I just spent the last two weeks in Paris, one of my favorite cities! While I enjoyed spending most of my traveling on foot or in the train, I quickly became very jealous of Paris's fantastic bike share program, Vélib. The three-year-old Vélib gets its name from two words: vélo (bicycle) and libre (free), and from what we saw it's a huge success! Unfortunately the only way to use the Vélib is either via a Passe Navigo (a rechargable card for Metro card for locals) or a European credit card, which is not the same as a US card. So while I was not able to use the bikes, I did see them all over the city.
The way the program works is stations are located all over the city and users can either rent the bikes on a daily (€1), weekly (€5) or yearly basis (€29). Bikes can be taken out one at a time, with the first 30 minutes of use for free, and every 30-minutes after that is charged in €1-4 increments. With stations located every 300 meters and thousands of bicycles available to use, it should never be longer than a few blocks to find a bike for rent.
While initially some news outlets were reporting complaints of widespread vandalism, theft and overall abuse of the bicycles, from what we saw and the local residents we spoke with, the program is now a huge success. There were tons of these bikes being ridden on the streets all over the city, actually more of the Vélib bikes than personal bikes were used. The pedestrians and cars seemed to be mindful of the cyclists and there were plenty of bikes lanes on the roads to further ease the ride. The bikes are built like city or commuter bikes and while heavy, they are very durable. Supposedly every night bikes are checked on to be repaired, replaced or maintained in any other way including filling the tires with air.
While smaller bike share programs have started popping up around the US, I hope that systems more similar to the Vélib begin. Walking and taking public transportation are great ways to travel green, but a bike share program is a nice alternative to ease tired feet and quickly get around a city!
Learn more here (in French only): Vélib.
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(Image by Rachel Wray)