Anybody who’s visited Paris in the past five years or so will have seen people whizzing by on Vélibs, those grey bikes that the city rents out to locals and tourists alike. They’re fun, easy, and above all cheap, making them our favourite way to get home from a night out in the Marais.
Now, though, the authorities are seeking to capitalise on the success of their bike-hire scheme—which, although not original, has since inspired copycat schemes as far afield as London and New York—by renting out electric cars.
200 electric cars and counting
Work on the Autolib scheme has been going on for months, but the first new electric cars have begun to take to the streets. The system’s backers are hoping that the quiet, pollution-free electric cars, dubbed ‘bluecars’ will help take polluting vehicles off the streets and provide a new way to get around for people who might not otherwise rent a car—including, they hope, tourists.
With 200 of the hoped-for 2000 cars already on the streets, the system is up and running and slowly expanding to cover all of Paris and many of its suburbs, adding a network of charging stations where users can pick up and drop off one of the cars. It’s not quite as easy as getting a Vélib, which you can do by just showing up with a credit card: new users have to bring their drivers’ licence and ID to a sign-up station beforehand as well. The basic principle is the same though: go to a station near you, pick up an electric car, drive it where you need to go and then drop it off—and plug it back in.
Help at Hand
Hundreds of city bikes go missing every year, but the planners have learnt from the cycle scheme by making sure that everybody who signs up is interviewed either in person or via a video-link from the pick-up station. The pesky problem of not being able to find a parking space for your bike and having to cycle for hours in the hope of finding a free spot has been solved, too: Autolib users can reserve a space at their destination before they even leave. Finally, if you’re worried about having trouble with an electric car, there’s a button on the dashboard that puts drivers in touch with the call centre. Just don’t try driving outside of the Paris area—the cars are all tracked via GPS and it’s Autolib HQ that will be calling you if you do!