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Paris Divided Over Latest ‘Green Dream’

A mayor’s vision: first bikes, next electric cars

Associated Press in Paris – Updated on Jul 30, 2008

Paris’ ambitious mayor has a new “green dream” after the spectacular success of his bike-sharing scheme launched a year ago: a version for electric cars.

Under Bertrand Delanoe’s environmentally friendly plan, a driver could pick up a car, say, on the Left Bank, snake up the slopes of Montmartre, then drop it off – and only pay for the minutes spent behind the wheel.

But cars, even electric, are already proving more divisive than bikes. With the price of petrol steadily rising and Paris parking a permanent headache, some drivers are delighted by the new project. Others see it as a step backward, fearing it could mean more traffic in an already congested city.

The programme dubbed Autolib’ will be launched in late 2009 or early 2010 with a fleet of 4,000 electric cars – 2,000 within Paris and 2,000 in the city’s suburbs. As with the Velib’ bike-sharing programme, Autolib’ users would be able to rent cars from one of 700 planned pick-up points, both under and above ground, and drop them off at any other location.

Organisers say it is too early to discuss details such as how the car parks would be monitored or whether non-French driving licences would be accepted – or even how much the cars would cost.

Car-sharing is a growing trend in many countries, with private companies such as Zipcar flourishing in cities as petrol prices go up. Autolib’, however, will be run by the city of Paris.

According to Annick Lepetit, deputy mayor in charge of transportation, Autolib’ would target those who are considering buying their first car – in the hopes of deterring them from ever buying a polluting car. By putting pick-up points in the suburbs, it would also encourage occasional commuters to choose a petrol-free alternative to getting into the city.

She cited a recent survey showing that a majority of Parisians were in favour of a car-sharing project like Autolib’.

Yet some members of Paris’ influential Green Party have been vocal critics, even though the Autolib’ project calls for electric cars.

They want to reduce car use altogether.

Denis Beaupin, a Green deputy mayor for the environment, said the Greens would rather see a system where shared cars were returned to the pick-up points from which they were hired, to ensure that they are only used in exceptional situations.

But Pascal Husting, president of Greenpeace France, said Autolib’ would be a step in the right direction.

“We should be open to this type of initiative, knowing that there is not one solution to the problems of transportation and climate change,” he said.

Abeykoon Kapugoda, 50, a maitre d’hotel who lives in the suburb of Villejuif, owns a car. But within Paris, he prefers to take the bus, because he finds parking a headache.

“If it’s easy to park at Autolib’ stations, I would use that,” he said, as he waited for his bus.

“And I would definitely prefer to drive a car that doesn’t pollute.”

Financing for the project is still in the planning stages, and according to Ms Lepetit, zero-emission hybrids could be an alternative if the city cannot find a carmaker with the capacity to provide 4,000 electric cars in time.

Should the future Parisian Autolib’ meet the same success as its two-wheel counterpart, it could provide a valuable boost for the capital’s mayor, who hopes to clinch the leadership of France’s Socialist Party later this year. Mr Delanoe has made fighting traffic and pollution a top goal .

Velib’, which debuted in July 2007, has changed the Parisian landscape, with 16,000 silver bikes lined up at 1,200 parking spots. It was quickly adopted by Parisians, with 29 million rentals in a year and over 200,000 annual subscribers.

But Velib’ has earned the ire of some drivers, who say inexperienced new cyclists ride irresponsibly; three Velib’ deaths have been recorded since its start.

Velib’ celebrated its first birthday on Sunday with a rare sporting honour: 365 users rode the clunky rental bikes on the final stage of the Tour de France, gliding across the finish line on the Champs-Elysees before the arrival of the Tour cyclists.

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