This is a Paris example, based on the recent public transportation strike experience. How would the position of traditional and electric bicycles change in the coming years? Would this mode of transportation become part of the public mobility service in urban travels?
Paris is not France, that’s for sure. But what happens there is often instructive. In 2018, the bicycle path construction sites were causing a lot of grief. Now that they are there, protected from the car traffic, often two-way lanes and allowing convenient pathways through the capital at high speeds, they are creating a high number of converts.
Admittedly, the transport strike has reinforced the motives, but the infrastructure has done most of the work. As cycle activists say, “Make roads, you’ll get cars. Make bike lanes, you’ll get bikes.”
The Parisian figures show that. Overall, the use of the bicycle has increased by 54% in one year between the months of November 2018 and 2019 and the statistics are full of encouraging data: twice as many journeys by bicycle as by motorbike or scooter, almost as many bicycles as cars on Boulevard Voltaire on 13 December (11,612 compared to 12,886) and a record number of passages on Rue de Rivoli with more than 100,000 cyclists were recorded by the counter installed by the Paris City Hall.
Obviously, from 5 December onwards, the transport strike amplified the movement. Skeptics can always say that without it, many cycles would have remained in the dust, but already by September, regulars perceived that there were simply more people on the bicycle tracks. And this was much before the December strike.
E-bikes are on the winning trend
As is often the case in crisis situations, the strike revealed how much still needs to be done to strengthen the conversion. To understand this, one just needs to take a look at the services that are struggling and those that are thriving.
Among those who are struggling, the number one is obviously Vélib (link to the story of Vélib). The Vélib Autolib union believes that the system is “resisting”. This may seem rather counter-intuitive as users see stations full of Vélib bikes, which they complain about loudly on Twitter.
In fact, 80% of the 11,000 working bicycles operated by Smovengo do not stay in their stations for long. That’s because they’re always under a rider’s bottoms. Peaks usage of the same bike is up to 20 per day, compared to the usual 6 to 7. Each machine would cover up to 50 kilometers in a day, compared to 15 kilometers in normal times. Customers pile up in front of the stations waiting for a good soul to drop off his or her bike. “On one day, I organized a queue by handing out numbers,” says a regular customer.
The demand is endless, and maintenance is doing what it can. Generally speaking, repairers are underwater. In Decathlon shops, for example, cyclists line up to the workshop and the line sometimes stretches to the street.
But this situation also creates winners. The Véligo service, set up by the Ile-de-France region in September, is a success (link to Véligo story). The scheme rents out electric bicycles on a monthly basis, starting at 20 euros, for periods of up to six months. The system entitles users to a 500 euro bonus for the subsequent purchase of an electrically assisted bicycle.
As they say, to try it is to adopt it. “The first volume of bicycles put into service was 10,000 and we have had 5,000 subscribers over the past six months,” says a delighted Ile-de-France Mobilités representative, which operates the service. And since the strike, our order volumes have risen from 50 to 100 per day”.
Generally speaking, the electrically-assisted bicycle is the big winner of the presence of a cycle network. Practically never purchased for leisure, it is the urban travel object par excellence. Cities have understood this and have multiplied the purchase premiums.
What financial aid for an e-bike purchase you can get in France? Learn more in this post.
The sales figures are in full swing: 21% increase in 2018, with 340,000 units sold. For the Cycle Observatory, the electric bicycle is “essentially a mobility tool” and its development is “a fundamental trend”.
In these times of closed metro and rare buses, many new converts use the cycle paths. How many will remain in the saddle after the end of the conflict? This is the key question of the moment. The figures for the return to normal life will show whether the bicycle has finally become a means of mass transportation.