Tuesday 22 September 2009

24 hours with Vélib - How it was for us - Part 1

I'd heard lots of positive things about Vélib, so as we had a few days in Paris in July, we decided to give it a go.

We initially thought of signing up with Vélib on Sunday afternoon when we arrived in the Bois de Vincennes, just on the Eastern edge of Paris and saw loads of these bikes at the Vélib station.

The Vélib station outside the entrance to the Parc Floral de Paris was flush with bikes. In fact, there were more bikes than racks at the station so some people had just chained their Vélib bikes randomly to railings or trees.

Great, we thought. We won't have trouble finding a bicycle when we want to ride back into central Paris.

After our afternoon of strolling around the woods, watching a jazz concert and basking in the sunshine in the Parc Floral, we decided to make our way back into the central zone.

Alas, everyone else had had the same idea as us to pick up a bicycle from the Vélib station - except that they did so before us! When we arrived at the station there was just one lonely bike left. No one wanted it because most people arriving at the station were in pairs or groups. Vélib bikes are sturdy, but not really designed to be ridden Cuban style with all your friends, family and shopping perched on the handlebars!

Instead of a sunny overground route to take us back into Bastille, we took the métro.

The aim, with Vélib is that once you have made your journey you return your bike to a designated bike station to end the hire period and you stop being charged for the bike.

As it had been a lovely sunny afternoon, all of Paris (or at least those from the Eastern arrondissements) had decided to ride out to the woods for an afternoon picnic while watching the jazz festival.

Now the stations only have space for about 50 bikes, so many people had been left in that awkward position of leaving their bikes somewhere else. Railings or trees may show that you think outside the box, but this idea is heavy on your money box as you rack up charges until you return the bike to a designated Vélib station. Thus, your afternoon picnic with free jazz in the park for a few hours becomes quite expensive!

Note that Vélib hire charges are cheap for short periods of time (free for the first 30 minutes) and then the price increases quite significantly after 2 hours. The charging structure is designed to stop people hogging bikes for hours on end.

It's a good job we hadn't ridden to the Bois de Vincennes. Stations in places like Bois de Vincennes, on the outskirts of Paris don't have as many bike spaces as other Vélib stations in Central Paris.

That is one limitation, as it means then that you run the risk of arriving there and having no where to leave your bike - especially on summer weekends. You also have problems picking up bikes, especially at peak times at the end of the afternoon when everyone is leaving the woods.

Our date with Vélib was therefore put back until the next time we needed to travel somewhere outside of Bastille. And that wasn't until around 12.30am after our evening meal by the river near Bastille Arsenal, and a few shandies in some bars on rue de la Roquette.

We walked down to the Vélib station at Ledru Rollin métro station and registered there. The Vélib station has a console with a screen where you effect all your transactions. It was very easy to follow.

As we were only staying in Paris for a couple of days we just took out 24hour rental for the princely sum of 1 euro.

After leaving a credit/debit card deposit of 150euros (as an authorisation so not actually debited) we were issued with a hire account card and a security code for carrying out transactions and viewing our account details.

In the space of 5 minutes we had joined the Vélib world and we were ready to hire a bicycle. Fastoche! Easy Peasy!

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