Paris set for bike-share scheme to cut congestion

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Paris set for bike-share scheme to cut congestion

Post by Admin on Sun Sep 16, 2007 5:52 am

Paris set for bike-share scheme to cut congestion
By Alexandra Steigrad


PARIS (Reuters) - It's summer in Paris and the French capital is
preparing to offer bikes for anyone who wants to take a ride.

By July 15, the city plans to park 10,648 bicycles at 750 stations and
nearly double that by 2008, with riders able to take bikes from one
station and drop them off at another.

Work on "Velib"' (short for 'free bike' in French) is just starting,
but it is already sparking enormous interest.

The concept evolved from utopian bike-sharing programs in Europe in
the 1960s, aimed at reducing the use of cars and cutting down on
traffic congestion and air pollution.

The most famous case was Amsterdam -- a flop because bikes were either
stolen or too beaten-up to ride.

Now, many cities are giving it a go again by partnering up with
advertising firms that will provide bikes equipped with anti-theft
systems in return for city-wide advertising opportunities.

In the residential 15th district in southwestern Paris, a parking spot
next to a corner cafe is being adapted to become home to a fleet of
sleek, grey bicycles.

"I think the program is a good thing, and it will help reduce the
number of cars on the street," said Jean-Michel Bourdet, who owns a
nearby video store.

"I used to ride bikes all the time, but they all kept getting stolen.
Now I'm going to start riding again," he said.

In an effort to prevent thefts crippling the network, Velib' bikes
will be equipped with a lock and an alarm that will sound if the bike
is not returned to a station. There will also be a security deposit
that riders will lose if their bike vanishes.

Velib' is part of a wide-ranging plan drawn up by Paris Mayor Bertrand
Delanoe to encourage residents to leave their cars at home and reduce
both the pollution and the gridlock that often snarls the city's broad
boulevards.

"We hope car use will diminish and that people will opt to take a
bicycle or the bus," said City Hall spokeswoman Gwenaelle Joffre, who
is overseeing the project.

LOCALS IN THE SADDLE

She said Delanoe's plan was aimed more at locals than tourists looking
to take a ride along the banks of the Seine.

"Our program is for people traveling short distances, from point A to
point B," Joffre said. "It's for people who don't want to take the
bus. They'll take a bike instead of taking the metro and
transferring. "

Renting a bike is simple: cyclists choose a bike and insert a pre-paid
card or credit card in a terminal to unlock it from the station. When
they are done, they lock it up at any station.

If a bike is used for less than 30 minutes, the credit card will not
be charged. Every half hour after that costs 1 euro ($1.33). Weekly
rentals cost five euros and yearly rentals just 29 euros.

To help riders navigate the streets, maps and safety manuals in
several languages will be available at every station.

How Paris will cope with this flood of new bikes is not clear, but
Joffre saw no problem because the city has 371 km (230 miles) of cycle
paths.

Raphael Bohkobza, a salesman at Au Reparateur, a popular bicycle
repair shop that sells used and new bikes in the centre of Paris,
wasn't so sure.

"It might be a big mess," he said, worried that there could be a jump
in road accidents and noting there is no law in France forcing riders
to wear helmets.

"Normally, bike rental agents are people. Now it's machines. What if
people are drunk and are renting bikes? It can be dangerous," he said.
"Also tourists who don't understand the system might cause problems."

CRAZY ABOUT BIKES

In 2006, France was the fourth largest cycle-buying country in the
world, according to the National Council of Professional Cyclists.
Part of that may be a "Tour de France effect"-- long-distance bicycle
riding is a popular sport here.

But many French also took to cycling during a crippling month-long
transport strike in 1995 -- and the habit stuck.

Velib' is paid for by JCDecaux, Europe's largest outdoor advertising
firm, in return for more advertising around the city.

It first launched the program in 2002 in Vienna and in the Spanish
cities of Cordoba and Gijon. Today the service can be found in cities
such as Brussels and, since 2005, Lyon, France's second largest city.

"Lyon began with 2,000 bikes and we'll be increasing to 4,000 bikes,"
said Agathe Albertini, JCDecaux vice president of communications.
Other cities such as Mulhouse, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille and Besancon
have signed up and more are watching.

But the Paris project is very ambitious and will show whether major
cities are ready for a two-wheel revolution.

"It's very impressive," Joffre said. "Paris will become the first
world capital to have so many bicycles freely available."

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