Innovative Private Transportation: Part Deux

Paris plans on providing electric cars for the public

By Blake Muntzinger


Leaders in Paris are taking the idea of Vélib’ – its successful low-cost bicycle rental program – one step farther by offering electric cars, according to the Associated Press. Called Autolib’, the city anticipates having 4,000 electric cars available by the end of the decade – 2,000 vehicles downtown and another 2,000 in the suburbs in an effort to lower pollution.

Featuring stations dotted throughout Paris, locals and visitors can rent Vélib’ bicycles 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With an annual subscription fee is €29 ($45), it’s an affordable pollutant-free alternative for those preferring to stay above ground for local travel. Other French municipalities have programs similar to Vélib’ – all of which are convenient and easy to use.

Autolib’ users should expect to be charged per minute, but no price has been officially set. It’s primarily for those who need or want a vehicle but – understandably – don’t want to hassle with parking or insurance. Prices at press time in the Paris area for one liter of diesel ranged from €1.29 to €1.74 ($7.60 to $10.25 per gallon). At those prices, driving an electric car would eliminate dealing with nasty fuel prices too. Officials stated that zero-emission hybrids would be used if a manufacturer could not be found with the proper production capability.

Many questions remain regarding cost, security, and qualifications, including if cars will be returned to their station of origin or at any available station as with Vélib’. Another potential issue is the question of just how many Parisians will actually be able to participate in the program as obtaining a driver’s license is coupled with high fees. In addition to the cost, some Parisians opt to not get a license based on convenience since getting around Paris is a breeze car-less. It’s easy as well to find the potential legal nightmares here. Traffic rules don’t differ too much from the US, but imagine someone fresh off of a six hour flight deciding to drive to their hotel in the 1st Arrondissement near the Louvre. Any sane individual on those streets would be crying for their mother in 10 minutes, maybe even five.

Autolib’ could work for someone living in the outskirts away from a subway line or for someone living where there are few public transportation options. It should, however, offer more cars in the suburbs where space is at less of a premium because benefits are minimal in downtown Paris. It’s a myriad of congested one-way streets, alleys, lane-less boulevards, buzzing scooters, and jaywalking pedestrians; Paris is also home to one of the most efficient subway lines in the world. Seasoned travelers and locals own a Navigo Pass, a quick pass good for the métro (subway), buses, the RER (regional trains), and in some cases, the Vélib’. This combination could easily be faster than driving but cumbersome if hauling a plasma TV for 10 metro stops and two lines.

Zipcar is America’s closest equivalent to this program. Members living in over 40 cities in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom can pay hourly or daily rates. All vehicles have insurance, parking, fuel, and 180 free miles with each reservation. Programs similar to Autolib’ could be hugely successful in America, especially with those wanting to go “green”. Given the general infrastructure of American cities, unused parking lots and dilapidated buildings could yield American counterparts to Autolib’.

It wouldn’t be the first time a French “green” idea has attracted attention in the US. In 2007, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley visited Paris to see if the Vélib’ program would work in his city. With Zipcar already in 25 neighborhoods in Chicago, could an Autolib’ clone be next? If so, perhaps contracts with American auto makers to produce electric cars would give the industry another much-needed shot in the arm.

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Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at

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  1. But isn’t this plan already running into trouble in Paris? Bikes are one thing to leave scattered around the city, but cars are quite another.

  2. Paris is a nightmare, but the same can be said for any huge, busy urban centre. Look at London or Tokyo or New York.

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