While the quality of the service remains an issue, Arnaud Marion, the boss of Smovengo / Vélib, continues to stay optimistic about his original plans.
Fifteen months after the arrival of Smovengo to Paris to manage Vélib, where are we? Several indicators show that
These indicators are rising, of course, but are still far from the 300,000 subscribers and 100,000 daily trips of the time of JCDecaux …
Empty stations and broken bikes
Beyond the numbers, it is the quality of the service rendered that still brings strong criticism. On the streets and in social networks, many customers complain about empty stations and bicycles in unusable conditions.
“We still have several problem points in the maintenance, regulation of the bike park or the availability of e-bikes”, recognizes Catherine Baratti-Elbaz, the president of Syndicat Autolib ‘and Vélib’ Métropole, who spends 40 million euros per year on the shared bike network.
Last December, a few days after entering into the financial agreement in which Smovengo lost 22 million euros for its first year of operation, Arnaud Marion announced the deadline for 31 March.
By this date, the operator promised to offer 20,000 bicycles and 1,400 stations. This goal will probably be achieved by “the end of spring,” said Arnaud Marion, who also promised, for the first time, to increase to 50% share of e-bikes (against less than 30% today).
Why are promised 20,000 bikes still not deployed?
ARNAUD MARION. We have nearly 12,000 bikes in the field, including 2,500 electric-assisted bikes. The number of Vélib bicycles in circulation increases despite a loss of 2 000 bicycles, collateral damage of the manifestations of the Yellow Vests.
At the peak of the demonstrations, the prefecture of Paris made us close 180 stations, a quarter of the Parisian stations, which accounted for half of those, used in the capital. Riders could no longer drop their bikes anywhere, and many were stolen. I made a claim for compensation to the police and state prefecture. This is unacceptable.
Are 1,400 promised stations operational?
ARNAUD MARION. More than 1,350 stations have been completed, of which 1,200 are in operation and 140 whose effective opening depends on electrification. Outside Paris, at the end of March, we will have finished 355 stations spread over 54 communes. In late spring, as expected, Vélib will be at its cruising speed.
Maintenance of bicycles seem to remain problematic
ARNAUD MARION. On the contrary, I believe that these two subjects have evolved very favorably. We have a bike availability rate of 85% at the stations. Three-quarters of our bikes run at least once a day and 90% have at least one ride over three days, which shows that the park is healthy. Maintenance also had its learning curve. Every day, 400 bikes are picked for maintenance and then returned to the operation.
Recent events have generated a lot of debris and broken glass that have greatly damaged the bikes. Maintenance has improved significantly. But it was also very disturbed by the demonstrations. More than 90% of stations
There is a gap between your figures and the feeling of the customers…
ARNAUD MARION. We must be wary of what our critics say, trying to get their ideas across. Some are former employees of Decaux who were dismissed. I’m not saying that we are 100% satisfied. But you have to be serious and not follow the scam. Only 3% of the rides result in a complaining phone call. Customers who have no problems never speak, and it’s still the majority.
Electric bikes are often out of order and difficult to find
ARNAUD MARION. The electric assistance is on average functional at 92% for the bikes available in the stations. The feeling of the users comes mainly from the number of electric assistance bikes, which is still insufficient to satisfy the demand. About 10,000 to 12,000 rides a day are done with electric bikes.
Electric bikes are used very intensively, with 7 to 10 rides a day, against 5 to 6 for traditional bicycles, which forced us to set up specific maintenance cycle and to correct some imperfections, especially in electrical assistance and charging.
Now that all this is stabilized, we will increase the share of electrically assisted bicycles in March and April, and we will have nearly half of our bikes that will be electric by this summer, given such high demand of the riders.
And the staff, dedicated to maintenance?
ARNAUD MARION. We have a total of 276 direct employees, including 70 from Vitaservice Group Vitamin T, for a service provided 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is actually double the number of staff in May. In addition, we still have 80 people to recruit by June.
An independent opinion
Arnaud, a computer scientist and a user of Vélib, set up an “alternative” data site: velib.philibert.info (link to the site). On a map, users can see the availability of bicycles and most importantly, the reliability of the service. The service measures the frequency of movement in each station. “I take the number of the total fleet, and I subtract the number of bicycles immobilized, out of service or repair,” said Arnaud.
When Smovengo says that there are 12 000 bikes available, Philibert site shows only 10 000, of which about 8000 are actually able to roll … Who is right? “The data on this site is reconstructed and incomplete,” says Arnaud Marion.
“It is possible that my data has errors during a day,” agrees the computer scientist. But not to the point that it does not show the trend in the long run. Moreover, to my surprise, I was never asked to change my calculation method or disable my site.
Vélib is still far from being a solid bike rental business
“We are not immune still today from a commercial disaster”, notes the president of the UDI-MoDem group at the City Hall in Paris.
Do you remember the fall of 2017? We were told then, that a new, larger Vélib network, with lighter, more connected, not-stealable and above all electric (30% of them) bikes will be in place soon. Even better, a new system would allow returning a bike even if the parking station is full. Of course, prices would go up a bit, but was not the game worth it? 18 months have passed and the answer is: NO!
In fact, the network today hardly reaches 1,200 stations, while the initial objective was 1,400 stations to be open by March 31, 2018! – and only 20% of the 12,000 bikes in the park are actually electric.
And the general feeling of the riders is much less positive than the hallucinatory satisfaction posted by the Parisian executive in recent weeks: electric bikes are not to be found, the others are too often in poor condition or “privatized”. The “Park+” system, which must allow leaving a bike even if the parking station is full, is “suspended”.
Many reasons to blame
And finally, the use of the Vélib to get to work is a privilege only reserved for early birds, since, in the absence of effective regulation, all bikes converge in the morning to the key office locations and, and stay there during the day!
After originally blaming
Finally, the only goal that has been achieved so far is the increase in pricing! And it is significant since the classic subscription has increased by 28%. The daily rate jumped by 190%, from 2.70 to 5 euros. Use of electric bikes is still complicated today due to lack of availability. And electric bikes are much more expensive since a subscription costs nearly € 100 a year.
Moreover, by announcing 50% of e-bikes in the network by this summer, Smovengo confirms that the salvation of their economic model will depend on the expanding use of e-bikes, which will probably be the only long-term choice offered to users. As compensations were still granted during 2018, everyone is now paying the full price, for a service, which is much less efficient than before.
This painful transition, some had however considered. Thus, as early as July 2016, I had expressed my concerns about a possible interruption of service. Concerns were also raised on many occasions during 2017 without obtaining neither response nor reaction from the
Parisians are not mistaken: the number of service subscribers, which was 285,000 before the arrival of Smovengo, barely reaches 160,000 today. The number of daily journeys meanwhile does not exceed 60,000, even on sunny days. This number was 100,000 on average before the end of 2017.
Is this a major fiasco?
This fiasco has a major impact on cycling in Paris. In a city whose mayor had the ambition to increase the share of cycling trips between 5 and 15% during his term, 2018 was a catastrophic year since according to the records, this number fell 24% in the first half and 9% in the second half of the year, compared to 2017.
Finally, if the disaster seems to have been narrowly avoided at the cost of a complete network upgrade (bicycles, installation of wheel clams, computer management system, etc.), we are still not immune today. This is particularly true as new players in the individual electric mobility market compete directly with the Vélib’s offer.
Knowing that the City of Paris already contributes nearly 17 million euros a year to the Autolib Vélib Syndicate, it is more than legitimate to wonder about the financial consequences for the community of long-term commercial failure. Read more about the city of Paris plans in this post.
In terms of penalties, Smovengo, and the Union Autolib Vélib have agreed at the end of the year on a total of 22 million euros. Here again, many questions remain unanswered: when will these penalties be paid? Will they be passed on to the community? And last but not least, is this agreement definitive, or will new penalties be applied to the extent that the network is still far from its optimum?
Reports are yet to be seen
It is also important to analyze the reasons for this failure. After blaming the Syndicat Autolib Vélib for these problems, and forgetting a little too fast that the City itself had launched the tender and led the competitive dialogue until December 2016, Anne Hidalgo finally recognized the role of the City of Paris by ordering in July 2018 to its General Inspectorate a report on the preparation of this contract. Still waiting for report conclusions, planned initially for the beginning of the year …
At the time of this report, the “new Vélib” remains undoubtedly one of the major failures of Anne Hidalgo. Still not hearing the warnings of the opposition, the mayor of Paris is unable to carry out the bike rental market upgrade process and seems today to be satisfied with a very weak rental network, which remains much less effective than the one that Parisians have adopted since 2007. And Parisians seem to turn more and more to other offers that look more and more attractive.
It is now essential that the mayor of Paris stops thinking that the difficulties of Vélib are behind. She absolutely must react to the upcoming commercial debacle. Otherwise, Anne Hidalgo will inevitably remain as the mayor of Paris who managed to make Parisian dislike Vélib, the largest global network of self-service bicycles. And probably what was one of the most innovative soft mobility networks of the beginning of this century, which was the
Oribiky expands its fleet of electric bicycles
Blue, white, red self-service and electric-assisted bicycles made their appearance in the streets of Paris and in the first ring at the end of 2018. The latest on the market for semi-floating bicycles (could be located based on their GPS coordinates), is Oribiky, and it is expanding its fleet from 280 to 400 e-bikes.
Oribiky e-bikes have a range of 100 km and travel at 25 km / h. Three staff take care of the maintenance of the e-bikes and recharging batteries.
Obligation to park on bicycle parking
Oribiky e-bikes propose several tariff plans: from 0.10 to 0.12 cents per minute for non-subscription formulas. Packages from 14.99 euros to 19.99 euros per month are provided for regular users. This is in line with market trends, read more in this post.
There is another offer for companies and couriers. The app allows to geolocate each e-bike and unlock it via a smartphone. An e-bike can be booked as short as ten minutes in advance.
To avoid overcrowding Parisian sidewalks, it is obligatory to park the bicycle on bicycle parking after use (you must declare its location on the application), or a rider will pay a 50 euro fine. No fines have been charged so far, says the operator.
Based in Stains, in Seine-Saint-Denis, the French start-up will complement Vélib, of which 30% of the fleet is electric, and ahead of Jump Bikes, which was bought in spring 2018 by Uber. The VTCiste – an American company, which is already present on the shared electric bicycle market in San Francisco and Washington and is considering deploying an identical fleet in Paris during 2019. The service is planned to run on the same application as its taxis.