December 6, 2011By Heidi EllisonWhat's New Potpourri





A potential user tries unsuccessfully to sign up for a silver Autolib’ Bluecar, which can be seen outside the window.

Paris launched Autolib’(“lib” for “liberté”), the motorized counterpart to the Vélib’ bicycle-rental scheme, on Monday, allowing subscribers to rent an electric vehicle (called a “Bluecar,” even though it is really silver) for short periods. It’s a great idea, but the reality seems a bit less than practical. First you have to subscribe for a day, week or year, either on the Web or at one of the Autolib’ stations on the street. I watched on Monday as a new user tried to sign up while talking to an Autolib’ agent on a video screen. He had to scan his driver’s license and ID card (and give all his personal information – phone number, date of birth, etc. – aloud for everyone around him to hear). Nothing worked properly, and the system kept crashing, forcing him to start over again each time. Presumably the bugs will eventually be worked out, but the real utility of the plan is questionable: in most cases, taking a taxi would cost about the same or even less; the unattractive round stations take up lots of sidewalk space; and there is the frustrating possibility for users that the parking space they have reserved in advance is not available when they need it. The Ile-de-France-wide system started with 250 cars and will eventually have 3,000. Walkers beware: a pedestrian has already been run down (he survived) by one of the totally silent Bluecars, which he didn’t hear coming. Heidi Ellison


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