The brilliant French film comedy actor, Jacques Tati (1907-1982), made a career out of man versus machine films. They involved fish out of water stories with the fish (him) trying to come to terms with very modern technology.

In Tati’s first major feature, Jour de fete (1949), he plays a rural postman. All is dandy in life when the Tati postman delivers the post using his bicycle.

But when new disruptive technology (a postal van) comes to the village, he finds himself struggling and in frantic competition against the van!

Now life becomes all about speed of delivery. Peddling madly the Tati postman’s constant motivational refrain to himself is “Rapidito, rapidito!” Modern life has arrived. The Tati postman would gleam with a smile today at the return of bicycles to Paris. This is a commercialisation story, how a problem for some is a business opportunity for others.


A problem for the French capital of Paris is pollution and the emission of green gases caused by cars. The city also lacks the money to offer alternatives.

Innovation and its commercialisation has now introduced an alternative. JCDecaux, the no. 2 worldwide in outdoor advertising (no. 1 in Europe and Asia Pacific), understood the crucial environmental and political issues and changed it into a business opportunity.

Drawing inspiration from pre-existing models, the City of Paris and JCDecaux on 15 July 2007 launched a self-service bicycle hire system known as Vélib’ (French Vélo Liberté, English translation Bicycle Freedom).

  • The contract negotiated between the City of Paris and JCDecaux organises an unrivalled self-service bicycle hire system. Cycle stations have been set up all over the city to allow users to take a bicycle from a station close to their point of departure and to leave it at station closest to their destination.
  • The benefits for the public are many. The system is available for users aged 14 years and above and for a low price (1€ for 1 day, 5€ for 7 days and 29€ for the year). Unlimited use is permitted and without any additional fees if you do not keep a bicycle for more than 30 minutes in one session. The vast majority of bike journeys in Paris last less than 30 minutes.
  • Under the contract JCDecaux’s obligations are to:"velib-pub-saint-maur"
    • Supply more than 20.000 Vélib’ bicycles in the city and 1,450 Vélib’ stations, one station every 300 meters throughout the city center. Each station is equipped with an automatic rental terminal and spots for dozens of bicycles.
    • Fund start-up costs of about €90 million and employ the equivalent of about 285 people full time to operate the system and repair the bikes for 10 years.
    • Give the city all bike hire revenue from the program as well as a fee of about US$4.3 million a year (Washington Post, 24.03.2007).
  • In return, JCDecaux receives:
    • Exclusive control over 1,600 city-owned billboards (Le Monde, 19.12.2007). The city receives about half of that billboard space at no charge for public-interest advertising.
    • As the owner of the system, JCDecaux in Paris is in a monopoly situation, helping it to negotiate the extension of the Velib’ to Paris’ suburbs and beyond.

Many cities in the world are currently thinking about adoption of similar systems.

Noric Dilanchian