Paris revs up for electric car rentals

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Four years after transforming the city's two-wheeled transport habits with an easy-to-rent bicycle system, Paris officials hope to achieve similar results for drivers.

Mayor Bertrand Delanoe and regional officials on Monday are set to launch "Autolib," an electric car rental service they hope will yield big benefits for the city's often-clogged streets.

"It will mean fewer parked cars, less traffic and less pollution," Delanoe said in an interview in Monday's Parisien newspaper.

Autolib is the socialist mayor's flagship project and will be launched in 46 towns including Paris.

"Autolib has not been created for a specific customer," Delanoe said. "It's objective is to make the whole city more free and accessible for all users."

Residents and tourists were quick to embrace Paris's bicycle-rental system, known as Velib, launched in 2007.

The city and its suburbs are now dotted with around 1,800 docking stations holding more than 20,000 of the grey utilitarian bikes.

But the bicycles have been prone to vandalism and theft, with battered bikes showing up as far away as Morocco or used as teenage stunt bikes in YouTube videos.

When asked about the potential of vandalism to the new electric cars, Delanoe acknowledged it was a risk but said the cars were made of the highly resistant materials.

He said there is funding in place of up to three thousand euros per year ($4,000) for repair costs and insurance for the cars.

The launch follows a successful October trial of 250 Bluecar electric cars, manufactured by French group Bollore.

Under the system, users will be able to rent a car at one location and drop it off at another. New cars will be added each month, with officials hoping to have 3,000 cars and 1,200 stations on the road by May.

While other places including the Netherlands and New York have similar projects up and running, officials say France is the first to deploy an all-electric fleet using a new generation of lithium-metal-polymer batteries that can hold a charge lasting up to five times longer than other cells.

Bollore says a full charge will provide a range of up to 250 kilometres in town.

Contracts start at 12 euros per month, plus five euros per half hour of use.

© 2011 AFP

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