A crowd of fan of 2 persons are harrassing me to write something about the Velib’ in Paris.
If you start surviving in Paris, you should know that there’s one threat for your business: the strike.
It’s famous, French go on strike for any possible reason and I’ve seen it recently, the trigger could be as simple as a rumor!
And one of the strongest union is the railway (http://www.sncf.fr) and in Paris, the urban transportation (http://www.ratp.fr). Like in Thailand there’s a rainy season, in France it’s a strike season and very often it will be around festivities days: New year, Christmas, Eastern; but I disgress… In fact it has to be a whole new blog post.
Where does the velib’ fit in? Well, when there’s no more subways and buses, there are a bunch of choices left:
You can walk, rollerblade, take a cab (if they are not on strike too), bike if you own one. Finally, if you don’t walk or don’t know how to roller blade and you also realize that a cab is extremely expensive, there’s the Velib’ option!
So what is Velib’. It’s a free biking rental. The bikes are hooked to station like the one in the photo below:
France has this ability to give options which has advantages and disadvantages.
If you want a fast internet connection you will probably wait ages and never get it (I know something about it).
For the velib’, it’s long to choose a bike but you can pick them anytime, or you can apply to some membership and it will be longer to get the membership but then very fast to pick a bike.
So what we will discuss here is how to pick a bike quickly. Because how fast you can pick it, is going to be the mean of survival during strikes!
The fast ways:
1) Apply for a Navigo card which can be used in buses, subways and RER (suburb trains) . There’s an office in every big stations and it’s a 30 minute job. They can even take your picture with a webcam there. Then, go to the velib website and pre-apply for a membership. I really have to get use to this. My whole life I’ve been applying for things. In France, there’s a new step, it’s pre-apply. Basically, when you register on their webpage, they will send a paper to you that you will fill and post back to them along with a cheque. This mandatory step to a post office is the real apply. Then it will take close to a month to get your membership. Finally you will be able to use it quickly at any velib station. It’s a bip on the bike you want to pick. Fast and easy, long membership.
2) It’s same as mentioned above, except you get a card for the velib only. So it’s a bit shorter and you got to handle 2 cards all the time. I don’t like this. I would probably loose it very quickly. And knowing the pain to get it, it’s easier in France to loose a credit card than a velib card.
The long way:
3) You can use your credit card which you will get pretty quickly from your bank. They are efficient. Problem is, you can’t bip your bike, you must go to the dreadful control panel (upper right in the picture), go through a lot of steps to pay for the bike (caution), choose the bike and so on…
So to show you how important choice of card is for Velib’s at strike time, here’s a little story from my best friend Vincent:
“I go out of my place to pick a bike because of the strike and I could see this guy piano-ing on the control panel and pressing the buttons very quickly. it was the last bike in the station and he was visibly nervous. So, I come to him and ask: ” Are you taking this bike?”. He answer: “Yes! Yes!” while keying faster and faster the required information.
Then I tried to get another bike and I realized I shouldn’t have let the previous one go… There was none. Then i turn in a street and I could see the same situation: A velib station with just that bike and that guy piano-ing fast on the control panel. I couldn’t let this go. I start running to the bike 100 meter away. The guy hear me, turns around to look and come back to his control panel and key the numbers even faster!. Too late. I’m arrived, bip the bike and take it out.
Nico. You MUST have a card for Velib’!!!”
So, if you ever go survive in Paris for a while, go through the pain of applying, pre-applying, applying for a proper Navigo card which does everything for transportation.
Finally, with Velib I got a new game. When I get close to a station, I try to hook it without touching ground with my feet.
It’s tough. The hook is a flat hole and the bike plugs in very tightly. It can’t be done everywhere because plugging it requires a proper alignment with the station. it requires space to maneuver. I’ve find out that standing on the paddle gives a much better control too. I love the Chatelet station because there’s a lot of space. I always plug it right there. It gives me this superman feeling and 30 seconds of fame with 2 passers by who couldn’t care less.
edit: I’ve just find out that they also got a blog.