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Going for a Free Ride


Here is an interesting article in the New York Times about the subsidized bike rental system in Paris (HT to Briggs Armstrong).

Many of the specially designed bikes, which, when the system’s startup and maintenance expenses are included, cost $3,500 each, are showing up on black markets in Eastern Europe and northern Africa. Many others are being spirited away for urban joy rides, then ditched by roadsides, their wheels bent and tires stripped.

With 80 percent of the initial 20,600 bicycles stolen or damaged, the program’s organizers have had to hire several hundred people just to fix them. And along with the dent in the city-subsidized budget has been a blow to the Parisian psyche.

It would not have required a superhuman intelligence to anticipate this outcome.

One can rent a bike for a price of one euro for a day. One does not have to show any responsible employee that the bike is returned, more or less, in the same shape as taken. And this rental service is offered in the biggest city of the country – where vandals or careless people are no less anonymous than anybody else and will accordingly be relatively shielded from disapproval (assuming anyone would even pay attention). How could one not expect some variant of the “tragedy of the commons“?

Xavier Méra teaches at University Rennes 2.

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