Paris gears up for cycle revolution

13th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 13, 2007 (AFP) - Paris is gearing up for a transport revolution next month when a fleet of 10,000 self-service bicycles rolls out across the city, as part of an ambitious bid to coax urbanites from their cars.

PARIS, June 13, 2007 (AFP) - Paris is gearing up for a transport revolution next month when a fleet of 10,000 self-service bicycles rolls out across the city, as part of an ambitious bid to coax urbanites from their cars.

Echoing a growing global trend for eco-friendly, easy-access bike schemes, it is the first in a major capital -- and as such is being eagerly watched by city planners from Rio de Janeiro to Montreal.

"We want to shake up people's mentalities," said Celine Lepault, who runs the programme for Paris city hall.

"People tell us they love to cycle -- but in the country, not the city. We want them to realise the huge advantages it brings in a place like Paris, in terms of time-savings, health, environment and lifestyle."

From July 15 Parisians and tourists will able to use swipe- or credit-cards 24 hours a day to rent cycles for short trips around the city, dropping them at any of 750 bike points to be picked up by a new user.

As of Wednesday, users can click onto a website to sign up as customers or pick up a form from baker shops, newsagents and metro stations citywide.

City Hall hopes Parisians will adopt the system en masse, and expects to have at least 200,000 regular users by year end, when the number of bikes is set to double to 20,600 at 1,451 stations.

Spaced 300 metres (yards) apart, the docking stations form a dense grid across the city, and cyclists can use the Internet or a mobile phone to check on bike availability at any one.

Cost for the user has been kept right down: rental is free for the first half hour, rising to one euro for the second, two for the next and so on -- a progressive charging system designed to encourage short rents and a regular turn-over.

There is also a small subscription fee: registered bikers pay 29 euros (38 dollars) a year while occasional cyclists can use a credit card to pay a one-off daily fee of one euro or weekly charge of five euros.

And the best part? It will not cost French taxpayers a penny thanks to a deal between city hall and urban advertising giant JC Decaux, which is picking up the bill in exchange for exclusive rights to 1,600 hoardings across the city.

The scheme will even generate funds for the city, with a slice of ad revenue paid back into its coffers.

City hall says its target audience is young professionals, students, and all those keen to add a little exercise to their daily routine.

Paris' strategy is to spirit away concerns -- such as bike theft and repairs -- that keep people from taking up cycling: despite a growing 400-kilometre network of cycle paths, the city of two million has only 150,000 bike owners.

It is also rolling out a major campaign on road safety for novice cyclists, while reassuring users that bikes are less accident-prone than cars or motorcycles.

It is counting on the sheer number of bikes on the street to win over doubters, and force drivers to be more considerate.

To allow for intensive use, the bikes themselves are sturdy machines, weighing 22 kilogrammes (50 pounds) with three gears, powerful brakes, and a large front basket.

Dubbed "Velib", a contraction of velo (bike) and liberte (freedom), the Paris scheme is modelled on a similar one run by JC Decaux in the southeastern city of Lyon where 4,000 self-service bikes have been part of the landscape since 2005.

"Just take a walk to see how the atmosphere has changed: it makes streets less noisy, less stressful, it puts a human face back on the city," said Gilles Vesco, vice president for alternative transport for the greater Lyon area.

"There is a kind of conviviality: it's a shared network, people chat at the bike stations, swap tips and advice."

Fifty-five percent of the scheme's users in Lyon say they now drive less, and bike traffic has jumped 75 percent.

The overall environmental impact is hard to measure but Lyon calculates that the distance covered by the bikes since 2005 -- 20 million kilometres -- would represent 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions for a car.

The Paris initiative dovetails with the new government's pledge to push green issues up the agenda, illustrated by the appointment of political heavyweight Alain Juppe as a new environment superminister.

Keen to stress his credentials, Juppe recently adopted a gleaming black Dutch bicycle on which he was seen cycling to Wednesday's weekly cabinet meeting, briefcase tucked in the handlebar basket.

Copyright AFP

SUbject: French news

0 Comments To This Article