The Parisian term for the city's one year old Velib bike hire scheme. The local authority in Paris has deposited 20,000 distinctive heavy duty bicycles in about 750 special racks around the city, and anyone can simply swipe his or her ordinary travel card and pedal off. The bike doesn't have to be returned to the same pick-up station: you can cycle from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre and leave it there.
The scheme is simple in that the same card can be used for public transport and for Velib, and that makes it accessible to locals and tourists alike. Subscription is minimal: one day costs 1 euro, one week costs 5 euros, one year costs just 29 euros; and for that you can make as many short trips as you like. The first half hour is free, with penalties for late returns.
Based on an already successful scheme in Lyon, the Paris one has confounded its critics with
more than 6 million rides clocked up in the first three months, and every bike rented on average 10 times a day. Fans of the scheme argue its success comes down to simplicity of use, density of pick-up stations (never more than 350 metres away) and good administration by JCDecaux who organise it all in return for exclusive access to the city's advertising billboards.
There are other schemes around Europe. German cities like Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich have the Call A Bike scheme (although this has been criticised for requiring cyclists to call the bike control centre at the beginning and end of a ride). There are also systems in Oslo and Stockholm; and the red and white “bicing” bikes in Barcelona. A scheme is proposed for Dublin, and London is planning to introduce rental bikes tied in with a Legible London signage system to encourage walking – apparently 50% of tube journeys in London are quicker by foot.
One teething problem reported from Paris (and Barcelona) is that by the end of the day uphill stations are empty while downhill stations are full. Cyclists happily cruise down from Montmartre hill but seem less keen to pedal back up. However, with 50 people employed to redistribute the bikes to these higher altitude stations, Paris is setting a great example to Europe with La Velorution.