Urban Europe looks to future without cars: La Rochelle: Free bicycles for all and flat-fare taxis

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Free communal bicycles, a shared taxi system with a fixed fare and electric cars are among the experiments being carried out in La Rochelle, in western France.

The 'little yellow bicycles' are available in the summer to tourists who can ride them free for up to two hours and are then charged six francs per hour.

In September, the town authorities intend to make the scheme a permanent one and allow local residents to use them.

The taxis are available 24 hours a day and are obliged to take people to any destination within the town's boundaries for a fixed fare of 28 francs ( pounds 3.36), no matter how many passengers are being carried.

In this way, according to Jacques Tallut, the director of public transport in La Rochelle, 'taxis become complementary to buses, providing the answer to all transport needs'.

With Peugeot and the French national electricity company, EDF, the town authorities are experimenting with electric cars which, Mr Tallut said, have a great deal of potential. They could be used as second cars in affluent households for urban use, or even as a shared communal vehicle like the yellow bicycles.

La Rochelle has also created a single ticketing system for all public transport, which includes waterbuses operating between various points in the port area, as well as buses and the taxi service.

This comprehensive public transport network system is backed up by a sophisticated information system which can be consulted either at home by telephone or in the street, advising people when the next bus or boat is expected.

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