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Paris plans to launch electric car sharing program

Paris may soon add hosting the world's largest electric car sharing program to its list of green accolades. But officials will have to account for the same problems the city's bike sharing scheme faces.

An electric car is shown, parked outside of the Louvre

Electric cars may become a standard sight on Paris' streets

Paris has announced plans to introduce an electric car sharing program called Autolib. The city is starting with a fleet of 3,000 cars available for rent coupled with up to 1,000 battery recharging stations throughout the French capital.

The program will help many Parisians get rid of the cars they have while saving much of the estimated 7,000 euros ($9,200) that it costs an average owner to keep a car in the city, according to Paris' Deputy Mayor Annick Lepetit.

"There are many people who absolutely need a car, and with Autolib, they'll have one," said Lepetit. "The advantage will be that it will be a lot cheaper and less of a hassle, because they'll be able to pick it up from one place and turn it in anywhere else in the city without looking for parking."

The car sharing proposal follows changes to the city's transportation policies within the last 10 years that have ushered in a 25 percent drop in traffic in Paris. Those changes include improved public transportation options, heightened restrictions on cars and Velib, a bike sharing program that began in 2007.

Same perks, same problems

A sign for the Velib program is shown next to two men in front of bikes

Nearly half of the bikes in the Velib program have been damaged

While officials like Lepetit hope that Autolib can duplicate some of the successes of the bike sharing program, a car sharing venture is also be open to some of the same criticisms.

Nearly 8,000 of the 20,000 bikes involved in the Velib program were either stolen or severely vandalized, especially in the period following Velib's introduction.

A car share program also introduces concerns that go beyond vandalism, said Bill Moore, publisher of EV World, an online magazine about electronic vehicles.

"I think the last thing that anyone wants to see is these vehicles stalled along various Paris motorways or out in the suburbs and having to be towed to a place to get recharged," he said.

Nevertheless, Moore said he believes electric car technology is ready for prime time and believes the Autolib program could be a model for other cities, provided it avoids the big pitfalls.

Parisians "not civilized enough"

Carol Levy is a mother living in Paris and shares Moore's attitude. She said people with children in Paris need to have cars and thinks the program is a good idea in theory, but that Parisians may pose a roadblock.

"Keeping the Velib and Autolib materials in good shape seems to be a real problem," Levy said. "I just don't think Parisians are civilized enough to do so - or maybe we French just lack a civic sense."

The success of the program will depend partly on how it is administered and by whom. Currently, four bidders are vying to operate Autolib, which will be structured as a public-private partnership with the city of Paris. They include Avis Car Rental and the French railway operator SNCF.

City officials have said they have learned important lessons from Velib, and that Autolib system will be much harder to defraud or steal from. But supporters and skeptics agree that the program also depends on being embraced by everyone in society - including the disgruntled youths who have been known to burn cars.

Author: Eleanor Beardsley (gsw)
Editor: Sean Sinico

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