In January 2020 I was proud of myself for getting organized and booking some travel well in advance, including two trips to Paris — trains, hotels and operas — for April and July.
For the April visit, I reserved a room at a hotel on the Boulevard Magenta, in the 10th arrondissement near the East Station. I booked a ticket for Jules Massenet’s Manon at the Opéra Bastille and for a ballet evening by the Norwegian choreographer Alan Lucien Øyen at the Opéra Garnier.
(All you loyal readers of my post Rusalka in Antwerp might recall that in December 2019 I attended a brilliant opera-and-ballet performance in the Antwerp opera house of Rusalka by the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, with choreography and staging by Alan Lucien Øyen.)
For my July visit to Paris, I was supposed to have been staying at a hotel in the Faubourg Saint-Germain (7th arrondissement), where I have never stayed before, and I had tickets for three operas, Verdi’s Rigoletto and Puccini’s La Bohème at the Opéra Bastille and Mozart’s Così fan tutte at the Opéra Garnier.
After booking all these, I remember writing to someone that I hoped the strikes would be over in time for my trips, since in January some of the trains from Frankfurt to Paris and most of the opera performances in Paris had been cancelled because of the strikes.
Well, the strikes were over in time, but then came the corona virus pandemic, which closed Paris down much more thoroughly than the strikes ever did.
So I had to cancel both my trips, but I have kept up on the news from Vélib’ through press reports (I have an online subscription to Le Monde) and through the Vélib’ newsletter.
During the strikes in December 2019 and January 2020, especially on days when the Métro and the buses were on strike, the demand for the Vélib’ bikes was two to three times higher than is normal for that time of year, with an average of 130,000 trips per day. Each bike was used an average of 15 times per day, as opposed to 6 or 7 times before the strikes began. Each bike covered on average a distance of 45 km per day, instead of the usual 18 km.
According to the Vélib’ newsletter: “As a result of this large, prolonged and off-season influx, the condition of the bikes was strongly impacted, despite the mobilization of maintenance and regulation teams.” Although they repaired 700 bikes per day, they still had trouble keeping up with the demand, and only had ten to eleven thousand bikes on the streets at any one time, though they were supposed to provide many more.
I don’t know how much of a break there was, if any, between the end of the strikes and the beginning of the pandemic, but when the corona lockdown began in March, Vélib’ usage dropped from an average of 85,000 trips per day to around 15,000, which was no wonder since most people weren’t even allowed to leave their homes except to run urgent errands in their immediate neighborhoods.
But people working in hospitals and other essential places were allowed to use the Vélib’ bikes for free, which they gladly did. As a result, “the Vélib’ stations near the Pompidou, Saint-Louis, Saint-Antoine, Beaujon, Necker and Pitié Salpetrière hospitals are in the top 10 of the most frequented stations, although they do not usually even make the top 100.”
The strict lockdown (confinement) lasted until the 11th of May. As soon as restrictions on movement began to be loosened, Vélib’ usage increased dramatically. As of May 19th, the official statistics were 1380 stations in operation, with 19,400 bikes on the streets being used for 122,700 rides each day.
As of May 22, 2020, all the hotels, cafés, restaurants, theaters and opera houses in Paris remained closed. Train service from Frankfurt to Paris, which was discontinued during the lockdown, resumed im May, but only with one direct train per day, leaving Frankfurt at 5:58 in the morning and arriving in Paris at 9:51. I don’t know who took that train, but they must have been people who had urgent business in Paris (urgent enough to risk getting infected with COVID-19), and somewhere to stay when they got there.
My photos in this post are from 2018 and 2019. I wrote the text in 2020.