The nice thing about Paris is that it’s small for such a major city; a lot of things you might want to see and do are within walking distance of each other. The Louvre is not far from the Marais, from which you can stroll over to the Ile St-Louis & Ile de la Cité, which in turn are just next to St-Germain, and then perhaps you might want to keep going just a bit further – possibly to the Musée d’Orsay, followed by the Eiffel Tower? All of a sudden, though the distance between one destination and the next is relatively short, you’ve walked many kilometers. Of course, it’s always nice to stop for a break at a café… but when it’s time to move on, your feet may start to object. There is always the métro – but sometimes the route is not so convenient, or it’s such a nice day you simply would prefer to remain above ground.
This is where Vélib’ comes to the rescue. The popular Paris bike share program, introduced in July of 2007, just celebrated its second birthday. Vélib’, which is a contraction of vélo (bicycle) and libre (free) or liberté (freedom), is a huge success among Parisians and visitors alike. Some use it for their daily commute, rather than suffer the crowded métro. Others might go for a leisurely ride, or perhaps to meet friends for drinks. Whatever the purpose, Vélib’ is wonderfully convenient – not to mention eco-friendly.
Photo Erica Berman
There is, however, one problem that often comes up for tourists: unless you have a Passe Navigo – a rechargable card for the metro that many residents get – you must use a credit or debit card to be able to take advantage, and some foreign cards do not work with the Vélib’ system (European cards have a chip that most North American ones lack). Recently though, we have discovered that American Express charge cards are accepted, even though a North American Visa or Mastercard may not be.
So how exactly does the system work? You must purchase a subscription (abonnement) at any Vélib’ station. You can purchase:
- 1 day (€1)
- 1 week (€5)
- 1 year (€29)
Whichever you choose, for each subscription you can take out one bicycle at a time, as many times as you want. Each bicycle can be used for up to 30 minutes at no charge beyond that of the subscription. If you do not return the bicycle after the first ½ hour, you will be charged €1 for the subsequent 30 minutes, then €2 for an additional 30 minutes, and €4 for every 30 minutes beyond that.
Rows of bicycles at a Vélib’ station. Photo Sarah Raymond.
To purchase a subscription, you go to any Vélib’ station – anywhere you see a line of identical gray bicycles attached to individual locking mechanisms. Each station has a borne, where you will see a screen and a keypad. You can select your language and follow the prompts – if successful, you will receive a paper ticket with your subscription number. Keep this ticket! Any time you want to take out a bicycle, you will need to enter this number as well as the PIN you created for yourself. Then just choose the number of the bicycle you want to take (each is attached to a small numbered stand), press the silver button on top of the stand – and Voilà! Your Vélib’. You can return it at any Vélib’ station in Paris, as long as there is a locking stand open.