[Guest blog by Fred]
Today was the first day of Velib’, a low cost bike rental system installed throughout Paris with a small membership fee of 1€ for one day, 5€ for a week, or 29€ for the whole year. The first 30 minutes of use are free. Thereafter, the rider can return the bike to another station and take a new one at no cost, or keep the same bike and pay an additional incremental fee . The idea is to use the bikes for transportation not for tourism, thus the half-hour constrain. By the end of the year there should be 20,000 bikes at more than 1,500 stations so it should be easy to keep the bike all day long by going from one station to another and taking a new bike each time.
The trip started well, there is a Velib’ station 100 feet from our apartment. After 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get the bikes from the machine we were on our way. It only took us 100 yards to realize that Paris is a dangerous city for bike riders. Cars are flying everywhere and the rare bike lanes are shared with buses and taxis. We tried to take small streets, but when we had to be on a big street we drove slowly on the sidewalks, which I know is not a good thing but it’s better than being dragged 50 yards by a car.
We tried to find a Velib’ station to exchange our bikes before our free 30 minutes expired, but the stations we found had long lines of people waiting and few bikes available. Thus, we kept the bikes another 30 minutes. I now understand how the company running Velib’ is going to make money off this venture; 29 euros/year didn’t seem like a lot of money for a year membership.
As we attempted to get home before the second half-hour interval, we found ourselves at Port-Royal, a big intersection. We were driving very cautiously on the sidewalk when a guy from a bar terrace yelled at us for doing so. Knowing that we were in the wrong, I just smiled and said “merci”. But the old man found somebody to blame for something so he wouldn’t let go. I usually don’t react to these things, first because I am French and, even though we complain all the time, we are non-confrontational and, second, I just don’t want to waste my time with people like that. But today was different; I decided to respond. Yes, we were riding on the sidewalk but the sidewalk was 10-yards wide, there was nobody on it, we were driving really slowly, it was a freaking huge intersection, and finally the guy was sitting at a bar 30 feet away from us drinking a beer! How could we possibly have bothered him?
I told him that he was definitively in the right country to complain for no reason and that he could use a little common sense. He accussed us of “pissing off the whole world”. I was surprised. I admit that he was a big guy, but unless there was a legion of people hiding underneath his fat and his bald head it seemed a little pretentious to call himself a world so I just answered back: “you’re right, so piss off” to end the argument.
Apparently he doesn't know that Velib' is short for velo + liberty!