Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Velib'—the Sequel

I’m still a big fan of Velib’, the city's virtually-free bike program (see my previous post, Velib' Liberates Paris), even if it seems like I’ve encountered just about every problem you can have with them during my infrequent usage. Being spontaneous on Velib’ requires thinking ahead. First, after an unfortunate incident with a faulty derailleur, I learned that you should make sure your bike works before you unhook it. Then, after circling the 6th arrondissement for a good 20 minutes, I learned that you should buy yourself a map showing all the stations before you try to find a place to park it once your done with your ride. Then, after discovering two hours after I thought I had returned my bike that my account was still open, I learned that you should make sure the bike stand is in working order before you check in your bike. It’s a long learning curve, but I still appreciate the practicality and usability of the program. It’s the perfect thing for short trips that would be a pain by public transportation or a shlep to walk. And it’s fun, provided you don’t find yourself on boulevard Haussmann at rush hour. It will be even more fun once the city has put in real bike lanes with cement barriers, like the one on avenue Daumesnil (the only one I’ve found so far).

But I have a question for the cyber-world. I’ve had a lot of people ask me if tourists can use Velib’ and I’m having a hard time coming up with a straight answer. In theory, as long as your debit or credit card has a chip in it, you can stick it in a stand and get a 1 or 7 day ticket. The problem is, most American credit cards don’t have chips. But I’ve also heard rumors that people with American Express cards, even chip-less American Express cards, manage to use Velib’. I’ve contacted the Velib’ office and all they can tell me is that the card has to have a chip. From what I gathered during the conversation, they have not made any real effort to make Velib’ tourist-friendly for fear of riling the bike-rental outfits in the city. So here’s my burning question: has anyone successfully used Velib’ with an American credit card, be it AmEx, or otherwise? Do chip-equipped US cards work? Thank you one and all!

48 comments:

David said...

I know they can. I don't know how. I don't know how to use one myself, cause I find it suicidal to ride a bike in Paris, but that's just me... :-)

I'm sure the official site contains all the answers though:

http://www.en.velib.paris.fr/

Starman said...

If David's site doesn't work for you, you can find all the velib' stations here: http://velib.shiva.easynet.fr/
Just click on the arrondisement in which you're interested.

Russell said...

I just returned from Paris where I used my Delta Skymiles American Express Card at a street corner bike station kiosk for a 1 day subscription to enjoy Vélib'. It is the best way to get around the City. My card does NOT have a chip. To use Visa or MC, they must have the chip. The kiosk will also accept JCB cards which may or may not need the chip.

tomas said...

yes, I had no problem using it with an american-issue AmEx Blue card.

Margie Rynn said...

Thank you all, and thanks so much for the info on American Express! I had heard that chipless AmEx cards worked, but it seems so strange because the Velib' people insist you need a chip. I even tried calling the Decaux office (they are the one's who built the system) but they couldn't tell me anything. I wonder if Amex knows about this...

Abfab Art Studio said...

Hi Margie,

Thanks so much for following up on my question - much appreciated!

Unfortunately I just got rid of my Amex as not a lot of places accept them any more in Australia (where I live) without adding additional fees on top at the point of sale.

I did contact the Velib office in Paris recently after trawling through their website and getting no joy, but now I've read your comment about other bike rentals in Paris, that does make sense.

So (1) I'm not American :-) and (2) no Amex card.

When I'm in Paris in June, I'll just have to be Velib-less :-)

Now that's a tongue-twister haha

Thanks again, Margie!

Ciao ciao
Teena

Margie Rynn said...

Teena,

Apparently, if you have a chip in your MasterCard or Visa, that will work too. You most certainly don't have to be American! American cards can be a problem because most don't have chips. I think Canadians have the same problem. I have no idea if you have chips or not in Australia, but if you do, you are set to Velib!

Abfab Art Studio said...

Margie, thanks! That's great news - I DO have a chip in my Visa card!

I'll certainly test it out when I'm there.

Ciao,
Teena!

maitresse said...

"Then, after circling the 6th arrondissement for a good 20 minutes, I learned that you should buy yourself a map showing all the stations before you try to find a place to park it once your done with your ride. "

Agreed!! Nothing worse than wheeling one of those things around looking for a place to stash it-- they weigh a ton!

Stephanie said...

Amex Blue cards do have a chip.

They are free. I got one last fall just to use with Velib in Paris. It worked great and there for those who think it is suicidal to ride a bike in Paris -- you don't know how to live.

Stephanie

Margie Rynn said...

Stephanie, you say that the Amex card is free. what do you mean? That if you are an Amex holder, you can ask for a card with a chip for free?

Shawnna said...

so here's a question: can you rent more than one bike on the same credit card? my boyfriend and i are going to paris in the fall, and while I have amex he does not.

thanks for the info! this will be very helpful.

shawnna

Margie Rynn said...

Well, I'm not a total Velib expert, but I don't see why you couldn't. You'd have to subscribe twice and create two different accounts, with two different deposits. You couldn't take out two bikes on the same account. I can't imagine they would care if the same card was paying.

steve said...

steve says I had nothing but grief trying to hire a velib bike. I had both a chipped and chipless VISA cards
from Australian banks both lucked out. The best result I got was with a
the chip card, with the machine giving me a receipt to say I wasn't debitted for my trouble.

Margie Rynn said...

Hmm...interesting. The Velib people keep insisting that if you have a chip it should work, but it's sounding like the only quasi-sure bet is an American Express card.

Aussie Golfer said...

I'm here for a month from Ausralia and haven't been able to use my chipped VISA card. Must be an Australian bank problem. Very annoying.

Margie Rynn said...

Sorry to hear about the trouble with Australian cards. I know it's not as cool, but there are places in Paris where you can rent bikes by the hour, 1/2 day or whole day. Try Roue Libre (www.rouelibre.fr), Paris a Vélo c'est Sympa (www.parisvelosympa.fr) or French Connection Bike Tours (www.frenchconnectiontours.com), they all rent and the last two also offer nice bike tours.

Margie Rynn said...

Sorry to hear about the trouble with Australian cards. I know it's not as cool, but there are places in Paris where you can rent bikes by the hour, 1/2 day or whole day. Try Roue Libre (www.rouelibre.fr), Paris a Vélo c'est Sympa (www.parisvelosympa.fr) or French Connection Bike Tours (www.frenchconnectiontours.com), they all rent and the last two also offer nice bike tours.

Aussie Golfer said...

Nice suggestion! Thanks!

Jim said...

Just returned from France and spent one enjoyable day in Paris using the Velib bikes. A few observations:

- Used an Amex Blue card obtained just for this purpose with no problems

- Check out the bike you are going to use before choosing/removing. Wear and tear is showing on some bikes. E.g. broken shifter, soft tire, bent wheel. I just swapped for another bike at the next station when there was a problem. My French was not good enough to call and report the bikes.

- Have a map of the stations which I didn't. Or do as I did. Each station has a map of nearby locations. I'd note the ones in the direction I was going, stop along the way to look at another map and continue along to the next. Even though there are lots of stations, finding one can take a lot of walking if you don't know where they are.

- One kiosk wasn't working so I could not get a bike although I had returned one there earlier. Used the map and went to one nearby.

- Bike distribution may be an issue although it wasn't for me. One station only had one bike left when I got there. At another, someone who wanted to return a bike had to wait until I came and removed one.

- Riding in traffic. Covered 20 miles in a day with no problems but then I've biked urban streets for decades. With bus lanes and physically separated bike lanes, I found riding much better than in the US.

- Overall, it was a great way to get around and see the city.

Shawnna said...

fantastic information, thanks so much for sharing

Jim said...

FWIW, my write-up on using Velib bikes in Paris can be found at dancingchain.blogspot.com/2008/10/velib-bikes.html

Margie Rynn said...

Thanks Jim, I read your post—a great rundown on what it's actually like to use Velib'. By the way, I salute you for doing 20 miles. Those things weigh a ton—I don't think my hamstrings are up to the challenge.

Andrew said...

I just tried to use a Velib today with my Delta Sky Miles Amex card. It DID NOT WORK. I tried it in every direction, it still didn't work.

Maybe things have changed since these old comments. But I wanted to mention that Amex Blue is prob the only sure fire bet to work.

Margie Rynn said...

Curses. Did your card have a chip in it? Do try the bike rental places (with a helmet) if you can. And drink lots of water - it's HOT out there today!

Anonymous said...

Now on the fone with an AmEx rep and they say the blue card has a chip.

GizmoGuy411 said...

YES! I was able to rent a Velib bike using my Gold AMEX card with no chip. I was also able to use my NaviGo Découverte Metro pass as my id which simplified further rentals. The first bike had a bad dérailleur. This was a fun experience in Paris. Much better than a car or bus!

Margie Rynn said...

I've heard about this, but I still don't understand it. In theory, Velib doesn't work without a chip in the card, but you are not the first to tell me that their Amex card worked with out a chip. Go figure.

GizmoGuy411 said...

To add to my previous post, I forgot to mention that although my chipless Gold AMEX card worked fine the first time, when I went to use it at another station, it did NOT work. I did not persist to try, and it may have just been a poor read of my card or it may have been a difference in how some stations are programmed.

Anonymous said...

Hi!

I came across your blog trying to find an email address to send a complaint about the velib system.

The thing is I accidentially took a broken bike and returned it straight ahead. I also have the receipt.

Did you have to pay for the 150 euros? And do you know which adbress I should write to about my problem?

It would be so kind of you if you answered to my questions. I'm a student and I wouldn't want to pay 150 euros in vain.

Thank you in advance!

Laura

(dagger137@hotmail.com)

Anonymous said...

I have a COSTCO Amex Blue card. I have tried about 2 dozen stations. Each says it takes AMEX, but it DOES NOT.
I believe using AMEX is a hit or miss proposition. Clearly, if your card has the smart chip (or perhpas Gold), it MAY increase your odds of working, but I wouldn't count on it.
Bottom line, Velib bikes are geared for the locals scene, US tourists are lucky if it works for them. As an alternative, you can by a BUS, RAIL, and METRO pass for a week for 22 Euro. It will get you where you want to go, just as fast, safer, and without pedaling. Still I'd like to use the Velib, but it is a dicey idea, the traffic is crazy.

Margie Rynn said...

That's happened to me too, I've picked a bad bike and put it right back. As long as you've put the bike back properly, you shouldn't be charged. If you are, contact Velib, at www.velib.fr. They have a website in English and French.

Teena Hughes said...

Hi Margie,

Thanks for taking the time to write about your experiences in Paris with Velib - it's great to get the dirt straight from the horse's mouth :-)

I've been getting enquiries about Velib on my website, especially how to make a complaint, so I thought I'd share my webpage with you. I translated the Velib Contact page and how to register a complaint.

The Velib site doesn't seem to have a working English version (despite the Translate button in the top right of the screen - or maybe it only works on some browsers).

There are four forms to use for complaints, I tell my web visitors if the type of form isnt' exactly what they want, just fill in any one of them:

http://www.a-night-in-paris.com/news/85/61/Where-can-I-complain-about-Velib-in-Paris.html

Thanks again Margie for your great info on Paris!

Frenchified Teena

PS - Very few credit cards in Australia (where I live) have chips in them.

Javier said...

I tried my US MC and it did not work and was told by my hotel US CC would not work. After some online search I went back and tried my Amex (US-Gold) and it worked!

I spend the afternoon and a good part of the evening riding around Paris! CC issues aside, this is great!!!

John said...

Thanks, Margie. I'm ready to give it a try. All go armed with all of my cards. Something will work... John in NYC

Anonymous said...

Actually I tried both my Italian VISA and UK HSBC (both with chip) and everytime payment has been refused.
Any clue?

Thanks!

Margie Rynn said...

Hmmm...in theory it should work. So I don't know. Anyone else out there have an idea?

L D P said...

You completely saved my butt! My husband and I are travelling to Paris in a few months and have already planned to utilize Velib bikes, but I had no idea you needed to have an RFID chipped card to use them, and I don't have an American Express card. Fortunately, I bank with Chase and they're in the process of rolling out the new "blink" cards that are RFID enabled, so now I have the opportunity to go to my bank and request a new card so I'll be sure to be able to use the Velib bikes. Whew!

Margie Rynn said...

Glad to help! But even if you get your new card with a chip, have a backup plan - it sounds like some people still had problems even with a chip card (though others were fine). If for some reason you do have trouble, remember that you can always rent a bike...and that Paris is also a very walkable city.

Donnie said...

Thanks for the updates everyone. I am here now, Spring 2011, and it looks like you can now purchase the access code ONLINE, and then use it at the stations without needing your credit card on the spot. Therefore, if you plan ahead, you should be able to use velib without a chipped card!

Margie Rynn said...

I'm not so sure about that one...have you tried it? I do have a new and interesting option to report though, Travelex (www.travelex.com), the currency exchange guys at the airports, have a prepaid cash card. You put money on the card and use it like a debit card. My co-worker uses it for Velib' and it works!

Anonymous said...

Anyone know the number to call Velib to dispute a transaction? I used the bikes on two days, and got receipts when I returned them, and got charged around AUD$106 and AUD$40 respectively!

Anonymous said...

We are in Paris right now. Yesterday tried to use Velib with no luck with every card including AMEX. Today I read your blog and succesfully purchased 2 passes online using the American Express. Thanks so much for all the posts!

Anonymous said...

I gave up this morning and could not find relief on the internet, but then I realized.... "the internet!" Sure enough, the system allows one to pay on the internet using a credit card and it gives you a number that you enter in the terminals.

No need to use a credit card at the terminals; just use the internet.

Margie Rynn said...

Brilliant! I'm going to recommend this...

Anonymous said...

We used the velib bikes in paris and they were great for the few hours we were on them, until we returned home and looked at our bank account. We thought once you returned the bikes that they instantly returned the security deposit, which was NOT the case. A week later and we still have not recieved the money, so I caled my bank to temporarily put the money back. However, a few days later I had been charged again for 27.85 quid x 2 for no reason, when the total cost should have been about 4 quid, at the most. Trying to contact them about this issue is a nightmare, as I have been hung up on numerous amounts of times and their is no e-mail address for me to get an explanation why this money has come out. Beware before going on these bikes!!

Margie Rynn said...

Here's what you need to do: go on the French version of the Velib site (www.velib.fr) and on the left hand side, go all the way to the bottom and click on "vos demandes en ligne". You will get a list of addresses and forms to fill out for all the various billing nightmares you might have. This is not on the English page of the site. If your French isn't up to it, find someone who speaks French to help you. You have to make your request within 6 months of your usage. If you are still having trouble, try the Mairie de Paris (the city hall), who runs Velib. Personally, I've never had a problem and I've used Velib for at least two years, but clearly these things do happen (or they wouldn't have all those forms on the site). It's always tricky using systems like this when you are not a resident, they are really not set up for tourist use. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

be careful using these bikes, they debited a large sum of money from my account and when i complaint to them your get a nice introduction in the french world of bureaucracy. But they do not respond. I even wrote a fax. You can call them to complain, but they just hang up on you!