Regular OTB reader and year-round commuter Michael D. Holloway recently visited Paris and got to try their bike share system, Vélib‘. At my request he was kind enough to document his experience for this guest post.
You Say You Want a Revolution?
Tire pressure? Check. Chain? Check. Breaks? Check. Seat? Check. LED? Check. Register to use the Vélib’? Oops.
The Vélib‘ system (it means bicycle free) was designed for Parisians, not tourists, to provide access around the city for those who work and play in Paris. Terry (the other member of Team Dorr/Holloway) and I were intent on using the Velib as a mode of transportation during our 10 day stay in Paris. We were tourists.
The best way to access the system is to buy an annual pass (29 Euros) or weekly pass (5 Euros). The pass allows for easy access to bikes. You slide the pass across a scanner at a Velib hub, remove the bike and away you go. We didn’t have a pass.
Without a pass we had to register at a kiosk. The ability to read French is a plus. I knew that many European outlets required a credit card with a chip. My wife speaks and reads French – our credit card chip did not.
Registering to use the Vélib’ was not simple. Terry’s French did not fail but our credit card did. Fortunately our French friend who lives in Paris had the correct credit card chip that spoke (pun intended) Velib. Off we went.
Paris is a busy city – people walking and using bicycles, mopeds, taxis, buses, push scooters, cars – but unlike New York the pace is accommodating. It was obvious each mode of transport respected the other and followed the rules.
Our ride began at the Bastille (site of the 1789 revolution) – a very busy roundabout. Other than roundabouts, most often a lane is set aside for bikes, taxis and buses or the street is clearly marked for biking so our ride towards the Seine was comfortable.
The “battle” (we may need our own revolution of understanding)I sometimes sense in Wisconsin between cars and bicyclists was absent which made our ride very pleasant no matter the level of traffic. In this case the quality of respect among the various modes of transport neutralized the quantity of vehicles and people.
Earlier in the day I had downloaded the Vélib’ app to my iPhone. The app tells you where and how many bikes are available at Vélib’ sites and empty spots to return a bike.
The first 30 minutes on a Vélib’ are free. If you park the bike and wait 30 minutes you can get another to use for free for 30 minutes. The cost beyond the 30 minutes is 1 Euro per hour and the cost doubles as usage continues. This approach puts a premium on short trip usage. The pass only provides ease of access to use the bike, the hourly charges still apply.
Our plan was to picnic on the Seine so we rode for 30 minutes and, using my app, found an alternate parking spot when our initial site was full of bikes. After our picnic we checked out 2 bikes using our original receipt and continued bicycling around the Paris.
Lucky for us this day Paris had closed a main street for a few hours to be used only by pedestrians, roller bladers and bicyclists. We would have felt fine riding in traffic so this surprise nod to non-motorized transportation was just a bonus.
We finished at the Eiffel Tower and slid our bikes into the parking lock. The parking locks register you as having returned the bike although as our French friend learned the hard way it is very important to see the green light when you return the bike. The green light means your return has been registered. Absent that you may be charged for many hours that you did not use the bike – in her case 24 hours.
The bikes, if I may use a car metaphor (forget irony) are similar to the Volvo 240 DL. Practical, functional and it gets you there. When we visit Paris next we will get two 7 day passes online (a new feature) and avoid the only real hassle of the trip – using the Velib Kiosk.
The Paris Vélib’ system is 20,000 bikes strong with bikes available throughout Paris. A few reasons the system works are because parking is at a premium, is expensive and gas is in the the $7-8 a gallon range.
As an aside, if I had a $1 for every helmet I saw a bike rider wearing in Paris I’d be broke. I was enriched however by the Vélib’ experience. It reminded me that change may come slowly to Milwaukee and Wisconsin as regard biking as transportation, but if we all continue our efforts, change will come.
Thanks for reading.