Tue, Jul 17, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Pedal power offers Paris hope of less traffic, cleaner air

AFP , PARIS

Cyclists make use of bicycles provided by Paris City Hall around the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Sunday. Paris City Hall launched a new bicycle service on Sunday, with more than 10,600 bikes posted at 750 stations all over the city and prices starting at 1 euro (US$1.36) for a one-day pass. Users can take a bike and put it back at any station around town.

PHOTO: AP

Paris put the wheels in motion for more eco-friendly transport on Sunday when more than 10,000 gleaming grey bicycles went up for rental at hundreds of stations across the city.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe unveiled the bicycle rental scheme to encourage residents and tourists to pedal their way along the Seine, past the Louvre and around the Eiffel Tower, cutting back traffic and reducing pollution.

The new service called Velib will "bring to Paris lovers a bit more air, a bit more innovation and as its name suggests, a lot more liberty," Delanoe said at a ceremony to launch the bicycle rental in central Paris.

Velib, a contraction of the French words velo (bike) and liberte (freedom), is modeled on a successful scheme in the city of Lyon run by advertising giant JC Decaux.

Paris is joining such European cities as Barcelona, Geneva, Stockholm, Oslo and Vienna that offer bicycle rental to try to reduce the number of cars in big cities, improve air quality and provide a fun alternative to the metro.

Some 13,000 people in Paris have already signed up for an annual pass, allowing them to pick up a bicycle equipped with a large basket at one of the 750 rental stations.

The vandal-proof design of the bikes makes the heavier than an ordinary city bike, but they are equipped with dynamo lights and even a lock for users stopping off somewhere en route.

Within a few hours of the launch, many of the rental stations were empty and the sturdy grey bicycles could be seen on the streets of the capital.

A city official saying there were 15,000 rentals in the afternoon.

"It was a real success that went beyond what he had hoped for," said Denis Baupon, the city official responsible for transport.

City authorities hope Parisians will adopt the system en masse, and expects to have at least 200,000 regular users by year end, when the number of bikes is set to double to 20,600 at 1,451 stations.

For 28-year-old Quirin Hamp, who was among the first 50 subscribers to the new service, the bicycle rentals "are going to change the life of Parisians."

"To own a bicycle in Paris is not easy. There are always problems. This way, you always have one available in perfect condition," said Hamp.

Gilbert Arigon, a 63-year-old retiree, said he had given up cycling because his last three bicycles were stolen in Paris.

"This is a nice alternative to public transport. When it's sunny, it's so much nicer to be able to take a bicycle instead of the metro and the bus," he said.

Paris currently boasts 371km of bicycle paths.

Registered bikers pay 29 euros (US$38) a year for the rental service while occasional cyclists can use a credit card to pay a one-off daily fee of 1 euro or weekly charge of 5 euros.

Rental uses a progressive fee system that is designed to encourage short rents and quick turnover.

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