There are at least three items in the recent news about cities that are working on reducing commuting by car, in attempts to reduce both traffic congestion and pollution from automobile engines. Closest to home, for me, is New York City's plan for a congestion fee — if the plan, supported by the mayor, is approved (it requires the approval of the state legislature), those driving into midtown Manhattan during peak periods would pay an $8 fee. The theory is that the fee would encourage people to use public transportation instead. Mayor Bloomberg also has plans to reduce the number of garbage trucks (using barges and trains instead) and to require taxicabs to meet tighter standards for emissions and fuel economy over the next five years.
Farthest from home is Beijing, moved to reduce pollution and congestion by the upcoming Olympic Games in 2008. They're instituting some strict changes there to try to cut back the traffic jams that make any American city look like the wide open road.
The most interesting plan is in Paris: beginning Sunday, they're making more than 10,000 bicycles available for people to borrow, for commuting, for running errands, or just for cruising around town:
PARIS, July 15 — About a dozen sweaty people pedaled bicycles up the Champs-Élysées on Sunday toward the Arc de Triomphe, as onlookers cheered. These were not the leading riders of the Tour de France racing toward the finish line, but American tourists testing this city’s new communal bike program.
“I’m never taking the subway again,” said a beaming Justin Hill, 47, a real estate broker from Santa Barbara, Calif.
More than 10,600 of the hefty gray bicycles became available for modest rental prices on Sunday at 750 self-service docking stations that provide access in eight languages. The number is to grow to 20,600 by the end of the year.
The publicity has been fantastic — there's been an item about it on the France 2 news every day for several days leading up to Sunday's launch, and Paris's mayor, who set up the program, is strongly promoting it. It works like this:
- You buy a pass for only EUR 1 per day, EUR 5 per week, or a paltry EUR 29 per year.
- The pass entitles you to borrow a bike for up to 30 minutes.
- You get an unlimited number of 30-minute rides. You just have to return the bike and pick up another one.
- Bikes sit at docking stations throughout the city, making one-way rides easy.
- They have a system of trucks that will redistribute the bikes when they start collecting at certain points and leaving too few at others.
- There's a repair station, as well as an itinerant (bicycling) repair crew that can repair bikes on the spot.
What a great idea! At least for the startup, people are loving it. We'll have to see how it works in the long run, with issues of theft and vandalism (reasons that I'd be skeptical about its success in New York City). This is something I'm going to keep an eye on.
Update, 17 July: It looks like Mayor Bloomberg's congestion fee plan has failed, at least for now.