Paris hails bicycle revolution

"VÉLIB", a free bike scheme launched this week by Paris city council, has got off to a triumphant start. Just four hours after launch, the 10,000 bicycles - held at 750 stations - had been used more than 15,000 times.

"It was a fantastic success that went beyond what he had hoped for," said Denis Baupon, the city official responsible for transport.

The Vlib (vl for vlo or bicycle, and lib for libert, freedom) scheme is the brainchild of the Paris mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, who is determined to crack down on the French capital's high pollution levels by encouraging residents and visitors to use eco-friendly modes of transport.

The new service will "bring to Paris lovers a bit more air, a bit more innovation and, as its name suggests, a lot more liberty," Mr Delanoe said.

Gilbert Arigon, 63, gave up cycling after he had three bikes stolen in the city. He said of the scheme: "When it's sunny, it's so much nicer to be able to take a bicycle instead of the metro and the bus."

Under the Vlib scheme, anyone can use one of the heavy-duty bicycles by simply swiping a travel card. Users can leave the bike at any rack anywhere in the city.

The fee is 1 (68p) for a single use or 29 (20) for a year's subscription. Some 13,000 people have signed up for a yearly pass.

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