TRANSPORTATION

Madrid’s bicycle rental service teeters on the brink of bankruptcy

Constant acts of vandalism and recurring glitches severely set back BiciMAD operator

A BiciMad worker replaces a damaged bicycle.
A BiciMad worker replaces a damaged bicycle.Jaime Villanueva

Madrid’s public bicycle rental service, BiciMAD, is on the verge of bankruptcy.

The concession holder, Bonopark, says it is losing €300,000 a month, and last Friday it requested that Madrid authorities provide compensation for its financial losses, according to José Antonio Díaz Lázaro-Carrasco, coordinator of the city’s mobility department.

“If we don’t solve this problem, the company will consider going into administration,” added the department’s number two official.

The BiciMAD network was inaugurated in June 2014 to much fanfare by then-mayor Ana Botella, of the Popular Party (PP).

At the time of its inauguration, it had 1,560 electric bicycles scattered across 123 docking stations within the city center. Yet technical glitches and other problems have dogged the project from day one.

Under the terms of the contract with Bonopark, the Navarre-based company was set to receive €25 million from the city of Madrid over a decade for operating the network.

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“The contract is frightful, but the company deserves a lot of the blame,” said Díaz Lázaro-Carrasco, of the Ahora Madrid coalition that won the municipal elections in the capital on May 24. “We are pressuring them but only up to a certain point; we can’t be left with this burden on the city’s hands, we need to find the best possible solution.”

This official added that if the Madrid government is forced to take over the service, “it will do so, although that is not the goal at this initial phase.”

The contract stipulated that the number of existing bicycles should have been expanded to 2,028 by September, but that figure has not been reached. One of the main problems, city officials admit, is that 1,000 units have been “vandalized.”

Madrid authorities have instructed local mobility agents to be vigilant of docking stations and try to ensure that the bicycles do not get destroyed or stolen. It also gave municipal police access to the rental service database “to know where the bicycles are” and to prevent damages from being inflicted, “generally by youths.”

The contract is frightful, but the company deserves a lot of the blame”

José Antonio Díaz Lázaro-Carrasco, Madrid Mobility Department

Since BiciMAD was inaugurated, over 1,000 bicycles have been stolen or damaged beyond use, while 1,625 acts of vandalism were registered against docking stations. Bonopark reported that some of the bikes have appeared for sale on a Romanian website featuring used goods, while others were found floating down the Manzanares River or incinerated.

Bonopark told EL PAÍS that these acts of vandalism have already resulted in over 100 trials and around 20 court rulings setting out sanctions that range from four- to six-month prison terms and fines of up to €1,000. Attacks against the BiciMAD service quadrupled during the summer months.

The opposition groups in the city council (Socialist Party, Popular Party and Ciudadanos) have also criticized other problems with the system, stating that on some days, six out of 10 units are out of order.

The local government has admitted that the service “is not optimal.” Even so, there were over 60,000 registered users in late September, with over 372,600 trips made last month. A citizen satisfaction survey conducted in July among more than 1,400 riders gave BiciMAD a grade of 6.92 out of 10.

English version by Susana Urra.