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Buzzing Around Paris in Borrowed Electric Cars

¶ MY wife and I, who live in the center of Paris, are invited to dinner in Boulogne-Billancourt, just to the southwest of the city. So I log on to Autolib’ and within a few minutes I’ve reserved a car across the street and a parking spot over in Boulogne, a couple of blocks from our destination.

¶ Outside, I run my plastic Autolib’ card past a brightly lighted terminal, tap a few buttons, decouple an aluminum all-electric sedan from the charging post, hop in and set the GPS to the parking station where I am headed.

¶ The radio knows my usual station, TSF Jazz, so all that remains is to put the stick in D and hum off. Twenty-one minutes later, I plug in the car at Boulogne-Billancourt and receive a receipt by text message: “Your rental lasted 21 minutes for the amount of 3.32 euros.” Voilà!

¶ If we had a car and had used it, we’d still be searching for parking as I write. A cab would have cost about 15 euros, or nearly $20, instead of $4.25. Two Metro tickets would have cost 3.40 euros, or $4.35 (if we did not have monthly passes). But our trip was a lot quicker, we went almost door to door and we got to catch a bit of the city by night.

¶ In fact, we do this all the time now — as do 37,000 Parisians, with an additional 1,200 subscribers joining every week. A scant 11 months since it went public, the Autolib’ car-sharing program has proved a big success here, with well over half a million rentals already logged.

¶ Like the wildly popular Vélib’ bicycle sharing program, Autolib’ is a pet project of Mayor Bernard Delanoë, a Socialist, who wants to have 3,000 cars and 1,200 stations by 2014.

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