SPUR’s report Critical Cooling recommends 42 options for reducing local carbon emissions. This is one of them. To learn about all 42 ideas, read the full report

Bike rental or sharing program like Paris Velib

Urbanist Article


Annual savings potential:
Annual public cost:
Public cost per ton:
Implementing agency:
Horizon year:
8,700 tons
Up to $11 million in revenue
Up to $1,400 in revenue
Municipal Transportation Agency


  • A bike sharing program on the scale of the program implemented in Paris would yield similar results: a 100 percent increase in cycling
  • 31 percent of all new bicycle trips will replace driver trips
  • The length of the average auto trip replaced will be 3.3 miles


Judging from the success of similar programs in Europe, bike-sharing programs have the potential to significantly increase travel by bicycle, and the potential to reduce car travel as well. These programs, built and run by private companies in exchange for the right to display advertising, also have the potential to generate revenue for the City.

What we do now
San Francisco has a network of bike lanes and other facilities, but it does not have a bike- sharing program.

What we could do
New bike sharing programs establish automated, self-service bike rental stations. For a fee, cyclists can pick up a bike at one station and return it to another. With a sufficient number of bicycles at key origins and destinations, bike sharing programs can ensure convenient transportation throughout the city. A recent generation of bike sharing programs has emerged in recent years, with the programs established in partnership with outdoor advertising firms. Private companies supply and maintain the bikes in exchange for the right to display advertising.

Paris established a very large bike-sharing program, known as Velib, in 2007. In partnership with the advertising firm JC Decaux, the city installed 20,600 bicycles at 1,451 stations. In an effort to create a similar program, San Francisco has reached a deal with Clear Channel to implement a bike-sharing program in conjunction with advertising on its bus shelters. However, the injunction now in place on the City’s Bicycle Plan prevents implementation.

The Paris bike-sharing program was established through an advertising agreement at no cost to the city. The capital cost of the program for Decaux was approximately 90 million Euros ($117 million). User fees generate revenue. The combined advertising contract and revenue sharing returns tot Paris an estimated $34 million per year. Velib is expected to double or triple the number of bike trips made in Paris. Because San Francisco has about one third Paris’ population, we estimate that a similarly successful program has the potential to yield an estimated $11 million in advertising revenue.

Carbon savings potential
If, as in Paris, a bike-sharing program in San Francisco succeeded in doubling the number of bicycle trips, San Francisco could expect a significant reduction in CO2 emissions.

As discussed above, it is difficult to accurately predict how much new bicycle facilities will increase bicycling or reduce driving. Mode share estimates in MTC model predictions suggest that there will be about 11.6 million bike trips made per year by 2025. If the bike-sharing program leads to a 100 percent increase in bicycle trips citywide, the investments will lead to an additional 11.6 million bike trips. If we further assume that bike trips will shift away from other modes in proportion to each other mode’s current share of all internal San Francisco trips, then about 31 percent of all new bicycle trips will replace driver trips. At the average internal trip length of 3.3 miles, the investments will save 12.2 million VMT per year, or 4,400 metric tons. If the program generated as much revenue as the Paris program, it would generate $2,700 for each metric ton of carbon emissions abatement.