Paris by Wheels

Written by admin on July 13, 2007 – 3:57 pm -

If you live in or are visiting Paris, you’ll have a new choice of transportation. As of July 15th, 2007, the same mayor who introduced the Paris Plage enabled people to hop on extremely sturdy bikes to get from here to there. Bertrand Delanoë, who’s responsible for widening Paris’s sidewalks, bus, taxi and bike lanes, would like nothing more than to see people ditch their cars, diminish traffic and hop on the eco-friendly “green” band wagon.

The program has been dubbed Velib’.  Paris is the first major capital to introduce this “grab a bike and peddle plan,” although it already exists in Lyon. Many city planners and transport officials are eager to see whether or not it succeeds. It just might be the way of the future — much in the same way Zipcars have made inroads in the US and a few cities in other parts of the world. FYI: Zipcars are currently available in London and there are plans to introduce them in the City of Light.

To find a bike, all you’ll need to do is look around. As of the day after Bastille Day, there are 10,648 bikes available at 750 stations. By the end of the year, it’s projected there will be 20,600 vélos awaiting riders at 1451 stations that will be spaced only 300 meters apart.  The docking stations form a dense grid across the city; cyclists can use the Internet or a mobile phone to check on bike availability. Bikes will be stationed for riding 24 hours a day/seven days a week.

Parisians and tourists will able to use and/or swipe credit cards 24 hours a day to rent cycles for short trips around the city, dropping them at any of the bike points to be picked up by the next rider. Users will be able to order rechargeable cards by clicking onto Velib’and enrolling as customers. For now, a yearly subscription costs 29 Euros, plus additional fees if you rent by the hour, the half-day, or more. For people who want to make a fast trip, the first 30 minutes are free.

As is the way with anything that’s newly introduced, there’s bound to be confusion. Would tourists be required to plunk down the annual 29 Euro subscription fee before grabbing a bike? These bikes are by no means anything a serious biker would ever be caught dead riding. No ten gears and built never go at more than a few miles per hour; they all have baskets so people can accomplish fast chores.  They will never allow you to climb a mountain.  Not even Lance Armstrong would be able to succeed.

One the concerns was whether or not people would be able to liberate the bikes with credit cards that lack puces or “smart chips.”  After numerous tries (and with the help of an extremely patient Parisian gentlemen), we were triumphant in pulling off the deed. I am now the proud possessor of a card and only hope I can remember the four-digit code. The central machines have an option for people who want instructions in English. It’s not operative on day #1 but it’s surely a matter of a few days … if that.

People who tell you that riding a bike comes back naturally are optimists.  My first foray had a Laurel and Hardy appearance, as if I were drunk, whipping and weaving. After twenty minutes, I climbed off the bike and securely locked it into its new home adjacent to my apartment. One of the reasons was because the first 30 minutes of usage is free. The other reason is because I was exhausted and needed a gather additional strength in order to make another run.

There are guides as to where stations are located but it doesn’t take much looking. The City views these bikes as being available for everyone and don’t anticipate riders will keep them out for more than a couple of hours.

Riders will be able to buy cards at metro stations, tabacs, and some bakeries and (bien sur) on line. Paris residents can now bike to gyms and do myriad other chores that don’t require heavy lifting.

I’m an instant convert. Not sure how I’ll feel come January when it’s cold and rainy.  But, more importantly, will this be the transportation of the future? If so, people will enviably have better legs and won’t have to worry about piling on kilos.

To be sure readers and other visitors to Paris will be gleaning an entirely different perspective.  And, undoubtedly a few scratches.

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