Paris chic and rectangular bananas

28 Mar

The EU has plans to ‘phase out conventionally fueled cars‘ in urban areas in Europe by 2050 and to be moving close to eliminating deaths by road accidents. Sounds interesting but it is realistic? Well, in Paris they have been getting on with it while in Britain the government has rejected these proposals while muttering about rectangular bananas and about not getting involved in individual cities’ transport choices.

In Paris they are in the final stages of implementing a very chic and well ‘French’ scheme that is making great strides in that direction. Having had huge success with their ‘velib’ scheme they are about to introduce a fleet of 3-4,000 ‘autolib’ electic ‘Bluecars’ which will be available on short term hire from 1,000 locations. These are not going to be any old electric cars either, they are being manufactured by Pininfarina (who also work for Ferrari, Maserati, Rolls-Royce and Jaguar). It will be possible to hire a vehicle from one station and leave it at another.

One of the justifications the French authorities give for the scheme is it will reduce parking pressure in the city where 95% of cars in Paris are parked at any one time and where some 16% of vehicles are used less than once a month. Reductions in traffic (which is down 25% in the last decade) will probably mean that the mayor will be able to remove 1.2 miles of left bank expressway in central Paris (from the Musée d’Orsay to  the Alma bridge) by 2012 thereby creating 35 acres of new recreational space and cafes.

Meanwhile in London the Government is saying that it won’t get involved involved in individual cities’ transport choices. Personally, can can’t see how any national government can avoid  getting involved in these choices and this current government is certainly doing so at one level; as well as providing much mood music about cheaper motoring, faster motoring, on ending ‘the war on the motorist’ and relaxing planning restrictions it also instigated the removal of the strategic and successful M4 bus lane on the western approach to London without even consulting with Transport for London. It is subsidising the purchase is 60,000 private electric vehicles with £300m of public money which will no nothing to alleviate parking pressures or congestion. The UK government needs to recognise that in the information age it is increasingly irrelevant what we own as long as we can access what we need when we need it.

Many of us need a car from time to time but most private urban cars spend a huge amount of time doing nothing except getting in other people’s way. Car sharing schemes eliminates parking grief but do need serious support from government and until the UK government starts paying serious attention to car clubs and other sharing schemes then we aren’t going to make much progress. The switch from petrol/diesel fuels to electric propulsion is a perfect time to also move from an ownership model to a rental one.

4 Responses to “Paris chic and rectangular bananas”

  1. David Hembrow March 29, 2011 at 7:55 am #

    Please don’t get too carried away with Velib’s “success”. “17000 bicycles” sounds impressive, but it’s not in a city that large. It is actually only about one bike per 600 people in the urban area of Paris. That’s not nearly enough to make any real difference to modal share.

    If you generously assume that each bike is be used 10 times every day (which they are not) then there is capacity for each Parisian to use one of these bikes only once every 150 days. For a return journey, make that once per 300 days.

    Besides, they’re addressing the wrong things. For all the hype, cycling in Paris is still a minority pursuit not because of a lack of availability of bikes, but because cyclists in Paris have to deal with this on a daily basis.

    Unfortunately, it seems to be the way of all bike share systems everywhere that after spending lots of money they attempt to justify themselves by quoting big and impressive sounding numbers, but this is marketing for the schemes far more than it is substance in changing people’s habits.

    Perhaps the best thing about “autolib” is that it will be even less effective than the bikes. 4000 cars provides enough capacity for each citizen to make a round-trip by car once every 3.5 years…

    • Peter Miller March 29, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

      However Velib is only operational in the ‘urban core’ rather than the full urban area and I would assume the same will be true for autolib, As such the percentages for that area are much higher. I agree that urban environments are still very dominated by cars but believe that major change is possible and may come.

    • Graham Martin-Royle March 29, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

      While your figures may be true, everything has to start somewhere.

  2. David Hembrow March 29, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    Peter: I think it’s entirely possible too, but I don’t think it will come due to bike-share, or car-share for that matter. These things are simply not scalable in a way that they can ever be significant so far as modal share is concerned.

    Look at London. Those bikes have cost an extraordinary amount of money. 140 million pounds so far, which makes this very easily the largest amount ever spent on one cycling project in the UK. And the result ? Less than 0.1% of journeys in the capital are now made on Boris Bikes.

    Is it realistic at all to think this can be spread across a much larger area and have its capacity increased to make it good for, say, 27% of journeys (as are made by bike in Netherlands). I don’t think so.

    Doing the city centre is easy. It’s compact, and so relatively few bikes and docking stations are required. As you attempt a larger area it becomes much more difficult, and therefore also more expensive. Given that these bikes have already cost 23000 pounds each, I’m not sure that the country can afford too many more of them.

    Surely it actually makes more sense to encourage people to own and take care of their own bikes. And there lies another interesting truth. Londoners already own a million bikes, so adding 6000 public bikes actually does almost nothing to the availability of bikes.

    The reason why so few journeys are made in London by bike has never been that there was a shortage of bikes, but rather because people find the prospect of cycling in London to be terrifying. London has now spent a huge pile of money, but they’ve not addressed the fundamental issue. The same goes for Paris, which for all the hype also still has a very low cycling rate.

    And in any case, why does London see Paris as inspirational ? It’s not a place which has successfully dealt with these problems, but merely another city which has exactly the same problems. Paris is famous for its traffic problems.

    Why do they not look for their inspiration to a place where car dominance has already been tackled successfully, such as Groningen ?

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