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"We'll Always Have Paris!" Bicycle Sharing All the Rage in the City of Lights

Paris_bicycles_3_2 A new initiative was implemented in Paris, France to encourage biking around the city in an effort to cut emissions and reduce congestion. Beginning July of last year year, the city made 20,600 rental bikes available for anyone to use, citizens and visitors alike.

Bike pick-up and drop-off sites are placed throughout the city near metro station stops and other high-transit locations. There are currently 1,450 locations in place. A user simply swipes his or her credit card to release the bike, and is free to use it as long as he or she desires, and may drop it off at any location. The bikes are free for the first thirty minutes, and the user is charged a nominal fee thereafter. Theft of bikes is kept to a minimum because of the personal information gathered when a credit card is swiped.

The big ugly bikes are called Velibs, and there are more than 20,500 of them in the French capital. Velib execs are the first to admit that the program has been designed with the commuter in mind. Bikes are are available for 30 minute intervals -- pick one up, get where you need to go, and drop it off at a station within a half hour or you'll pay late fees. That said, Velib is also targeting the tourist market, pointing out in its promotional materials that rental terminals provide information in eight different languages.

As for the bikes themselves, they're designed for durability, not sleek good looks. Because they're used an average of 10 to 15 times per day, they're built to be sturdy, and are heavier than typical city bikes (nearly 50 pounds). Brakes and gear change mechanism are covered by a hard plastic protector. Bikes are reallocated to rental stations as needed by a fleet of 20 natural gas trucks and, and a maintenance team provides cleaning and repair.

The Paris system is modeled after its sister city, Lyon, which implemented “bike-sharing” to great success. The city teamed up with Cyclocity, a subsidiary the outdoor advertising company, JCDecaux, who heads bike systems in Brussels, Vienna, and the cities Cordoba and Girona in Spain. London, Dublin, Sydney, and Melbourne are all considering similar bike-sharing systems. Maybe the U.S. will catch on!

Posted by Casey Kazan.

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