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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The bicycle rental program that started in Paris seems to be a success. Launched in July, the Velib bikes were part of a plan to make the city more ecologically friendly and to reduce traffic. Two months and some 3.7 million rides later, it seemed to be changing the way people get around the city.

Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.

(Soundbite of motor)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Paris' streets are swarming with Velib rental bikes. Everyone from tourists to businessmen seems to be commuting or just enjoying the city on two wheels. Paris got the bikes, worth around $2,000 each, entirely for free. Advertising giant JC Decaux covers the cost of the venture in exchange for exclusive rights to 1,600 billboards across the city.

Today, there are 10,000 bikes available at 750 hire points, both those numbers will double by the end of this year. To use the bikes, riders pay about $7 for an annual membership and leave a credit card deposit of $150 in case the bike is not returned. The first half-hour is free, with a charge of about $1 for each 30 minutes thereafter.

It's a great way to get from point to point without having to deal with the hassle of keeping up with your bike all day. You just pick up your bike in one place and turn it in at another. I knew it was just the solution for a journalist who regularly crisscrosses the city.

Like, take today, for instance, I have to go to the other end of the 15th arrondissement, a little bit too far to walk but too close really to take the metro, especially on the sunny day like today. So I've got my Velib bike and I'm just going to go to my appointment on bicyclette.

Bon jour.

Unidentified Man: Ca va?

BEARDSLEY: Ca va bien, oui.

People are saying hi to me in their cars. It's a good way to meet people, I think. The bike is very sturdy. It's got a basket in front to carry things, a gear change, a lock to lock it up if you want to stop for a cafe. And then most importantly…

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BEARDSLEY: It's got a bell to ward off those crazy Parisian drivers.

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BEARDSLEY: Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe was vilified by motorists for widening sidewalks and replacing car lanes with bike and bus corridors. He's been accused of trying to eradicate the automobile from the French capital. But the new bike scheme has been so successful that his poll numbers are shooting up. No wonder Chicago's mayor, Richard Daley, dropped in this week to go for a spin. Daley says he thinks the bikes could work in Chicago.

As I turned my cycle in, I asked fellow rider, Daniel Breda, what he thinks about it all.

Mr. DANIEL BREDA (Biker, France): Yes. Yes, I like it very much. I use it every day. I am retired, so I have all my time and I use it to visit Paris. I figure you need about one hour, one hour and a half per day.

BEARDSLEY: How much does that cost you?

Mr. BREDA: Nothing because I change. Every 30 minutes I change, so it's free.

BEARDSLEY: And if it's free, that might at least get some Americans out of their automobiles.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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