The traffic runs as smoothly as a snail in treacle and drivers’ tempers are about as sweet as bitter aloes.
The local authority in Paris has deposited 20,000 heavy-duty bicycles in 750 or so special racks around the city and anyone who wants one simply swipes his or her ordinary travel card and pedals off wherever they want to go.
The bike does not have to be returned to the same pick-up point – you can take a bike from a rack near the Eiffel Tower, cycle to the Pantheon and leave it in the nearest Velib stand there.
Mathieu Fierling, the deputy director of the scheme, believes it will suit Parisians and tourists alike.
“We’ve set things up so that the same card can be used for public transport and for Velib. You can set up a subscription for just one day or for a whole week and the subscription fee is minimal – one euro ($1.38; £0.68) to anyone who wants a one-off go or 29 euros ($40; £20) for a year’s subscription.”
The Velib scheme is aimed at people who are making short journeys.
The first half hour of pedalling time is absolutely free but, if you fail to return the bike after 30 minutes, you get charged an extra euro and the penalties go up the later you are.
“It relies on a wrong idea, the idea that you can change a car for a bicycle. But it’s not the case. These are two different problems. Bicycles will just be very useful for those people going to do some shopping or visiting friends, not far from home, but most of the time, when you use the car, it’s for a long trip so that’s the reason why it will not solve at all the traffic problem in Paris.”
Paris city hall expects to have about 20,000 regular Velib users by the end of the year and plans to double the amount of Velib stations dotted around Paris.
“The city council has launched a big campaign on bike safety. Every subscriber to the Velib scheme will receive a leaflet with safety advice. There have also been big efforts over the last few years to set up cycle routes around the city. We hope that all this means there will be as few accidents as possible.”
But can the Parisians be persuaded by pedal power?
The Tour de France marks out the French as a cycling-loving nation but in Paris, a city of two million people – and nearly 12 million in the metropolitan area – only 150,000 own bikes.