Paris readies for massive recharging network

PARIS, FRANCE - Paris, the City of Light, is trying to preserve that glimmering reputation. And it hopes going electric is just the way to do it.

A five-day event called Journées de la Mobilité Electrique is promoting electric transportation in the city with a new car-sharing scheme.

With some of the worst air pollution levels in Europe, caused in large part by the increase in traffic on Paris's previously pedestrian-dominated streets, the city is now making its big push for electric vehicles.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe first took a plan for a massive electric car-sharing program to the public in 2008. Earlier this summer a government agency was formed to carry it out.

Autolib, a network of 4,000 shared electric cars, will launch next year or early 2011, according to city officials, who are in the final stages of finding private partners in the electric car manufacturing and rental car industries.

A number of companies, including Renault and Avis, have expressed plans to bid.

Half the cars will be available at recharging stations to drivers in Paris, the other half will be at stations in the surrounding suburbs.

The cost to drivers has not been finalized, but early estimates are between $5 and $10 for a half-hour rental. Advocates of the plan project it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 22,000 tonnes a year.

"I think it's a very good idea," says Ben Marans, manager of grants and special projects for the Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF), a municipal agency that helps develop and fund environmentally friendly projects.

"It's initiated at the municipal level so they can address issues like developing the recharging infrastructure, building permits, effects on the grid."

Those are some of the issues Marans has been grappling with as part of TAF's EV300 initiative, a plan to have a fleet of 300 electric vehicles and a recharging infrastructure operating in the city by 2012.

The focus so far has been on city, provincial and private fleet managers, including two car-sharing companies that operate in the city.

"AutoShare is interested," Marans says. "The benefit of involving car-sharing companies is that it introduces electric cars to the general public without them having to make the purchase."

He says Paris, with its plan to use 4,000 cars to meet demand, has the advantage of scale to get partners and the public interested.

In Toronto, people like Marans, who are a small minority, would be perfect for an electric car-sharing program. "Me and my wife don't own a car, we car-share when we need one and don't have to worry about insurance and maintenance, all the things that come with ownership."

He calls the push for electric cars a chicken- and-egg scenario.

"People don't want to buy them if there's no recharging infrastructure, and manufacturers won't make them until there's demand.

"In Toronto, we're just starting."



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