Paris to be liberated by a cycling revolution?

Soon 10,000 bikes will be available for rent in central Paris

Ken Livingstone is hoping the buzz from the Grand Depart will give London cycle-commuting the boost it so desperately needs. But across the Channel, the nation which gave us Le Tour is thinking even bigger. The French will be marking the anniversary of their revolution, Bastille Day, on July 14. And 24 hours later a new revolution kicks off. From July 15 there will be some 10,000 bikes available for rent in central Paris.

The idea is not new. It's been tried in the central French city of Lyon with some success. But Velib, as it's being dubbed, is change on a grand scale. The scheme, named after a combination of the French words for bicycle and freedom, has been trumpeted by Paris' socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoë as the way to liberate the city from the smog and congestion it suffers.

When Velib goes live bikes will be available to hire at 750 stations spread liberally around Paris. Users will have to swipe a credit card in an automated machine to buy into the scheme for a day, a week or a year.

The ATM will then issue a card which can be swiped over a lock to release a bike. There will be between 15 and 40 "pods" for bikes at each station.

Once released the bikes can then be used at will, with rental charged to the users' credit card as they ride. The first half hour is free, the next 30 minutes costs one euro. The next half hour costs two euros, and the next four euros. The idea being to increase prices over time to discourage tourists from bagging a low cost bike for the whole day.

As a deterrent against theft, initial users will have a 150 euro holding fee placed on their card. And an alarm integral to the bike will go off if it's not returned.

Of course, this is where the scheme could struggle to attract people on lower incomes. They may very well not have £100 or so spare on their card to pay the deposit.

Whether the city's drivers and scooter riders will take to the influx of cyclists on "their" already crowded streets, only time will tell.

Still, the organisers are trying to cover all bases. The cycles come with their own locks and anyone arriving at a station - open 24/7 - to find no bike available, gets another 15 free minutes to track one down after payment.

Even more impressively, the scheme isn't going to cost the city anything. It's being funded by advertising firm JC Decaux. In return it will get the use of 1,600 billboards around Paris.

After teething problems in Lyon, where half of the city's initial rental bikes were stolen, the scheme has been a success. It has 4,000 bikes, each used an average of five times a day.

Organisers of the Paris scheme are hoping it will clock up 200,000 users a day once it beds in.

And they're not resting on their laurels. By January 2008 the number of stations and bikes available should have more than doubled - to 1,400 and 20,000 respectively.

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