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!