Now that the weather is warm and icy streets are done with I have paid up a very reasonable 29Euro for a one-year Velib card so I can pedal my way round on the rental bicycles. The whole Velib system is marvellous – in theory – I am quite a fan even though I encountered a few hiccups on my first longish trip. You can buy a day pass, or a week pass or longer and basically it works like this……
There are 20,000 of these 3-gear sturdy Velib beauties dotted all around the city in strategically located Velib stations. Each available bike is locked into a docking station and the whole system is computer controlled; as you swipe your card and withdraw a bike your acquisition is registered and you must return and dock the bike into another station within your free 30mins time allocation or you will be charged the excess time.
There are free smart phone Apps to help you find the location of the docking stations and even better, to tell you in real time how many bikes and how many empty docking stations are available should you be withdrawing or depositing.
After a couple of fun Velib outings with my dearly beloved I felt courageous enough to Velib into town to meet up with friends from NZ for my first solo expedition. I planned the safest route to avoid the busy boulevards, noted en-route landmarks (to minimise likelihood of getting lost) and set up the parking stations near my destination as favourites on my Velib App “Mov’in Paris”; and I left home way before the meet time, just in case.
A great start – there was a viable bike at the station near our place. The outermost stations are frequently empty, or populated with only a mangy selection of dud bikes with flat tyres, broken pedals and the like. These are 2 of the system problems; the theft and vandalism rate is way more than was expected – the bike replacement rate runs at about 80% – and the distribution around the city does not self-regulate, there is a company that fixes and re-distributes the bikes. So, bike at the ready, off I went.
Navigation en route: Merde! Concentrating on not being squeezed as I navigated round Place de Clichy I took the wrong exit spoke. If you have been to Paris you will know the star shaped intersections are a navigational challenge; the street on which you enter often goes off at a slightly different angle and if you are not alert can soon find yourself heading off in the wrong direction. Well let me tell you, on a bike you can go further in the wrong direction more quickly. I retraced and re-oriented onto a lovely cycle only pathway right to my turnoff point into the 9th arondissement. I even managed to change bicycles there so that I wasn’t too close to expiry time at journey’s end. A new bike means new 30-minute time allocation.
Arrrgh – my planned route turned into a one-way street going the wrong way for me, and it wasn’t one of the “no-entry EXCEPT bicycles” varieties where you can go against the traffic in the designated bicycle lane. I consulted my map and found an alternate route which actually turned out to be another great cycle only pathway – whew.
More Merde – a snarled up vehicular melee complete with tooting and loads of animated French discussion between truck driver and motorists but I managed to skirt round it following scooter drivers onto the footpath. My destination was close; I just needed to find a Velib station and park. But with my change of route I’d approached from a different direction and had to recheck their locations and see where there were spaces free. I was nearly late, and in a bit of a lather by then, thank goodness for my phone App. I tapped the screen and up popped the message L’application Movin’Paris actualise la liste des stations. Mercdi de votre patience.
PATIENCE ? At that stage I didn’t have enough to wait for la liste. I asked someone and thankfully got directions I could understand, the Velib park was not far. Hurrah there was a vacant parking spot I clicked the bike in, the green light appeared and I raced off to meet my Kiwis. They hadn’t given me up for lost and we enjoyed a lovely catch-up in a café in nearby Rue Montorgueil.
Moral of the story – I won’t use Velibs when I have a must-meet deadline. There’s just too much potential for a glitch en-route to ruin the otherwise delightful experience of pedalling in Paris. I might review this when I am more familiar with the best routes – the ones that have cycle-ways – and the locations of the Velib stations.
Other technical hitches so far encountered; watch what you carry in the basket. Out exploring on May Day this week we bought some lovely fresh pears from a market stall and later picked up Velib bikes to ride home. Said pears travelled in the handy basket on the front of the bike. But wire baskets, cobbled streets and fresh pears are a bruising combination. Never mind they still tasted good, and better than that other technical hitch of leaving your parcel in the basket of the previous bike when you docked it and got a new one to complete the journey.
All in all, minor glitches aside, this is a splendid system, and I’m going to enjoy it all through the summer.