Paris in the Spring – Velib!

OK, so I previously said that I didn’t think much about cycling while we were in Paris.  But I did…a little.

Well, how could I not when there was the Velib bike-hire system to check out.

I confess, we didn’t use Velib 1, but that didn’t stop me being highly impressed with it.

There were lots…I mean LOTS…of people using Velib bikes.  An astonishing number in fact2.

There were lots…I mean LOTS of Velib bikes to use.  An equally astonishing number3.

There were lots…I mean LOTS of Velib stations around the city4.

You get the idea5.

Velib isn’t a system where Paris dipped it’s toes in the water to see what happened.  They’ve SERIOUSLY invested here in a LOT of equipment and infrastructure and it looks to have seriously paid off.  Velib is in no way half-hearted, it’s a real, serious form of public transport in Paris.

I wonder what makes it such a success.  Is it:

  • The weather/climate of Paris?  Is it dry and warm a lot?  Our week there was particularly nice.  I wonder how much usage drops in bad weather.
  • The availability? The sheer number of stations and bikes making it convenient.
  • The cycling infrastructure?  OK, it’s not Copenhagen or Amsterdam, but there were lots of wide open roads where plenty of space was given to cyclists (often shared with buses), lots of wide, decent and sensible cycle lanes – not always with priority over other traffic, but far better thought out than most of what I’ve seen in the UK.
  • The culture?  Maybe it was just because I was on holiday and relaxed, but Paris felt pretty chilled.  No one was in a  hurry.
  • The pricing?  Once you’ve paid a small fee to register, the first half-hour on a Velib is free!  That’s probably long enough for most short journeys in Paris, making it a very cheap way to get around.

Or is it, as I suspect, all of the above?

Originally I had some questions though like what do you do when you need to park a Velib at a station that is full, but these all seem to have been thought out.

I was seriously impressed.   Although, sadly, it seems that Velib hasn’t been without its problems – Wikipedia reports a high level of theft and vandalism.

London launches its cycle hire/sharing system in July with:

  • 400 stations (no more than 300m apart);
  • coverage from Holland Park in the West, to Tower Hamlets in the East, and from Regent’s Park and Islington in the North down to Lambeth in the South 6;
  • a similar pricing scheme (the first 30 minutes will be free).

Yet I’m sceptical. With our weather, culture and roads, will we, the English, “get” it, and we use it?

I guess only time will tell.

  1. I tried a little to persuade my lovely wife to give it a go, but I sensed that she wasn’t as excited about the prospect as I was and we had a carnet of Metro tickets to use up
  2. I couldn’t find many stats but The Bike Sharing Blog reported, in 2008, that in under a year Velib had clocked 20 million trips, an average of 70,000 per day, 190,000 pass holders
  3. There are over 20,000 bikes.
  4. There are over 1,400 stations  and at least one within any 300m radius.
  5. Oh, and of course, very few people had helmets or any ‘special’ clothing…in fact, I consider myself properly inducted into the world of European ‘cycle chic’
  6. This is roughly equivalent to Tube Zone 1