Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Paris Starts All-Electric Car Sharing Service

We've all heard of Paris' famous bike-sharing program, Velib. It has become a model for many other citiesaround the world rolling out their bike share systems. With low-cost stations, mobile and credit-card payment systems, and a cost per bike of around $1,000, bike share systems seem relatively simple to run and maintain.

But what about a similar service that rented out electric cars in the same way? Like an all-electric, omnipresent version of Zipcar? Now we're talking about a bit more overhead.

Paris is about to launch the world's first all-electric car-sharing service with publicly accessible stations, called Autolib, modeled just like its successful Velib bike-share system. The program could be operational as soon as September of this year! More details from Inhabitat:
Here’s how it will work: cars will be stored both in parking garages and on the street as part of a public-private partnership between Autolib and the city of Paris. No word yet on how much the program will cost, but Autolib claims that it will be significantly lower than the approximately $7,000 per year that it costs to own a car in the city.
It should be interesting to see how Paris deals with the problem of theft, which has notoriously plagued the Velib bike-share system. An estimated 80% of the initial 8,000 bikes (valued at $3,500 each) were either stolen or damaged in the year 2009, according to The New York Times. Parisians are also known for lighting cars on fire when they get angsty, as well. Perhaps dousing the Autolib cars with flame-retardant finish would do the trick?

Then again, having the support of one French billionaire, to the tune of a $131 million initial investment, should help make sure the cars stay in good shape. Tycoon Vincent Bollore has dropped this change in return for supplying the Autolib system with its first model vehicle, the Pininfarina Bluecar, according to Autoblog Green. The car's lithium battery pack allows a range of 155 miles, roughly the distance you could feasibly drive doing a day's worth of only short jaunts across the city neighborhoods. You'd have to be crazy to want to do long-haul trips on an Autolib car...have you seen their traffic?

If the program launches successfully, this could do wonders for Paris' infrastructure, as well as its reputation as one of the world's greenest cities. They are even looking at banning SUV's and other gas guzzlers from their city center! Can you imagine a New York or San Francisco doing the same? That Paris is even considering measures like these is a testament to their commitment to multimodal transportation - bikes, subways, and above all, walking truly take precedence here. To get people out of their cars, you must first give them a valid choice - that is the lesson American cities are still learning.

Like congestion pricing, with its successful implementation in London, ideas tend to spread among the global cities first (to New York and then San Francisco) and then trickle down the urban hierarchy.

Which means that by 2030, Seattle will have completed three multi-million dollar studies, hired international consultants to review the studies and conclude they're garbage, submitted the proposal to public comment and town meetings, then put it to a vote and, after it's voted down by the public, finally discover that Seattle's more expensive housing and lack of parking is itself the most effective form of "congestion pricing". Oh, you wanted electric car-sharing, too? That can wait until the next election cycle. We're just masters of the process, now, aren't we?

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