As Seattle debates the relevancy, solvency, and future of Pronto bike share, I reflect on our family’s (first ever) bike share experience.
I made this little video edit to share our Vélib experience. All video dialogue has been muted to protect delicate ears (see below).
Why try bike share in your own city, when you can fly 4994 miles and try it in Paris?
I have several reasons: The most glaring, we own bikes in Seattle, we really have no reason to use Pronto. But also, in Paris, bike share is public transportation and using public transportation is not an afterthought, nor alternative, but culturally ingrained and essential. In Paris, sharing bikes is a natural piece of the public-transportation-puzzle. The missing piece, really. Sorry Pro-Pronto Seattle, we’re just not ready for you yet.
In France, traffic laws that protect pedestrians and cyclists are strictly enforced. Our French friends told us about a point system for traffic violations that sounded brilliant. Speeding tickets and other traffic violations are assigned points, based on their severity. If you get a certain number of points on your license, you have to pay hefty fines AND go back to driver ed. Good reason to follow traffic laws. Speaking of education, in France driver education is serious (and expensive) business. Unlike the US, France does not hand out driver licenses to anyone with a pulse who can pass the eye exam, nor give them to children.
Needless to say, despite the high volume of car traffic, we felt more safe riding bikes in Paris, a city of 2.24 million people, than we ever have in Seattle.
I lived in Paris in college while on a semester exchange. If only Vélib existed then. It would have been so fun and practical and cheap to Vélib as a young, single and carefree college student. Even though I’m no longer single and my life is not carefree anymore, Vélib is still a great way for us old people to move around the city. Faster than walking. Faster than the Métro and the bus. Vélib answered our tourist-fatigued transportation wishes.
Vélib is so incredibly simple. Even big dumb Americans with two teens in tow can figure it out. Tired of walking? Bus stuck in traffic? Grab a bike from one of the 1800 Vélib stations, no more than 300 meters apart, and pedal away your transportation woes.
While our experience was not completely carefree, I won’t bore you with all of our Vélib-challenges. I do have a few (now) funny Vélib stories. Those stories include multiple f-bombs. One involves the challenges of using Vélib with a chip-enabled-but-still-not-French credit card. Another one highlights the logistical challenges of locating and checking out four Vélib bikes at once. I’ll give you a little hint, punching in account numbers one at a time to check bikes in and out at the busy station kiosk is swear-worthy. And popular stations in busy close-in neighborhoods are often empty or only have one available bike.
But we did it, we Vélibed. I’m incredibly thankful that Riding Vélib Through Paris was checked off Tim’s trip-list. Tim’s persistence paid off. Cruising through Paris on bikes with my family is at the top of my most cherished trip memories!
If you find yourself in Paris, especially with traffic savvy bike riding kids in tow, add Vélib to your trip-list.