No Vélib’ in Amsterdam
12 September 2007 - This summer, Paris introduced
the Vélib’, a highly successful cheap bicycle rental
scheme. Cities including London, Chicago and Seoul plan to introduce
similar schemes, but it is unlikely that Amsterdam will follow suit.
Nor is OV-fiets likely to develop into something comparable.
In the 1960s, Amsterdam Provos suggested to make ‘white bicycles’
available for free, but this idea was never really implemented.
More recently, more advanced systems have been introduced successfully
in cities across Europe. Subscribers can rent bicycles for a nominal
fee and leave them at a different location within the city.
After the launch of Barcelona’s Bicing concept last spring,
some politicians argued that Amsterdam should follow suit. The subsequent
introduction of thousands of Vélib’ bicycles (soon
there will be 20,000) available from 750 distribution points in
Paris created a veritable media hype. The mayors of London and Chicago
have visited Paris and plan to introduce similar schemes in their
It is unlikely that Amsterdam will do so as well, explained municipality
spokesperson Johanneke Helmers. For one thing, almost all Amsterdammers
already have bicycles. “There isn’t enough room for
improvement here”. In addition, Amsterdam is a more compact
city than Barcelona and Paris and there is not much public space
available for distribution points. “The sidewalks are already
filled up with Amsterdammers’ own bicycles”.
The Netherlands does have the OV-fiets (Public Transport Bicycle),
a popular rental bicycle available for subscribers within sixty
seconds from distribution points at railway stations and other locations.
The bicycles cost 2.85 euro per twenty hours.
scheme is very modest in comparison with Vélib’. Nationally,
3,000 bicycles are available, a few hundred of which in Amsterdam.
If necessary, bicycles of the McBike company can be rented as OV-fiets
as well. In Amsterdam, OV-fietsen can be rented at seven railway
stations and, as a test, at Locker stations at the Albert Cuyp,
Binnengasthuis, Kalvertoren and Paradiso.
OV-fiets chairman Ronald Haverman says that expanding the scheme
into something comparable to Vélib’ is not realistic,
but he would like to increase the number of distribution points.
He has not yet contacted the districts, which would have to make
The OV-fiets is different from Vélib’ and similar
schemes in that bicycles have to be returned to the distribution
point where they were rented, or a 10 euro supplement will be charged.
A pilot is being carried out in Ede to see whether this supplement
can be abolished.
According to the Guardian’s Angelique Chrisafis, Vélib’s
success is partly due to its appearance. “As the French first
lady Cécilia Sarkozy attests, a chic French woman should
never diverge from the strict colour scheme of black, grey or camel,
and the bikes, with their metal casing, fit perfectly”.
“Paris has avoided a plague of garish neon bikes in favour
of an understated colour scheme that looks good gliding down the
Of course, the introduction of the Vélib’ has not
been completely trouble-free. Some 250 to 500 bicycles have been
stolen, and the police have been instructed to clamp down on cyclists
riding on sidewalks or going the wrong way on a one-way street.
A taxi driver quoted by L’Express seems to be under the impression
that Dutch cyclists are more law-abiding. “We don’t
have the same mutual respect they have in the Netherlands. Here,
cyclists jump red lights, ride on sidewalks and ride in the wrong
direction! It’s very dangerous”.
Many cities plan to emulate Vélib’, including Chicago
(1,500 to 2,000 bicycles), Tel Aviv (2,500) and Seoul (5,000). In
New York, advocates have presented plans to introduce a 40,000 bicycle
scheme, and Beijing aims to have 50,000 rental bicycles in place
at the 2008 the Olympics.
San Francisco is considering a plan somewhat similar to the Dutch
OV-fiets, with distribution points located at bus stations, thus
making the bicycles part of the public transportation system.
Meanwhile, the future of OV-fiets is somewhat unclear. Today, the
organisation was threatened with legal action if it blocks a takeover
by Dutch Railways (NS). Interested parties including cyclists’
organisation Fietsersbond believe OV-fiets, in order to expand,
needs the NS’ financial clout. OV-fiets says it wants more
guarantees from the NS before agreeing to a takeover.
Interestingly, OV-fiets threatens to seek collaboration with ‘innovative
and successful parties’ such as the JCDecaux advertising company.
JCDecaux operates Vélib’ and a similar scheme in Lyon.
Illustrations: Vélib’ distribution point (top;
photo Rcsmit / Wikipedia); OV-fiets in Rotterdam (photo OV-fiets).
Want to receive News from Amsterdam?