Training Wheels

Paris Launches a Bike-Share Program for Kids


Children ride free bicycles as part of the Little Vélib' system in Paris on June 18

Photograph by Remy de la Mauviniere/AP Photo

Children ride free bicycles as part of the Little Vélib' system in Paris on June 18

Vélib’, the popular Paris bike-share program that’s a model for others worldwide, is expanding its customer base to children. Starting today, kid-size bikes—including some with training wheels for children as young as three—will be available for rent at five sites around the city. More locations will open later in the summer.

If that conjures visions of tykes whizzing around the Arc de Triomphe or dodging traffic on the Grands Boulevards, relax: All the kids’ rental outlets are next to public parks or bikepaths. And unlike the adult version of Vélib’, all the bikes will come with helmets.

Launched in 2007, Vélib’ is now the world’s third-largest bike-share program (behind the Chinese cities of Wuhan and Hangzhou) with more than 17,000 bikes available for rent. The kids’ bike-share program, “as far as we know, will be the first one in the world,” says a press spokeswoman for the Paris city government, which sponsors Vélib’.

The name Vélib’ is a contraction of the French words for “bicycle” and “liberty.” But bike rentals for kids won’t be as easy and flexible as those for grownups. Adults can pick up bikes at any of more than 1,200 self-service Vélib’ stands around Paris and return them to whatever stand is closest when they reach their destination. The sites renting kids’ bikes will have employees on duty and will be open mainly on weekends, holidays, and during school vacations. Renters will have to return their bikes to the same location, and a total of only 300 bikes will be available this summer. And while adult Vélib’ users can buy an annual pass with unlimited rentals for as little as €29 ($39), renting a kid-size bike can cost as much as $20 for a single day.

Still, Vélib’ for kids could be a boon to parents who don’t want their children pedaling on busy streets. The kids’ rental sites are near major parks, such as the Bois du Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes, or alongside the Seine or canals, in areas set aside for pedestrians and bikes. The city government says a survey it conducted in 2012 showed that 86 percent of Paris families were interested in renting bikes for their children.

Matlack is a Paris correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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