I’m happy to be back on my Vélib in Paris. Away for a year, I renewed my card by internet, and the first time back I tried it, it worked no problem. As before, I find the bikes in great shape and everything working rather well…
Until… one morning, I grabbed a bike and rode to work. At the station closest to work, a colleague (!) has put her bike into the last empty station, so I head up to the next closest station, and have to wait there as well. And then when I try to put in my bike, I notice that the doohickey, the thick metal part of the bike that clicks into the station, is broken off. As you can see from below, this metal is pretty thick. Really thick. So, I have no idea how it happened, nor how I managed to grab a bike from my neighbourhood in Beaubourg with a broken doohickey.
What could I do? I decided to call the Vélib helpline, but though I tried to key the option for English, I got a French operator. Now, this would be a challenge. The thing is, I say, the part where I need to attach the bike to the station is broken. Completely. And I can’t attach the bike at all. I somehow figure out that the right verb to use is ‘accrocher’ and the operator seems to understand me. Or so I think.
What I need you to do, he says, is to turn the front wheel completely to the right, and then grab the seat really hard, and shake it back and forth.
I do this, half-heartedly, but I’m quite confused. I understand, without remembering the words, for wheel, and seat, and back and forth. But is there some secret way of attaching a bike to a post that has a broken doohickey. No, that doesn’t make sense. It’s hard to follow the instructions and keep the phone to my ear. Sometimes, I have to put it down on the station post. Finally, after, excusing my French maybe two or three times, I say, what is the objective? To which he replies: to get the bike out of the lock.
Oh. I see. He has misunderstood me and think the bike is stuck in the lock. I tell him it’s free and we’re fine. Then he directs me to take the cord lock, use it to attach the bike to something (I decide the post nearest the big electronic controller station will do), then with the key (which only comes free once you’ve locked the bike to something) to deflate both tires, turn the seat backwards to further indicate the bike is f*cked, and then…
‘And now send us the key please. The address is on our website’.
‘Really?’, I say. ‘After all that?’
‘Yes, please’, he replies. ‘Thank you very much.’
I have to report though that within the hour, I’d received an email from them saying that they’d received my report, and would not charge me anything extra (for having the bike out for over 40 minutes). And then an hour or two after that, I received another email saying that the repair folks had retrieved the bike without problem!
It took me a few days to figure out how to mail the key back. The address was a strange CEDEX address which I couldn’t figure out was in Paris or out of Paris. The administrator at work was certain I couldn’t sneak it through the work post, so I stole an envelope instead and found out that some post offices are open on Saturday. I wandered up to one near the Bourse, where I was directed to an automatic weighing machine, and I’m not sure whether I did the right thing or not, since two euros (about three bucks Australian) seems ridiculously expensive to send a key back within Paris. But it was a nice outing in any case (having little missions while abroad is not a chore, but an adventure!). A few days later I received another email saying that they had received my letter and key, and wanted to thank me for my cooperation.
I have heard people complain of a lack of service culture here in France, but at Vélib, service is surely not lacking at all! And if the same thing happens again, I suppose I know what to do!