Friday, January 04, 2008

The "Velib" Saga Continues

So, just as these environment-friendly, state-sponsored bicycles were becoming popular around various cities in France and elsewhere--"Boom"-- they run into France's newly flourishing private-sector capitalism.

[Thanks to Guy Brighton for this photo.]

To bring the uninformed up to date, last year the City of Paris, like several other communities around Europe and elsewhere, decided to make a deal with a French publicist named J.C. Decaux, to place hundreds of bicycle stations around the city and to make available thousands of bicycles for hourly or daily use by the citizens. For more details, see this post, that has links to the whole history.

J.C. Decaux is a powerful man in the world, inasmuch as he controls many of those billboards, subway stations and publicity stalls you see around Paris and many other cities. In the US, his rival is Clear Channel, the name you've probably seen on many of our own signs.

According to an interview with him, he loves biking and just wants to see everyone get a little exercise. The truth, however, is that he has a huge financial interest in getting monopoly access to thousands of City-paid publicity spaces, a privilege only he will enjoy in the City of Lights.

Along comes Clear Channel (CC), that has been making some exploratory inroads into French media and other venues. J.C.'s success--in obtaining at the city of Paris's expense prime space for publicity signage--did not go unnoticed to CC.

As soon as the Parisian project started to gird its loins for the second phase, i.e. for the extension of the idea into Paris's suburbs, CC found a way to intervene by persuading an administrative judge to stop it in its tracks.

I applaud this endeavor, if only because this is a first in history. No one, as far as I know, has ever challenged a state or city's right to offer services to its citizens, especially in France. But the cronyism is so blatant here, the opportunity for profit so obvious, and the opposition so strong, that even a powerful French municipality will have to put up a good fight.

The motive given for the judgment: The extension of the Parisian plan to other communities is of such a nature as to "modify the intent of the initial contract" inasmuch as "it would have the effect of furnishing a public service through a self-service mechanism." [Note: This is my approximate but unclear translation that made need some tweaking.]

As explained in this article and this one at the La Liberation French newspaper, "the initial contract drawn up between JC Decaux and the City of Paris cannot be extended without contravening principles of open competition."

In the December 19 agreement reached between the City of Paris and the outlying municipalities, Paris would have paid for the installation of the new Velib stations in the suburbs, and in exchange they would have received 100 percent of the income.

Further complicating all of this is a desire in the heart of some Parisian politicians to develop a kind of Uber-Paris community in which they, presumably, would become the power-players.

Now it is up to the State Council to decide. This should be fun.

PS: What, you ask, is the State Council? It's an unusual, archaic-sounding government tool unknown in the US, that the French have conserved over the centuries. It has an advisory capacity, an honorary status, and both an administrative function and a judicial function. For more information, see this Wikipedia entry.

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Blogger Katy said...

All pseudo-commentator real estate advertising will be deleted.

11:22 AM  

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