Free Bikes in ParisSaturday, 22 September 2007
Free bikes have been a city dream from way back. ‘White bicycles’ were tried in England in the hippy ‘60s, but they were all soon stolen. A few years ago I tried a more modern incarnation in Copenhagen (make them ugly, instantly recognisable and equip them with strong locks seemed to be the way to stop them all disappearing to Poland, as reportedly they did in their first year).
Now Paris is having a go, launching its very extensive and extremely sophisticated Velib’ project in July 2007. It’s paid for by JC Decaux the French ‘street furniture’ company which provides everything from bus shelters to park benches for many cities for free, in exchange for advertising rights. Velib’ kicked off with more than 10,000 bikes scattered at 750 bike stations around the city. By the end of the year the fleet should grow to more than 20,000 bikes at nearly 1,500 stations.
You can take out an annual membership which gives you a swipe card to liberate a bike or, for visitors likes me, join up for just a day or a week. Insert your credit card at the station and you’re charged just €1 for membership and can pedal off for free. For the first half hour that is, afterwards each half hour gets more expensive to encourage you to ride to your destination and return the bike.
I jumped on board my Velib’ at Place d’Italie at 14:39:48 (according to my Velib’ ticket, the timing is useful for impromptu station-to-station Velib’ races I was told) and pedalled off to my hotel near Montparnasse, arriving 20 minutes later.
Check the Velib’ French language website – http://www.velib.paris.fr/ – to find the most convenient bike station and to get a real time report on how many bikes are available at each station.
Reportedly Parisians have taken to their Velib’ (from ‘velo’ or bicycle and ‘liberté’) bikes with real enthusiasm. I hope it works.