In July 2007, Paris launched Velib', a widely successful bike-sharing program with over 20,000 bikes in circulation in the Paris metropolitan area.  Four and a half years later, the city welcomes Autolib'.  Similar concept -- but with cars.

Autolib' is a lot like Zipcar in the US, but all the cars are electric.  The model of the cars is Bluecar, produced by Bolloré, and the battery is a lithium metal polymer manufactured in Ergé Gabéric (in Brittany).  Way to keep it local!

Paris launched the Autolib' system in the beginning of December 2011 with 250 cars, and they hope to expand to 3000 cars by the end of 2012.  Like Velib', Autolib' has a smartphone app to display where stations are and where there are available vehicles / parking spots.  Each car is equipped with a GPS system, so you just identify the next station you want to take your car to - and it'll tell you where to go.

It's hard to imagine that a city as dense as Paris can accomodate enough parking space for 3000 vehicles - but they anticipate (hope!) that the Autolib' system will lead to a reduction in personally-owned cars (22,500 to be exact), and therefore free up parking spaces.  Which I am confident will happen because 1) having a car in a place like Paris is incredibly annoying, and 2) owning a car is expensive.  Period.

And we saw with RelayRides that studies do show car-sharing programs leading to less cars on the road.

The pricing model of the Autolib' system includes several combinations of fixed+variable payment options.  For instance, you can buy a year-long subscription for ~180euros* and then the variable cost to take a car is ~5euro / half hour.  The price might seem a bit steep but compared to owning a car (think cost of car+insurance+gas+maintenance), it's insignificant.

And if you have a station near your house, it's incredibly convenient for going to the supermarket /IKEA, doing day-trips outside of Paris, or getting home after the metro closes - cheaper and more convenient than taxis.

Speaking of which, taxi drivers went on strike due to the "competitive threat" of the Autolib' system.  My personal feeling is that the supply/demand for intra-city transport is so imbalanced in Paris (in other words, way more people than available taxis/buses/metro/bikes) - that Autolib' can only help ease the demand.

But don't be fooled - the Autolib' system is not immune to rush-hour congestion.  Some friends took an Autolib' the other night - a trip that would normally take them 25 minutes by metro took 1.5 hours as they sat in traffic and unsuccessfully looked to park their Autolib' on the way (all stations were full).  Yikes!

In any case, the man behind the Velib' and Autolib' systems is non other than the vibrant mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë.  Delanoë's ultimate vision is to have a car-free Paris -- and these transport-sharing systems are intended to advance towards that goal.

I wonder if Autolib' vehicles can travel in the "fast lanes" of Paris (normally dedicated only to buses and taxis)?  I imagine this sort of rule would be another good incentive to motivate car owners to get rid of their cars (and the associated traffic) and use Autolib' instead.

We dream about a car-less Paris -- or at most, a Paris with only bikes, buses, taxis, and a limited number of Autolib' on the road.

And actually, at the rate things are progressing, maybe this dream is not far from coming true...

* Correction: the fee for the annual subscription is 144 euros (12euro/month).  Thanks Thomas!