City of Light switches on cars

2011-12-06 09:04

PARIS, France -  Four years after transforming the French capital's two-wheeled transport habits with an easy-to-rent bicycle system the city has launched a similar project with battery cars.

Officials have unveiled Autolib, an electric-car rental service that, it's hoped, will yield big benefits for the city's often clogged and polluted streets.

French magnate Vincent Bollore, whose company is supplying the project's cars, said: "Now we can imagine the city without the stink and noise of exhaust pipes. You can walk behind an Autolib car with a baby in a push-chair and not worry about fumes."

The launch follows a successful October 2011 trial of 250 Bluecar vehicles.

Under the system, users will rent a car at one location and simply leave it at another. More cars will be added each month, with officials eventually hoping to have 3000 cars and 1200 stations in place, many of them at metro and rail stations.


The city's socialist mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, described the car as "a revolution" that will improve the quality of life across the French capital, "despite the risks of public scepticism and sarcasm".

Delanoe said: "A little more than four years ago we introduced the Velib. It was an innovation as well as a risk which was met with scepticism and sarcasm."

The project, which will cost the equivalent of about R43-million is being co-financed with the regional Ile-de-France council.

Paris, in common with cities such as New York, already has a popular non-electric car-sharing scheme.

Officials say France is the first to deploy an all-electric fleet using a new generation of lithium-metal-polymer batteries that can hold a charge lasting up to five times longer than other cells. Bollore says a full charge will provide a range of up to 250km in town. The little Bluecars can comfortably seat four adults, manufacturers say.

Delanoe said: "It will mean fewer parked cars, less traffic and less pollution."

Residents and tourists were quick to embrace Paris's bicycle-rental system, known as Velib and launched in 2007. London, impressed by the project,  adopted a similar initiative. Paris and its suburbs are now dotted with around 1800 docking stations holding more than 20 000 of the grey utilitarian bikes.


The bicycles have been vandalised and stolen with battered units turning up as far away as Morocco or used as teenage stunt bikes in YouTube videos.

Delanoe, when asked about the potential of vandalism to the new electric cars, acknowledged it was a risk but said they were made of highly resistant materials.

A useage contract will cost individuals the equivalent of R1550 per year, plus perhaps the equivalent of R50 for each half hour of use. Users can also get weekly or daily membership.

The project has met resistance from a number of Paris district councils which have cited cost and doubts about the public appetite for the scheme; car rental companies are also not happy.

Even some environmentalists have criticised the project for promoting a car culture and for the extra draw on France's nuclear power stations.