Paris established the world’s first modern, large-scale bike-sharing system back in 2007. Now, with the launch of a landmark electric car-sharing service, the city is leading the charge (ahem) again.
The new car-sharing service is called Autolib’ (short for "automobile" and "liberté"). It has been in the works since 2009 and, as Co.Exist reported earlier, was in a small-scale "trial phase" this past fall. Yesterday’s announcement, however, marks the program’s official launch, with 250 vehicles and 250 charging stations.
Autolib’ uses the four-seat Bluecar made by Italian car designer Pininfarina and French conglomerate Groupe Bollore. Anyone with a valid national ID, a driver’s license, and a credit card can subscribe for a day ($13.50), week ($20), or year ($195). With a subscription you can pick up an available Bluecar at any of the charging stations, drive for a $5 to $12 hourly fee, and return it at any other station with a free parking space (most stations have four).
The public-private partnership in charge of Autolib’ plans to increase the fleet by around 300 cars per month until June 2012. In the summer of 2012, there will be around 1,100 stations and 1,740 Bluecars. The ultimate plan is to grow the system to 3,000 cars.
There are a handful of features that make the Autolib’ system especially smart. First, many of the stations have kiosks where you can actually register for the system via videochat. And to make sure the cars stay charged, the clock doesn’t stop on your rental until the car is plugged back into the charging unit. The Autolib’ system may even make private electric car ownership considerably easier for Parisians as well: Electric car owners can pay a fee for access to the system’s network of chargers.
If Autolib’ lives up to expectations, it will reduce pollution and traffic in the city, and save residents money by making car ownership unnecessary. The Autolib’ marketing also touts the fact that the Bluecars are silent and don’t smell ("Zéro odeur!").
Autolib’ won’t solve all our urban transportation problems by itself, of course, but it can complement a good metro system to make all parts of a city run smoother. Where might we see municipal sponsored car-sharing next? With its congestion pricing, London would be a great candidate. In the U.S., most cities are still working out the kinks from Paris-inspired bike shares; car sharing might be farther off. We’ll have to look again to Paris for clues on how to proceed.
And whether Autolib’ will be able to enforce the no-smoking-in-the-car rule in a city of French smokers.