The Vélib bike hire scheme was launched in Paris in July 2007 to great fanfare and it has quickly become the chic way to travel in the City of Light.

With 170,000 subscribers, 41 million journeys have been made around France?s capital by Vélib in under two years.

However, according to figures released earlier this week by the Vélib operating company, JCDecaux, the robust vélos are going missing at an alarming rate.

From a fleet of 20,600 bikes, 7,800 have been stolen or gone missing since 2007 with 11,600 damaged or deliberately vandalised.

According to the BBC, bikes have been found as far away as eastern Europe and Africa.

Customised, sprayed with graffiti, torn apart and even burnt, the life of the Vélib has been a great deal more arduous than anticipated.

The situation has become so grave that the city of Paris has agreed to help JCDecaux with the financial implications of the unanticipated consequences, with the operating company forced to replace many of the original bikes at a cost of more than ?400 each.

?We?re working on an information campaign in order to encourage Parisians to pay more respect to the fine method of public transport that is the Vélib,? explained a press release from the Paris town hall.

It?s certainly worrying news for Transport for London as it plans to roll out 6,000 hire bike onto the streets of London by May 2010.

Starting with 10,000 docking points in 400 locations across nine London boroughs, the scheme is designed to change the attitude to transport in what is still one of the most congested cities in the world, despite the recent cycling boom.

A feasibility study carried out by TfL last November made light of the impact of theft and vandalism on the Vélib scheme, but it appears to have quite seriously underestimated its figures in light of recent evidence.

With 9,544 bikes stolen in the centre of the capital alone in 2006/7, it?s provided TfL with some serious food for thought before it rolls out the scheme next May.

TfL will certainly do well to heed to example of the pioneering scheme in Cambridge in 1993, where 300 hire bikes were introduced to the city; within hours, every single bike had been stolen.

RELATED LINK:

London Mayor pledges 6,000 hire bikes for the capital