A motoring revolution is on the horizon. This Autumn will see Paris become Europe’s first major city to adopt an electric car hire service.
Think it’ll never catch on? Paris has set previous precedents for re-writing the rules of public transport. In 2007 Paris launched the first European city-wide bike-sharing initiative, the Vélib scheme. Bike hiring soon found its way to London in the form of “Boris Bikes.” However, not content with being equalled on two wheels, Paris has launched Autolib, its public car hire service run on electricity. The big question on everyone’s lips is this: Can Paris do for the electric car what it did for bicycles?
In Paris, the growing need to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions has ignited a renewed call of action for eco activists. Following its contagiously successful Vélib bike scheme, where Parisians can pay a fee for the use of shared bikes, the city will soon see electric cars play an even more important role in cutting vehicle emissions.
Scheduled for launch this Autumn, Autolib will see 3,000 electric cars stationed at 1,000 self-service stations across Paris. “Autolibbers” will use a credit card to pick up a car from dedicated car docking stations operating 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
The “Bluecars”, as they are affectionately known, are produced by French company Bollore, and designed by the Italian car design house Pininfarina – famous for designing a number of Ferraris, including the Enzo.
The four-seat vehicle will have a maximum speed of 80mph, do 0-60kph in 6.3 seconds and take between four and eight hours to charge. Powered by a lithium polymer battery, the cars can travel up to 250km, or 155 miles between each charge.
As anyone who has visited the Champs-Élysées will know, Paris is not exactly lacking in activity on the roads, but for the 58 per cent of Parisians who do not own a car, Autolib will provide a quick-fix solution, without adding to the city’s smog.
The entire scheme is expected to cost around €110m in total, but for the man on the street, the scheme could potentially be a money-saver.
Statistics from Autolib show that 16 per cent of car owners only use their vehicle once a month. For these Parisians, the possibility of selling their existing (unused) motor, saving cash on car insurance, and paying the €144 a year fee to join the scheme could represent a massive saving – something sure to tempt casual drivers into giving up their own car, or at the very least from purchasing a new set of wheels.
Autolibbers will still need to pay a half-hourly fee for car use, but if the service can get short-burst car users to ditch their existing wheels for pint-sized journeys, and use Bluecars instead, the scheme will be seen as a success, at least from an environmental viewpoint.
The fee scale put in place will see members of Autolib pay €144 (or €12 per month) for a year’s subscription, and then €5 (around £4.40) for the first half hour of usage, €4 for the next 30 minutes and then €6 for each subsequent 30 minute slot thereafter. So, users will be looking at €15 (or just under £14) for two hours of car use.
The success of Paris’ Vélib project, and London’s adoption of the scheme earlier this year suggests it’s a possibility, with any British adoption likely to leave users exempt from congestion and/or parking charges.
However, with companies such as City Car Club already offering a choice of electric vehicles to rent in London from £6.20 per hour, any such scheme will need to compete with commercial ventures, albeit on a smaller scale.
Factor in existing public transport such as London’s dense network of tubes, buses, and trams, and it doesn’t looks as likely that electric car hire will be as common as bike hire on this side of the channel.
But wherever is next for electric car hire, the gauntlet for more environmentally-friendly cities has been thrown down. Come autumn 2011, as Paris plays eco Guinea Pig, the eyes of every mayor, from every major city on the continent will be firmly on Paris’ trailblazing scheme. They may even set a trend again.