Silent, solid and speedy – the latest revolution to hit Paris

John Lichfield tests one of the new 'help-yourself' hire cars

Paris, a city which has seen many revolutions, claims that it is on the cusp of another transformation – one that will change the world's relationship with the car for good.

At midday yesterday, the first help-yourself, electrically-powered hire cars were being tested on the streets of the French capital. The Mayor of Paris and the French billionaire who has sponsored the €250m (£215m) Autolib scheme believe that this will be the first step in an urban and suburban sea change.

As revolutions go, it is an eerily silent one. The Independent tested one of the four-seater Autolib cars last week. They are as solid and as nippy and as manoeuvrable as any normal, petrol-driven, urban runabout. But they are unnervingly silent, even quieter than a milk float or a dodgem car. The dodgem analogy is appropriate. A score of French and foreign journalists managed to steer the silver cars without mishap around a test track in the western Paris suburbs, a relatively straightforward task. But in limited numbers from this weekend – to be followed with a full rollout from 5 December – the Autolib cars will be let loose on one of the biggest dodgem tracks in the world: the streets of the French capital and its suburban satellite towns.

Autolib, the brain-child of the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, will work on roughly the same principles as Velib, the Paris do-it-yourself bicycle hire scheme launched in 2007. The Velib has inspired similar schemes in other cities, including London's "Boris Bikes".

Up to 3,000 cars will eventually be available at 800 docking stations on the streets, or in underground car-parks, in Paris and 46 suburban towns. You pick up one of the unpainted, metallic-finish cars at any docking station or book it by phone or internet. You can book ahead on an onboard computer to reserve a docking space near your destination.

The cars are based on the Franco-Canadian made, Italian-designed "Bluecars" which will soon be available commercially. They can travel at up to 80mph for 150 miles before they need recharging. They are fitted with a radio, a satellite navigation system and a permanent link to Autolib mission control near Versailles.

After paying an annual fee of Euros 144, an "autolibbeur" will be able to drive an electric car from a cost of €5 for the first half-hour. Eighty per cent of the €250m investment has been borne by the French tycoon Vincent Bolloré, whose group is among the world's leading investors in electric cars. Mr Bolloré said the Autolib scheme would be the beginning of an urban revolution.

A success for Autolib would provide a boost to the wider electric car industry, which would help France and the rest of the world meet its carbon emission targets, he said.

It would also, "signal the end of the obsession with individual car-ownership" and encourage city and suburban dwellers to embrace the idea of "car-sharing". The Assistant Mayor of Paris, Annick Lepetit, said that the city hoped that, when the scheme was fully operational in 2013, it would take 22,500 private cars off the streets of the capital.

But Green politicians are unconvinced by the claim. And even if it is feasible, the basic concept has angered Parisian taxi drivers and provoked legal challenges from car-hire companies.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Male Support Worker / Full Time Driver

£9464 - £12995 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will ne...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Product Development

£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing and Business Development Officer

£19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hull based charity providing except...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Female Support Worker

£9464 - £10396 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will ne...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future