In the developed world, we often think of ourselves as living in a classless society. But in fact, huge disparities still exist between the haves and the have-nots. Can car-sharing bridge the gap?

Paris' city council seems to think so, and it's launched an electric car-sharing company to prove its point.

If this sounds a little familiar, it should: we told you about Autolib' and its attention-grabbing Pininfarina BlueCar last fall. At the time, though, Autolib' was in its trial phase, and Parisian officials were rubbing their lucky pied de lapin, hoping that it would perform better than its sister program, Vélib', the city's problem-plagued bike-sharing program.

Today, Autolib' is up and running, and the man in charge of selling it to the public, Morald Chibout, is excited by what it could mean to the citizens of Paris -- particularly those who come from working-class families, as he did.

How it works

In principle, Autolib' is similar to America's car-sharing sweetheart, Zipcar -- the only difference being that Autolib' is more expensive.

When joining Zipcar, you pay around $60 for your annual membership, plus a $25 application fee, making a total of $85 for your first year of service. When you borrow a vehicle, you pay an additional hourly fee, which varies according to your location. In New York City, for example, borrowers pay $9 per hour on weekdays, or $14 per hour on weekends. 

Autolib', on the other hand, charges 144€ (roughly $182) for its annual membership fee -- more than twice that of Zipcar. Weekday hourly rates are slightly higher, too: 10€ ($12.60).

On the upside, though, Autolib' offers more subscription options than Zipcar. Customers can join for a month, a week, or even a day, making it more affordable for those with very occasional car needs.

Can electric cars drive class mobility?

As you might expect, Chibout has a couple of preferred talking points when discussing Autolib':

  • As a fully electric vehicle, the zero-emission BlueCar can help keep the City of Light feeling even lighter and airier.
  • Autolib' offers working-class families -- particularly those in the suburbs, where cars remain hugely important -- the chance to make better lives for themselves.

Is he wrong? No.

Is he overstating the case? Probablement oui.

It's true that zero-emission vehicles cut down on CO2 and other airborne pollutants. But even with 3,000 BlueCars available, Autolib' isn't likely to make a big dent in Paris' air quality. To do that, the city council would probably have to enact severe restrictions on traffic, just as Beijing did prior to the 2008 Olympic games.

And while it's true that car-sharing can improve personal mobility -- enabling quick trips to Ikea or the grocery store -- it's not a feasible solution for working-class people in search of a cheap, easy commute to a better-paying job.

Have a look at Chibout making his case, and another clip of Autolib' in action:

Avid car-sharers: we'd love to hear from you. Has car-sharing helped you climb the socio-economic ladder? Or has it proven to be more important for completing errands and weekend chores? Drop us a line, or leave a note in the comments below.


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