France’s car-sharing system Autolib' hits the end of the road

Eric Piermont, AFP | An electric Autolib bluecar on display in Paris on November 29, 2012

Autolib’, a popular yet unprofitable electric car-sharing system in Paris, on Thursday hit the end of the road after the public body that oversees it decided to cancel the private operator’s contract.


The vote comes after the Autolib’ service had run up major losses that neither the local authorities, nor the operator Bolloré, were prepared to absorb.

The SAVM voting session also determined that the Autolib’ contract would not be up for grabs for other potential operators, ultimately spelling the end of the service and leaving its estimated 150,000 users in the lurch.

Paris city authorities have previously estimated voiding the deal – which runs until 2023 – could cost "several tens of millions of euros" while Bolloré, owned by French magnate Vincent Bolloré, has put the tab at around €300 million.

The voting SAVM members, however, on Thursday agreed to “refuse to pay the financial compensation requested” by Bolloré.

The Bolloré group immediately responded by saying it would appeal the decision.

It was not immediately clear as of what date the service will no longer be available.

Launched in 2011, Autolib’ is popular among those who use its “free floating” cars. But it has failed to attract as many users as expected, undercut by competition from a growing range of transportation alternatives, including ride hailing apps such as Uber.

Maintenance has also been a major issue for Autolib’. Its fleet of silver cars has not aged well over the years, and has been known to be used by the homeless as shelter at night.

Autolib’ is not the only one in danger. The city’s bike-sharing service Velib’ – which Autolib’ was modeled on – is also at risk after a change in contractor led to major problems and a shortage of bikes.

The demise of Velib’?

Velib’s troubles have only been exacerbated by the recent arrival on the French market of Chinese bike-sharing groups such as GoBee and Ofo, as well as Singapore's Obike.

It would appear the California-based company Lime is also now looking to get in on the action after launching a pilot programme for an electric scooter-sharing system in neighbourhoods across Paris on Thursday.

"Very quickly our fleet will grow to respond to demand," Lime's director for France, Arthur-Louis Jacquier, told AFP.

The start-up, which already operates bike-sharing schemes in Berlin and Frankfurt, has big ambitions in Europe as it competes with other fast-expanding American rivals such as Bird.

Yet complaints about electric scooters have mounted in US cities such as San Francisco where dangerous driving and competition for space with pedestrians and vehicles has caused tension.

The Lime scooters in Paris will have a top speed of 24 kilometres an hour (15 miles an hour) and are able to travel 50 kilometres on a single charge.

All the vehicles, which have a GPS and can be reserved using a mobile phone app, will be collected each evening by Lime and recharged.

They will not be allowed on pavements, the company said, adding that prices are a minimum one euro per hire, then 15 centimes a minute.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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