Parisians turn to two-wheeled traffic solution

3rd October 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 2 (AFP) - Getting around by road in Paris -- and many other European cities -- is normally a frustrating experience marked by traffic jams, rare parking spaces and long delays.

PARIS, Oct 2 (AFP) - Getting around by road in Paris -- and many other European cities -- is normally a frustrating experience marked by traffic jams, rare parking spaces and long delays.

But not for a growing legion of commuters who have taken to getting around on two wheels instead of four.

Scooters, bicycles and motorbikes are increasingly taking over the streets of the French capital, zipping in and out of gridlocked lanes with ease while trapped motorists look on with envy.

What is new is that the riders now cover almost every demographic, with businessmen and women in particular turning to moped mobility, their ties and chic scarves flapping in the slipstream.

"It's more practical, you save a lot of time and it's fun. And it's a lot cheaper than running a car," said Romain, a 25-year-old lawyer who bought his first scooter -- a 1950s Vespa -- earlier this year to get to and from work.

It's a trend that first emerged in Paris three years ago, at the start of a City Hall campaign to reduce car use in favour of public transport and bicycles.

But while pedal-power has certainly picked up, largely thanks to an expanding network of bike lanes, many commuters reluctant or unable to give up motorised travel have turned to scooters.

Laurent Videmont, the national sales director for the Italian scooter company Piaggio -- the top scooter brand in France -- said the market has grown 15 percent annually since 2003 and currently stood at 40,000 new units a year.

"And it keeps going up. I don't think it'll level out for at least another five years," Videmont said at an annual Paris trade show dedicated to two-wheeled transport.

"In France and in Europe generally -- in London especially with its congestion fee -- commuters are looking at the cost of maintaining a car, and now with the cost of petrol, they are thinking more and more about scooters as practical transport," Videmont said.

He was standing among gleaming new models -- several of which, significantly, sported colours and options (such as a baby seat) specifically aimed at women riders, who now account for a third of the buyers in the company's popular Vespa brand.

Women were also being courted by accessory businesses at the trade show.

Bering, a French motorbike clothing manufacturer previously known for its rugged, no-nonsense riding gear, was testing prototypes of protective fashion wear designed to appeal to the burgeoning feminine market.

Julie Lenoble, a marketing assistant for the firm's parent company, explained that the trend of European commuters increasingly using scooters or motorbikes "is going to stay, I think."

Behind her were mannequins dressed in flashy outfits. One was inspired by the colours of the Brazilian flag, one had a blue Hawaiian surf motif and another was decked out in an urban camouflage look.

Nearby was a stand with road-ready colour-coordinated sneakers featuring reinforced toes and ankle support and non-slip soles.

"Everybody is asking when they're going to be available," Lenoble said, adding that the new class of women riders were interested in fashion even when sporting helmets.

But as increasing numbers of motorists ditch their cars for mopeds, safety has become a more important issue.

The Paris City Hall, keen to push the capital more towards bicycles, has underlined the dangers of using scooters and motorbikes.

Its statistics show that riders of those machines are 50 percent more likely to be killed or injured in traffic accidents than those on bicycles. It has also suggested that its long-standing tolerance regarding the free-for-all parking behaviour of motorised riders may soon come to an end.

The police, too, are concerned about inexperienced riders who buy relatively powerful 125cc scooters capable of speeds of up to 120km an hour but which can be ridden with a standard car driving licence.

"There are more and more people using scooters and motorbikes and unfortunately many of them are ill-prepared to handle them," said one motorbike officer who declined to give his name without permission from his superiors.

The sudden surge in two-wheeled riders trying to escape the traffic hassles caused by cars also means, perversely, that they are causing their own congestion.

"I think that it is getting increasingly difficult to move about easily," the officer said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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