Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Paris is more beautiful on a Vélib'

Vélib' is the popular bike share program in Paris, France. Vélib stands for "vélo liberté" (bicycle freedom) and "la ville est plus belle à vélo" (cycling makes the city beautiful) is their welcoming slogan. End of August I stayed in Paris for two weeks, and luckily I also had the time for a spin on a Vélib'. Here are some of my impressions...

me cycling off on a velib bike in paris
Me on a Vélib' near Paris 6 University

Vélib' was launched in 2007 and is run by the outdoor advertising company JCDecaux. Surprisingly there are still no ads on the bicycles (as compared to the Vienna Citybikes, which are run by Gewista, in fact a part of JCDecaux).

The bikes are grey, and come with a cockpit-like view (with some instructions explaining how to deal with dead angles of trucks etc.). They are equipped with all necessities -- dressguard, chainguard, a very stable basket in the front, lights, cable lock etc. What I particularly like is the very stable double kickstand. The bikes have three gears and two handbrakes. Personally I am a bit bored by the grey color, and I would prefer a coaster brake. But that's about all, the bikes are comfy and easy to ride.

velib bikes
A Vélib' -- simple and sweet

Awesome!!! I have never seen such a huge density of stations of a bike share program. There is a Vélib' station every 300m, and not just in the center but throughout the town. Comparing the station maps of the Viennese and Parisian bike share system is an eyeopener to why Vélib' is so much more successful (and a real alternative to other means of transport).

velib  velib station near eiffel tower
Vélib' stations in Montmatre and near the Tour Eiffel

The bike can be picked by the user, so it's advisable to check the functionality of it first (this is not possible at the BiCiNg system, for example). For regular users, there is a quick release option directly at the bike stand. After the journey, a receipt can be printed. By the way, the menu at the screen is available in many languages. Thumbs up for functionality!

velib station  connection
Vélib station and quick release

Availability and costs
There basically two different ways to get to ride a Vélib' -- you need a 1 year Vélib' card or a 1 day or 7 day pass which can be purchased at the stations (with a bank/credit card). Signing up costs 29, 1 and 5 €, respectively.

The first 1/2 hour of every ride is for free, then the rate increases starting with 1 € for the second half hour etc. I think 1/2 hour is quite sufficient, I have never even used a shared bike for so long (although there, the complete first hour is for free).

velib card and receipt
Vélib' card of my landlady, with receipt of my ride

Cycling in Paris
Despite Paris being a huge and busy metropolis, cycling (and walking) there is extremely relaxing. People are very laid-back and don't take all the traffic rules so seriously (apart from when they drive a car, which is good). Although I made a few mistakes when I had to choose my lane before junctions etc., nobody ever honked or shouted at me. What a pleasant surprise! It's great to not feel "in the way" while cycling.

wide road with no bike lane
Cycling on a busy wide road

Bike lanes are not always easy to find (or even access) and it's not always clear where they continue. However, they are clearly marked and I felt really safe on them. No riding in door zones or bike lanes built on sidewalks or anything of that sort. Great, I enjoyed it a lot.

passing a velib station at the seine
On a segregated bike path

Having tried the Vienna Citybikes, the Barcelona's BiCiNg  and now Vélib' in Paris, what can I say? Well, my perfect bike share system has the density of the Vélib' stations, the lovely red BiCiNg cycles and the ease of access (and costs) of the Citybikes in Vienna :-).

What are your experiences with shared bikes? Have you used Vélib' in Paris yourself?

Further information
Vélib' official website (in French, here are summaries in English and Spanish)
an-Architecture blog: "Urban bicycle schemes in Vienna and Paris" (great comparative study of Vélib' and Vienna Citybikes, in English)
e2 Video: "Vélo liberté" (explaining the design, the success and other positive effects of Vélib', in French and English)


Brent said...

Looks like a great system.

Incidentally, I've heard that Velib stations require a credit card with a chip. I've yet to see a card issued in the U.S. with a chip, so U.S. bank customers may have to look for alternate ways of getting passes.

John Romeo Alpha said...

My U.S. issued Chase Visa has a "Blink" chip in it that works at fast food and other places. I'd be a happy volunteer to fly to Paris to see if works on Vélib', you know, for the greater good and sake of informing cyclists everywhere!

Anonymous said...

I have made experience with Velo'V in Lyon! The bikes here have a similar design to Paris, but are red. Prices are slightly cheaper than in Paris and station frequency is good.
I have also seen bikes from the system in Brussels once and was really surprised about the good conditions of the bikes. In Lyon the bikes are often damaged. Seems to be a problem of violance in many cases. That can be annoying. No problems using my credit card with chip here.

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