Paris mayor wants bike-sharing plan extended to cars

DIVISIVE: The plan has aroused mixed reactions, with some seeing it as a solution to higher gasoline prices while others think it would only worsen traffic


Wed, Jul 30, 2008 - Page 6

Paris’ ambitious mayor has a new “green dream” after the spectacular success of his bike-sharing scheme launched a year ago: a version for electric cars.

Under Bertrand Delanoe’s environmentally friendly plan, a driver could pick up a car, say, on the Left Bank, snake up the slopes of Montmartre, then drop it off — and only pay for the minutes spent behind the wheel.

But cars, even electric, are already proving more divisive than bikes.

With the price of gas steadily rising and Paris parking a permanent headache, some drivers are delighted by the new project.

Others see it as a step backward, fearing it could mean more traffic and dependence on cars in an already congested city.

The program dubbed Autolib’ will be launched late next year or in 2010, with a fleet of 4,000 electric cars — 2,000 within Paris and 2,000 in the city’s suburbs. As with the Velib’ bike-sharing program, Autolib’ users would be able to rent cars from one of 700 planned lots, both under and above ground, and drop them off at any other lot.

Organizers say it is too early to discuss details such as how the lots would be monitored or whether non-French driver’s licenses would be accepted.

Annick Lepetit, deputy mayor in charge of transportation, said Autolib’ would target those who are considering buying their first automobile — in the hopes of deterring them from ever buying a polluting car. By putting lots in the suburbs, it would also encourage occasional commuters to choose a gasoline-free alternative to getting downtown.

She cited a recent survey showing that a majority of Parisians were in favor of a car-sharing project like Autolib’.

Yet some members of the Green Party have been vocal critics, even though the Autolib’ project calls for electric cars. They want to reduce car use, period.

Denis Beaupin, a Green deputy mayor for the environment, occupied Lepetit’s job before her and saw the birth of the bike-sharing program through.

He says the Greens would rather see a system where shared cars were returned to the lots from which they were hired, to ensure that they are only used in exceptional situations.

But Pascal Husting, president of Greenpeace France, says he thinks Autolib’ would be a step in the right direction.

“Today we have consumer habits, whether it’s going to Ikea or elsewhere, which necessitate that once in a while, even those who can’t afford cars need to use one, and in this sense I think this will complement public transportation,” he said.