An Autolib electric car is seen parked at its dedicated recharging station on Avenue de Friedland, near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris December 4, 2011. The bubble-shaped vehicles of the Autolib electric car service will be launched in Paris on December 5, with their pick-up and drop-off points marked by a conspicuous glowing blue light. Users will be able to sign up for daily, weekly or annual memberships, and pay according to the length of time the car was used. REUTERS/Mal Langsdon (FRANCE - Tags: TRANSPORT BUSINESS ENERGY)

Four years after transforming the city's two-wheeled transport habits with an easy-to-rent bicycle system, Paris officials hope to achieve similar results for drivers.

Today (Monday, December 5) mayor Bertrand Delanoe and regional officials launched “Autolib,” an electric car rental service they hope will yield big benefits for the city's often-clogged streets.

Delanoe said: “It will mean fewer parked cars, less traffic and less pollution.”

Autolib is the socialist mayor's flagship project and will be launched in 46 towns including Paris.

“Autolib has not been created for a specific customer,” Delanoe said. “It's objective is to make the whole city more free and accessible for all users.”

Residents and tourists were quick to embrace Paris's bicycle-rental system, known as Velib, launched in 2007.

The city and its suburbs are now dotted with about 1800 docking stations holding more than 20 000 of the grey utilitarian bikes.

But the bicycles have been prone to vandalism and theft, with battered bikes showing up as far away as Morocco or used as teenage stunt bikes in YouTube videos.

When asked about the potential of vandalism to the new electric cars, Delanoe acknowledged it was a risk but said the cars were made of very tough materials.

He said there was funding in place of up to €3000 (R32 000) each per year for repair costs and insurance for the cars.

The launch follows a successful October trial of 250 Bluecar electric cars, manufactured by French group Bollore.

Under the system, users will be able to rent a car at one location and drop it off at another. New cars will be added each month, with officials hoping to have 3000 cars and 1200 stations on the road by May.

While other places, including the Netherlands and New York, have similar projects up and running, officials say France is the first to deploy an all-electric fleet using a new generation of lithium-metal-polymer batteries that can hold a charge lasting up to five times longer than other cells.

Bollore says a full charge will provide a range of up to 250km in town.

Contracts start at €12 (R130) a month, plus €5 (R54) per half hour of use. - AFP