Paris has often been first at doing some the sensible stuff, those of us who have lived in London have got used to this. It really is the simple things, an artificial beach alongside the river in summer months (Paris) versus nothing (London), plastic sacks for collecting trash (Paris) rather than no trash cans at all (London), a city wide bike rental company that is free and easy to use (both cities, but Paris was a couple of years ahead).
Now Paris is about to trump London again by rolling out a fleet of electric cars to be used in much the same way the city bikes are. This is all about Paris taking on traffic and a large city trying to deal with the problems that a large city has to face. The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, has been in office since 2001 and won the last election in 2008 (granting him another six year term). A central plank of his policies has been to reduce the number of cars coming in and out of the city each day. Better public transport has helped, Paris has a reliable, fast and relatively cheap suburban rail system (RER) as well as a new tramway system to allow people to get around the periphery comfortably, but the number of cars is still an issue. Most people who live in the city centre don’t own a car; parking is rare, and costly, plus insurance, fuel and associated costs mean that public transport is a much better option. This development is aimed also at the approximately 8 million Parisians living in the suburbs, the number of them commuting into the city each day still causes major traffic delays. The mayor wants them to use the RER and then use a bike or an electric car once they are in the city.
So, the electric car. Silent (which isn’t always a great thing for pedestrians, you like to hear something coming if part of your role in proceedings is to jump out the way), zero emissions (which means a lot in Europe) and easy to run. The cars will be small but will almost certainly do the job, anyone who has spent time in a European city centre appreciates that small is necessary, these streets were not designed for large vehicles. Italy has long had affection for the toaster on wheels and the Smart Car has been a popular site in Europe over the last decade or more. This Parisian decision seems to be a step in the right direction and the practicalities of it all should be pretty easy for all. Before hiring a car, drivers must register at Autolib’s office in central Paris or kiosks located near pickup stations. A driving licence, ID card and credit card are required, along with a returnable deposit. Users will be able to sign up for daily, weekly or annual membership and prices range from €10 to €144 for a year, depending on the length of time the car is used. If you have a prang, then hit the big blue button in the car and wait to be rescued (that bit might not work so well). Either way, be sure to stop, look and listen when you’re in Paris, you won’t hear the new revolution coming.
(Editor’s note: Paul Mattesini’s posts appear Tuesdays on Following the Equator. If you have a travel question for our resident expert tour director, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future posts.)