Lyon, France's second city, offers its citizens and visitors a number of choices when it comes to mobility: first, drop the car in one of dozens of municipal parking garages. Then: three subway lines, two tramways, numerous buses, a funicular...and two thousand public bicycles.
The bike deal is called Velo'V, short for Vélo-ville, vélo being French for bike, the whole thing pronounced v-love. Love it I do, and so do the locals. Grand Lyon (the regional government association, kind of like Seattle's Metro) contracted with JCDecaux, the private outfit that builds a variety of useful public structures (we have their toilets in Seattle) to put some 200 bike stands on the city streets. They take up two or three regular parking spaces, every few blocks. Each one holds maybe a dozen bikes. Insert your bank card into the machine and take off with a bike. Three speeds, basket to carry your stuff.
First 15 minutes are free (first half-hour if you're a regular subscriber); first full hour costs all of one euro; second hour two euros. So the trick is to string together one-way rentals: when you reach your first destination, anywhere in town, you return the bike to the nearest stand and pick up another one when you're ready to continue. And the city swarms with these bikes!
Ties flapping, businessmen in suits ride by. Shopping bag or schoolbooks atop basket, housewives head to a nearby market, students to a quiet café. Shopkeepers run errands. Tourists do a bit of sightseeing.
But not 'Merkin tourists, whose "striped" credit cards can't activate the system. Takes a Yerpeen "smart card" with a chip. (New York Times article on Lyon last week fails to mention this; my correction appears in today's edition.) Complained to JCDecaux; they answered that "foreign" cards are an upgrade, in the works. At least they answered.
Meantime, it's like a two-wheeled, one-way Flexcar system. The naysayers who complained Velo'V was taking away valuable street parking are now among its biggest boosters. Love on the streets, bring it on!
Bikes at the ready, swipe your card, press the button, ride off!
UPDATES: Not just Lyon! Correspondents suggest train stations throughout Germany, Brussels, Bologna. No doubt many more!