The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Picture: REUTERS
The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Picture: REUTERS

Paris —   The Paris region plans to launch a large fleet of electric bicyles in a state-funded scheme aimed at getting commuters to cycle to work and reducing congestion and pollution.

From September 2019, regional transport agency Ile-de-France Mobilités (IDFM) will provide up to 10,000 e-bikes for long-term rental, with a view to expanding the scheme to 20,000, which would make it the world’s largest e-bike rental programme.

The aim of the “Veligo” service is to encourage bicycle commuting, which at the moment accounts for only 1.6% of daily trips in the Ile-de-France area.

Veligo will be run by a joint venture including the postal service and transport firm Transdev under a six-year contract. It will have a budget of up €111m.

It will complement Paris’ Velib scheme, which has served as a model for bike-sharing worldwide but which has struggled since a new operator took over in 2018. Only half the promised 20,000 new Velibs are in operation.

Unlike Velib bikes, which are rented on an hourly basis and must be docked in roadside stations after use, Veligo bicycles will stay with users, who can rent them for €40 a month, half of which can be subsidised by their employers.

The initiative is a major move for Valerie Pecresse, the conservative head of the Ile-de-France region, who often clashes with Paris’s leftist mayor, Anne Hidalgo, over environment and transport issues.

“Electric bicyles have an enormous potential. They are an efficient and ecological way to get to the railway station for short commutes that can replace the car,” said Pecresse.

She said Veligo would allow commuters to try out e-bikes and might convince them to buy their own. A good e-bike costs €1,500 to €2,000. Around 250,000 were sold in France in 2017, compared to 2.7-million regular bikes, IDFM said.

While Velib mainly serves the 2-million residents of central Paris, Veligo is aimed at the capital’s wider region, home to 10-million people and a third of national output.

Velib already offers some e-bikes and in recent months several firms, including California’s Lime and Bird, have launched electric scooters that have taken Paris by storm.