| Clare Byrne |
PARIS (dpa) – A motoring revolution is taking place on the streets of Paris.
Seven years after the launch of the immensely successful Velib bicycle sharing scheme, a car sharing programme that uses an electric vehicle in the same grey colour as the bikes is going the extra mile to combat air pollution.
Launched in December 2011 by the City of Paris, the Autolib scheme aims to woo motorists away from polluting petrol and diesel models to cleaner, quieter electric technology.
Like the Velib, subscribers can just swipe a stand on the street to release a set of wheels, which can be returned at any one of hundreds of charging stations across the city and suburbs.
Unlike the Velib, users can book their parking spot at their destination station online – a key attraction for motorists who despair of driving around for hours looking for parking.
Easy and cheap to use, with a comprehensive network of stations – the key ingredients in the success of the Velib have made its four-wheeled successor Autolib another leading player in Europe.
On a midweek evening recently in the city’s trendy Marais district, electric cars were sailing in and out of five on-street stations every few minutes.
A student nurse, who drives to work each morning at a hospital across the Seine river, was the first to reverse into a spot and plug in, using a power cord on the charging stand.
Marie-Charlotte is not the kind of user the municipal government had in mind when it set about trying to banish the smog that regularly descends on the city.
She has no car. If it were not for Autolib she would use public transport for her short journey to work.
“But with Autolib I can listen to music and I’m not stuck in a metro with people who smell,” the stylish 26-year-old said matter-of-factly.
Shortly after she leaves, a mother and her two children un-tether a car and prepare to drive home to the suburbs west of Paris.
Virginie Parodi has a car but during the week she drives an Autolib, because of the free parking and cost savings it offers in off-peak hours.
For users with an annual subscription costing €10 a month, hiring a car for half an hour costs just €5.50, less than the price of three metro tickets.
“And it’s more comfortable. You’re not squashed,” she said. “I prefer the car!” her blond 10-year-old, Raphael, agreed.
With 78,000 annual subscribers, and nearly 100,000 more daily, weekly or monthly users, Autolib has confounded sceptics, who question the need for car sharing in a city with excellent public transport.
Above all the numbers underscore the growing demand for car sharing, particularly among young Europeans, for whom cars are no longer a status symbol.
A study by Cetelem credit company puts the average age in Europe for the buyer of a new car at a venerable 52.
Autolib’s operator Bollore, a French conglomerate that makes batteries for electric cars, admits that car sales – and not shares – was what it aimed to promote when it designed the scheme.
“Initially, the idea was for us to have a showcase for our lithium metal polymer batteries,” a Bollore spokesman told dpa.
But with the market for privately-owned electric cars still stuck in the starting blocks Bollore is more than happy to develop a sideline in car sharing.
Having conquered Paris, where around 2,600 Bluecars are available for rental at 1,050 stations, and with similar schemes running in Bordeaux and Lyon, Bollore is now looking abroad for growth.
“In 30 or 40 years three-quarters of the world’s population will be concentrated in 1,000 cities,” the Bollore spokesman said, predicting air pollution to be a “crucial” problem, particularly in Asia and Africa.
The French group is already making inroads in the US, where Indianapolis, home of motor racing in the US, has signed a deal for a BlueIndy car sharing scheme to start service in 2015. Bollore is also to harmonise London’s car-sharing scheme and Singapore is also showing interest.
To cope with the demand, the operator is teaming up with Renault, which will begin building Bollore’s cars next year. France’s second-biggest carmaker already offers a range of electric vehicles.