City adaptation of the project funded and created by the global outdoor-advertising giant.
Decaux's bike rental program has been a success in Paris, where recently 138,000 bikes were checked out in a single day.
Decaux's bike rental program has been a success in Paris, where recently 138,000 bikes were checked out in a single day. Credit: Alfred/SIPA
The citywide program provides more than 10,000 free bicycles to the city of Paris which people can rent free-of-charge for the first 30 minutes and pay for additional fees by credit card. Once the bike has been registered, a Bluetooth application is sent to the rider's phone offering up free directions to the many destinations in Paris and listing all drop-off points for the rental bike.

Parisian bikers aren't serviced with ads by their "Bike Revolution," but similar iterations of Decaux's program in Marseilles and Toulouse, France, allow for bikes to be completely branded or open the Bluetooth content to ad messaging.

Exclusive access
In return for providing and maintaining the bikes, the French outdoor giant has exclusive access to more than 1,000 outdoor sites controlled by the Paris government.

Co-CEO Jean Luc Decaux said the program was intended as another form of advertising-as-public-service rather than a pure marketing vehicle. "The idea of our business has always been to develop an advertising base to create well-designed street furniture for use by the public, financed through advertising," Mr. Decaux said. "Bicycles are just another amenity [we can bring] to the cities as a freebie part of an advertising concession, like a bus shelter in Paris." Without advertising, he added, the program would be too costly. In Paris alone, the cost for 10,000 bicycles is about 19 million euros, or about $26.4 million, he said.

A spokeswoman at JC Decaux headquarters in Paris said the program has been a big success there, with an average of more than 80,000 bicycle trips a day. On one recent sunny Saturday in September, bike hires hit a record 138,000 rentals.

Chicago's Mayor Daley is said to be considering two separate proposals that would total 2,000 bikes, and each bike would come with a price tag of about $2,000. That puts Mr. Daley's initial plans for the project at about $4 million.

Two competitors
According to Brian Steele, spokesman for the city of Chicago, the city is evaluating bike-rental proposals from Decaux -- which already has the contract for street furniture, bus shelters, news racks, newsstands and city information panels -- and with another potential vendor, OYBike.

He said part of the review process will be determining whether Chicago pays for the bikes or gets them free. In its current Decaux contract, Chicago gets street furniture free for 20 years, along with annual payments to the city, which will total $300 million. In exchange, Decaux gets to advertise on the space it provides. So if the city ends up paying for the bikes, it may also sell the ad space.

Contributing: Laurel Wentz, Emily Bryson York
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