“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”.
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.
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.
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?
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
This post was translated from French. The original version was published on L’Opinion. Photo credit L’Opinion.