Bikes Invade Paris as Eco-Friendly Transportation

Tourists and locals seen pedaling around Paris as bike rental program begins.

ByABC News
August 6, 2007, 2:20 PM

Aug. 6, 2007 — -- Every summer the City of Lights is transformed into the city of bikes as the Tour de France descends upon the city's famed Champs-Elysees. But this summer, scads of sweaty internationals are being spotted pedaling down Paris' tiny streets and grand avenues.

No, they're not the last remaining cyclists from this year's tarnished Tour de France, but rather tourists taking part in the city's new communal bike program.

The program, Vélib, which gets its name from the combination of the French words for bicycle, "vélo", and freedom, "liberté," is this summer's big hit in the French capital.

Like many bike co-op initiatives, this new service allows users to take a bike from one location and drop it off at any one of the 750 stations located throughout the city.

To rent a bike, users can reserve one online or at any of the stations, using a credit or debit card. The fees range from a one Euro ($1.37) day pass and a five Euro ($6.89) weekly pass to a yearly pass for 29 Euros ($40).

The Vélib program is really designed for short-term rentals. The first half hour is free, but the second and third are not. Users get charged one Euro after 30 minutes, and the cost doubles with each half hour after that.  For example, two Euros after an hour, four Euros after an hour and a half, and so on. Users must also pay a 150-Euro security deposit not only in case of damages, but also to ensure the safe return of the bikes.

With 10,600 sturdy grey bicycles in circulation, modest rental prices, and docking stations that provide access in eight different languages, Paris city officials are hoping the initiative will not only reduce congestion, but also provide people with more environmentally friendly transportation.

It seems both Parisians and tourists are taking advantage of the program. Since its launch a little over two weeks ago, Vélib has already seen almost half a million rentals. And, with the addition of 10,000 more bikes and 700 more stations in the next 12 months, city officials anticipate at least 200,000 regular users by year end.