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When You Need a Car in Paris

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Most Parisians, like most New Yorkers, don’t have cars. Public transportation, compact city, no parking….why bother? But sometimes you do need a car, so what are your options? The old-fashioned rental car system (Hertz, Avis, etc) is tedious and expensive. Personal car sharing apps are a shot in the dark in terms of availability and what you’ll ultimately get. The city’s Autolib’ program imploded, but there are other car rental programs that have stepped in to fill the gap, including Communauto and Zity.

Zity Electric Cars

Zity is the most similar to the old Autolib’ system: a fleet of 100% electric cars that you can reserve and drive around all you like…within the 300km limit for a fully-charged vehicle. The basic rate is €0.29/minute or flat rate of €35/day (up to €65 for 3 days), as long as you can charge the car and stay within the 84km² area in and around Paris. Zity also has bundles you can purchase, a bit like advance credit at a discount (ie €130 worth of credit for €100). There is no monthly subscription charge, just download the app and sign up.

Communauto Hybrid Car Sharing

But what do you do if you want to leave the city without worrying about losing your charge? Communauto has a fleet of hybrids, which can run on electric charge or gas, depending on how far you need to go. The rates are a bit more complicated, because you have to add three fees: time plus distance plus subscription price.  

Subscription Levels

There are four levels you can choose from, one “Liberté” and three “Économique”:

  • the “Économique extra” is €1.75/hour (or €17.50/day) + €0.28/km plus €18/month subscription fee.
  • the “Économique plus” is €2.35/hour (or €23.50/day) + €0.38/km plus €9/month subscription fee.
  • the “Économique de base” is €2.75/hour (or €27.50/day) + €0.43/km plus €3/month subscription fee.

In these three, the time between 1am-6am is free and and long distance rate automatically kicks in after 50km (and the price per kilometer goes down a few cents).

  • the “Liberté” is €7/hour (or €49/day) with 50km included (€0.21/km after that) and no subscription fee.

Gas and insurance is included in all subscriptions, and on Saturday and Sunday the price goes up €0.40/hour or €4/day. If you’re confused, there’s a Price Calculator to estimate the cost.

So you can see that it’s a bit like the Vélib subscriptions where you can subscribe to save if you know you’re going to use it a lot.

Taking a Test Drive

Parked in an”Auto-Partage” space

There’s a “three months free” offer so I signed up for the “extra”. I needed a car for the whole weekend to go approximately 450km round-trip for five of us. After signing up I received two cards in the mail: one to open the door, and one with the codes to pay for gas. These are needed before you can get the car, so you can’t really use the service the day you sign up.

Once you have your cards, you just need to go online or on the app and find a car near you to reserve. As far as I can tell, they only have one kind of car available: a Toyota Yaris hybrid. It supposedly fits five, but good luck trying to get five adults into this car with their camping supplies. We had to cram everything in and put the overflow on our laps and under our feet.

Other than that, no complaints at all. The car was parked where they said and it was easy to open the door with the card then find the key in the glove compartment along with the directions of how the car works. It’s an automatic and works on electric when you start it up, so it makes no noise. I’m not used to driving an automatic. We had to dig through the manual to figure out what “B” was on the transmission (if I remember correctly, it’s usually “D2” on American cars).

Not exactly spacious enough for five with camping supplies.
The key is plugged inside the glove box; automatic transmission and the mysterious “B”
GPS, A/C, and a rear view monitor.

One of the nice things is that you can extend the time you need to return the car if you get stuck in traffic, like I did. The entire weekend was about €140. It might have cost less to go through an agency, but I’d have to find one close to me that had a car available when I needed it, that had opening hours on Sunday evening (fat chance), and I’d have to go in and fill out a bunch of paperwork, possibly wait while they help someone else (I did that for a whole hour once). In any case, it’s good to have options, and Communauto is a pretty good option.

Other Car Share Operators

There are a few other competitors in the field that I haven’t tested yet:

  • Ada Paris (ex-Moovin’Paris)
  • Ubeeqo (similar to Communauto with electric or gas-powered cars)
  • Car2Go (fully electric cars, similar to Zity)

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