Autolib could help us get off the road to nowhere

Melbourne is seen by some as the Paris of the southern hemisphere so perhaps it’s time to take on some of the City of Light’s traffic innovations.

Melbourne residents have prided themselves on their favourable standing on various liveability scoreboards but the increasing congestion on our roads is threatening Victoria’s liveability and its productivity. The economic, social, and environmental costs of congestion have been calculated at more than $3 billion a year and this figure is expected to rise to $6.1 billion by 2020.

More than seven years ago the Victorian government commissioned an inquiry into traffic congestion but there has been little positive change. Nor will there be while the approach to congestion continues to focus on building more roads, despite experience here and from around the world demonstrating again and again the futility of trying to build our way out of congestion. “Build it and they will come” is not always a positive mantra, especially when “they” are motorised vehicles and the benefits of multibillion dollar road upgrades are transitory at best.

The issue of making public transport more palatable is complex, but not insurmountable; and Melbourne is one of the most bike friendly cities in Australia, so there are solutions but more needs to be done to get cars off the road.

Although the slow uptake of the Melbourne City Bike scheme (similar to Paris’ Velib system) has scared some decision makers, we should look seriously at the latest Parisian sustainable transport project: Autolib.
autolib station

Autolib is an electric car version of Velib, with self-service rental stations springing up all over the city. For an annual fee of about $190 you buy a subscription to the “Blue Car” scheme and receive a swipe card which allows you to undock the electric car. You unplug the battery, drive off and attend to your business, then drop the car off at a station, reversing the process by plugging the car in and then swiping to end the rental. A half hour rental costs about $8 – cheaper for most trips than a taxi.

The Autolib map offers real time updates of where to find available cars or docking stations

The Autolib map offers real time updates of where to find available cars or docking stations

The scheme was initially attacked by the conservatives as a socialist vanity project, but as it has grown in popularity, even its detractors have had to admit that, firstly it’s a good idea, and secondly, it is having the unexpected benefit of narrowing the capital’s social divide by providing easier access between the outer suburbs. Paris is divided socially between those who live in the more prosperous inner suburbs and those who live outside the ‘peripherique’ ring road and this is reflected in the public transport system, which tends to radiate outwards from the centre of the city, but not provide much service between the outer suburbs. The Blue Cars (which are actually silver) are said to be playing a role in fulfilling the promise that former President Sarkozy made after the 2005 riots to integrate the inner and the outer parts of Paris.
Perhaps a similar scheme could solve some of Melbourne’s traffic problems too.

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