After seven years spent as a French expat in Canada, I returned to Paris for good last summer. I was concerned by how difficult it would be to settle again in my homeland in a time of crisis and to adjust to a society – as I had been warned by some Cassandras – that had dramatically changed, and not for the better.
I cannot draw conclusions on that yet but would like to report on an experience that made my move – both figuratively and concretely – a fantastic, easy one.
The name of it is Autolib: ‘auto’ for automobile and ‘lib’ for liberté, a word built like ‘brunch’ or ‘chunnel‘.
The concept is not new, as far as using a means of transportation that is not your own is concerned. Vélib, for instance, is successful and known in other cities all over the world under different names. Autolib is, however, a bigger and riskier challenge.
The project was officially implemented on 5 December 2011 with 250 little electric Bluecars (their given name) and rental stations. 10 months later, the network has grown into 1740 cars and 1100 stations and centers.¹
You cannot walk in Paris and miss them. They are everywhere, three to five cars, along the street, tied to their recharge unit. That is how I first considered using this service. Who were they for, how did it work? How much did it cost? I was intrigued.
I went to a center, next to Opera, and had it all explained with the model car. I left the place with a week’s subscription and a personal badge, which I got by following instructions through a video call on a machine. All I needed was my driver’s license, my credit card, and a cell phone number (so if you’re a foreigner, you’d better have an international plan).
The first time I used it was to return from the vet with my dog, quite a long distance, it was raining and no taxis would take us. I had downloaded their app on my smart phone which showed the stations and available cars in real time.
Less than 30 minutes later I was home and as soon as I had plugged the charging cable to the unit and locked the car (by passing my badge on the sensor on the driver’s window), I received a text message telling me it had cost me seven euros. I was flabbergasted, excited and relieved to have managed it all as the first time was very intimidating!
Today I have a year’s subscription, I pay five euros for 30 minutes. The Bluecar does for me what the metro, the buses, the bikes, and the taxis cannot.
I can drive outside Paris and pick up my granddaughter at her school in the suburbs – easily, quickly and cheaply. I can do my food shopping. I drive around Paris without worrying about parking places and fines. It’s great at night to return home after a show, and I can even reserve one or a parking spot provided it is within the half hour. I know people who take it every day to go to work.
It doesn’t go to the airports though as the taxi lobby would not permit it.
Finally, I’m having a blast in Paris driving the little electric Bluecar and I believe it’s a true Parisian experience! It’s fun, easy to use, cheaper than the taxis and even the metro. If you are a family of two to four it is an awesome way to discover Paris nowadays, en toute liberté!
1. Autolib official website
1. mariordo59, via Flickr
2. mariordo59, via Flickr
3. OliBac, via Flickr
4. mariordo59, via Flickr