Shake-up in Paris car sharing as wheels have come off Autolib
A mere two weeks after Paris pulled the plug out of car-sharing service Autolib, other companies are rushing to fill the void Autolib has left.
At the end of June, the city of Paris cancelled its contract with Autolib's operator, Bolloré, after the company announced losses totalling €300 million until the end of its contract with the authorities in 2023. Bolloré also asked the authorities to cover much of this hole as it is only required to cover losses up to €60 million itself. Above that, the city of Paris and other participating municipalities must pay.
Dirty and poorly maintained
In addition, users frequently complained about dirty, poorly maintained cars. Reports of homeless people and drug users finding shelter in the vehicles abound.
Autolib was a pioneering electric car-sharing service set up in 2011 by billionaire businessman Vincent Bolloré. It deployed thousands of vehicles it also manufactured and attracted more than 150,000 subscribers. Bolloré also operates car-sharing networks in Turin, Singapore, Los Angeles and Indianapolis but those are unaffected by the shut-down in Paris.
Insiders report Autolib's losses originate in large part in the company's need to constantly move cars from inner-city Paris, where drivers leave them, to the suburbs that are part of the Autolib network.
Moreover, the very nature of electric car-sharing networks makes it harder for them to make sense financially. Autolib offering one-way rentals, the company needs to provide charging stations at multiple locations, adding to the operational cost.
Victim of its success
Nicolas Louvet, an urban mobility researcher, told AFP that Autolib was partly a victim of its own success. As more users entered the system, Autolib's vehicles were snapped up faster and other users were left behind disappointed when they couldn't find an available car. At the end of the day, this led to a decline in users and a decline in rides.
The system is also suffering from competition from Uber and from the city's extensive public-transport network.
As Bolloré is preparing to move out of the streets of Paris, competitors are preparing to move in. Several providers have announced they could provide the service without government subsidies.
Renault announced plans to launch a ride-hailing and car-sharing scheme in Paris and the surrounding areas in September. The French car maker is aiming at deploying more than 2,000 vehicles.
Renault will roll out an electric ride hailing service (Marcel), a free-floating EV car sharing network and an electric car sharing service for longer journeys, starting from selected car parks.
This offer will consist of full-electric Renault vehicles: Zoe, Twizy, Kangoo ZE, Master ZE.
Renault's competitor PSA also has plans to start a free-floating EV car-sharing scheme in Paris. The service, which will operate under the group's Free2Move brand, will be operational by the last quarter of 2018. Initially, the fleet will include 500 electric Peugeot and Citroën vehicles.
BMW and Daimler are also reported to be in talks with the Mayor of Paris.
Paris was also the home to one of the first bike sharing schemes in the world. Until last year, Velib had a daily ridership of more than 100,000 and it inspired other authorities across Europe and the US to launch similar systems.
Today, however, it is struggling, as the operating contract previously held by JC Decaux was transferred to the start-up Smovengo. The new company is having trouble deploying enough bikes and bike stations, only having around 700 in operation so far compared to the 1,200 stations under JC Decaux. Meanwhile, dockless bike-sharing competitors are moving into the French capital and taking part of the market.
Image: Autolib vehicle on the streets of Paris.