Smoovengo operator

A solution for docking when slots are full, the possiblity of creating pop-up stations when needs be, 30% electric bikes, and the smartphone as all-in-one ‘open sesame’ and navigation device… Vélib’ bike sharing is stepping up a gear or two or three in Paris.

Operated by JCDecaux since its launch in 2009, Vélib’ has built up a fleet of 20,000 bikes 1,250 stations, and attracted 300,000 subscribers.

This May 9, the joint syndicate Autolib’ & Vélib’ Metropole signed a new service contract with Smoovengo, the Franco-Spanish consortium comprising Indigo, MoventiaSmoove, and Mobivia. The handover will take effect from 1 January 2017 with, as part of the deal, all the existing bikes and stations to be replaced by 31 March 2018.

Smoovengo conference

“The choice of service provider for the new contract was based on a ‘competitive dialogue’ process,” said joint syndicate president Marie-Pierre de la Gontrie. A step-by-step process that lasted around 12 months and in essence involved  a ‘dialogue team’ and collaboration with 40 Paris communes (urban districts) in order to gradually tighten up the specifications for ‘Vélib’ 2/Vélib Metropolitan’ with candidates.

Smart moves

Innovation first. Vélib’ 2 riders will be able to dock even when stations are full by reversing their bike alongside another already in place and attaching them together with a cable – a solution that won’t take up more pavement space.  Also important, “the [standard] bikes can be easily transformed into e-bikes in the workshop,” pointed out Laurent Mercat, president, Smoove, “which means the offer can be adapated according to demand without any major hassle.”

Weighing in at 20.6kg, the new bikes will be 1.4kg lighter than the current models. Key features are a patented lock and electronic Smoove Box comprising an RFID/NFC reader, a keyboard for entering access codes, an info. screen, and ZigBee wireless technology.

Smoovengo operator_Smoovebox

Users will be able to access the service via totem machines at stations, the Web, or a mobile app whereby the smartphone serves as an access and navigation device that ‘talks’ with the bike via Bluetooth. “One reason the Syndic decided to keep the fixed docking stations and not opt for a dockless system is to ensure people can still use the service in the ‘traditional’ way with a credit card,” pointed out Ms de la Gontrie.

The bikes and stations are being assembed in France, with the lion’s share of parts coming from French sub-contractors (Rhône-Alps region). The bike frames and Lithium-On batteries come from China.

Counting the costs

The 15-year contract (2018-2032) is worth between €600,000 and €700 million , depending on the number of stations (between 1,200 and 1,500) – making it the biggest contract of its kind in the world, excepting China.

Smoovengo operator_canal riding

How does the Vélib business model work? To sum up, the user-generated revenue goes to the Syndicate who then pays the service operator. The amount outstanding is provided by the communes who opt-in for the service – to date there are 30, but more are expected join. In addition, a €4 million annual contribution by Métropole du Grand Paris (metropolitan authority for the capital and its developing region) from 2018 “will help keep hire rates down,” pointed out Ms de la Gontrie.

A Classic annual subscription currently costs €29 and the first 30 minutes are free for all users.

The Syndicate, which sets the hire rates, says it will review them after the summer. More than likely they will go up over a transition period, with e-bikes costing more. But even then, given the mobility and environmental benefits bike sharing offers, surely it’s worth it?!

Smoovengo operator_cover

Very much the driving force behind Smoovengo, Smoove is a band of brothers business set up in 2008. “Right from the start our focus was on listening to the needs and expectations of both users and local authorities,” says Laurent Mercat. Today the company has 40 employees and already runs other bike sharing schemes in 25 cities worldwide.

Together with Smoove, in 2015 private Spanish transport operator Moventia won the contract to equip and operate a bike sharing system in Helsinki. Baptised CityBikeFinland, the positively yellow service launched in May 2016.

Under the banner ‘Making space for the future,’ parking specialist Indigo (previously VINCI Park) operates over 5,300 car parks worldwide.

Automotive maintenance and repair services group Mobivia, which owns shares in Smoove, has diversified into ‘new mobility’ over recent years by investing in start-ups such as Drivy, Norauto, and Midas.

Photo credits where necessary: Smoovengo

See also, Smoove at Transports Publics 2016

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