STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Eleanor Beardsley has this report.
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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: There's no doubt about it, Parisians have taken to Velib. In just two years, the chunky, gray bikes have been used for more than 50 million trips, and have become a part of the cityscape. Twenty thousand of them now flood Paris's streets. The first half-hour's rental is free, and the charges are reasonable after that. Users can take a bike and return it at any of the city's 1,000 bike stations.
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BEARDSLEY: Businessman Charles Andre de la Hogue has just checked out of Velib and is laying his suit coat in the front basket. He says the bikes have become part of his life.
M: (Through translator) I use Velib regularly to go to and from work. My office is 10 minutes away so by bike, it's very convenient. I'm very satisfied with Velib.
BEARDSLEY: Albert Asseraf works with the advertising company JCDecaux, which operates the bike scheme for free in exchange for billboard space. He says they were taken aback by the vandalism.
M: (Through translator) Every Velib is ridden about 10,000 to 12,000 kilometers a year by about 10 to 12 different riders a day. So, there's a normal wear and tear that our repair teams take care of. But it's true; we greatly underestimated the willful damage inflicted on the bikes.
BEARDSLEY: The bike scheme was supposed to cost the taxpayers nothing. But now, the Paris City Council has agreed to cover $500 of the cost of replacing each damaged bike. That's an estimated expenditure of $2 million a year.
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U: (Singing) (French spoken)
BEARDSLEY: But despite the unexpected damage to the bikes, Velib is still a huge success, says Paris City Council member Gildas Robert.
M: (Through translator) Because of Velib, the number of bikes on the streets of Paris has risen 30 percent. Velib has got people buying their own bikes, too. The city is changing. The traffic is diminishing, and people are driving more carefully. Velib is helping in the mayor's strategy to reduce pollution and get people on bikes, especially for short trips.
BEARDSLEY: And that's where I ran into Belgian student Stephanie Loquet, who gives me a tip for my next ride.
M: Before you take a Velib, you have to check the tires if they're not flat. You have to check the brakes. You have to check the gears. You have to see if the steering wheel is still pointing forwards instead of to the side. So really, it's like a full check-up before you can take the bike.
BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
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