Daily Management Review

Paris is losing its icon public bicycle sharing system


The Parisians were very proud of Velib, a bicycle rental network created in summer 2007 in Paris and initiated by the then mayor Bertrand Delanoë. Now, however, Velib has sharply braked both in direct and in a figurative sense of this word.

Pierre Rudloff
Pierre Rudloff
Replacement of the project’s operator resulted in a sharp reduction in the number of bicycles and rental stations. Also, it is necessary to note broken and stolen bicycles. Now, Velib cannot satisfy Parisians and guests of the French capital. Numerous complaints were topped by an ultimatum of the current head of the city Anne Hidalgo: either Smovengo gets red of the flaws in the near future, or the city finds another operator for Velib.

Of course, successes and achievements of Velib are undeniable. Not surprisingly, it has become almost an icon of the French capital, just like the Eiffel Tower or the Cathedral of the Notre Dame of Paris. Many metropolitan guides have already included Velib in the list of Paris attractions.

Many major cities from New York to Tel Aviv copied the Paris bicycle rental network. 200 thousand Parisians tried Velib only in the first year of operation. The main reason for this popularity was the fact that the project solved the main problem: where to keep the bicycle and how to protect it from thieves. Despite some problems, such as numerous cases of vandalism, the success was obvious: by 2017 the number of users has grown to 300 thousand, and the number of rental points - up to 1260. However, now the picture has changed dramatically. Users are massively refusing Velib.

"We pay for Velib both as taxpayers and as customers, but it does not work," complains Manon Demma, an accountant living in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. - I used the new Velib services three or four times. The first time everything was in order, each new attempt revealed new problems."

Velib has received even worse reviews on TripAdvisor. So, out of 24 users who left comments on Velib after July 1, only one person rated the service high enough. Last week, there were comments like "fraud of the year", "shame of the Paris municipality" and so on.

By the way, if Hidalgo does not restore Velib in the shortest possible time, it may well prevent her from being re-elected in 2020 for a second term.

First, a 10-year contract for Velib was granted to the transportation giant JCDecaux, which also deals with advertising. As the contract expired, the bicycle rental network was auctioned and won by Smovengo, a consortium of French and Swiss firms, led by a start-up from Montpellier.

Smovengo planned to purchase lighter bikes with a USB port and a display on which you can see the speed. Almost every third bicycle was meant to be electric. Smovengo also promised to solve the problem of vandalism with the help of a special technology. To implement these grandiose plans, it was necessary to get rid of the JCDecaux infrastructure, including bicycles and rental outlets. The replacement was planned for October-December 2017. The first 700 Smovengo stations were to open the doors in January 2018, and by the end of March their number had to grow to 1,400.

Yet, trouble began at the very start. In November, JCDecaux’s employees araranged a strike. By January 2018, only 60 new rental points were opened. The management of Smovengo explained the numerous delays with weak Parisian soils that hinder the construction. The April strike, in which 85% of Velib employees participated, paralyzed both construction and repair of damaged bicycles for several weeks.

As a result of all these delays, Velib-2, which was due on April 1 of this year, still does not work at full capacity. As of July 1, according to the bicycle association Heureux Cyclage, only slightly more than half of the 1,400 rental locations (about 800) are in working order. Only 3 thousand bicycles out of the 20 thousand are in good working condition.

Now, Smovengo promises to introduce a system of 800 rental stations with 10 thousand bicycles by the end of September. All that is left to do is to wait and see the result.

source: politico.eu