Young German industrial designer, Tobias Bexten, has come up with a nifty little idea for city transport. The STEM is a compact electric three-wheeler, powered by a lithium-ion battery, that would be available for pick-up and return at a city-wide infrastructure of rental stations. But, if a popular Parisian bike rental scheme is anything to go by, Tobias could expect to see half his bikes stolen, and the rest vandalized, hung from lamp posts and tossed in rivers.

Details of the STEM concept are a bit sketchy – it’s much more a design concept than a fully-realized mode of transport – but many of Bexten’s ideas are quite charming. The strange square box in the middle is actually a kind of saddle-bag to hold an urban commuter’s phone, laptop and brown-bagged lunch. The rental stations would have solar panels in the roofs to facilitate recharging, and the bikes would simply plug in with a standard power socket. And the forward lean of the bike is intended to emphasize the decelerated nature of the vehicle.

But the big question – apart from will it ever happen – is whether the public can be trusted with such stylish rental devices? The evidence of a two-year-old bike rental scheme in Paris would suggest not.

JCDecaux set up the “Velib” bicycle program in 2007 in exchange for exclusive advertising rights. And it proved enormously popular: in 18 months, Parisians used the bikes 42 million times, and each Velib traveled about 10,000 kms. But over half of the original fleet of 15,000 was stolen, and the remainder vandalized more than 11,000 times. Missing bikes have been spotted as far afield as Eastern Europe and Africa.

Just imagine what you could do with a powered bike…

View gallery - 6 images