Autolib: The New French Connection

By Bill Moore

Posted: 27 Jun 2011

On December 1, 2011, stage one of Paris' groundbreaking Autolib carshare system will be operational despite legal challenges by car rental firms and cabbies. The following article appeared in Les Echos and provides details of how the system will work and what it will cost. Noted lithium resources analyst William Tahil generously provided the following English translation.

Some 500 stations will see the light of day between now and next February in the capital, with half of them built this summer. The central Paris districts which are smaller will be less well served. The first vehicles will be available in December

By Laurence ALBERT and Claud BARJONNET

Jacques Salvator: “Like a large number of communities we are waiting to see how things go”.

The first pickaxe blows will start to be felt in a few weeks in the capital. After a few months delay, the mayor Bertrand Delanoë is getting ready to launch one of the flagship projects of his term in office – the Autolib electric vehicle self service short term car hire scheme. Because of the schedule fixed by the Autolib consortium (46 communities including Paris) and its operator Bolloré, an initial fleet of 250 vehicles must be available to the public by 1st December after a test phase in October. Meaning that time is short, even while opponents to the project such as car hire firms and taxi drivers are trying to slow it down with legal action.

Large number of parking spaces removed

In Paris where 700 stations will be built, 500 on the road and 200 underground, the first 236 surface stations will be built between mid-July and September. A second wave will follow between December and February 2012. At least that’s what the agreement between City Hall and the consortium says, which will be sent to the Paris Council for approval on the 20 and 21 June. The agreement gives a first list of 580 roadside locations in Paris. This is pretty definite since in the end 500 stations will be selected, taking up 12.5 kms of roadway. None of the Paris districts will be forgotten but the ones furthest out abutting the ring road will apparently be the best served: the XVth District alone will have 10% of the stations compared to only 2% in the IIIrd.

Work will start in the heart of Paris to progressively extend it outside the capital and then into the suburbs to minimise disruption. Building a station will take about a week. Action remains to be taken to make local residents accept the disruption from pavements (sidewalks) being removed, installing signs etc. and then the removal of a large number of parking places only a few years after the Velib bicycle sharing scheme.

The thorny question of financing

By May 2012 the consortium hopes to have built its 1200 stations. Therefore there will initially be a lot more spaces than vehicles, 2250 spaces in Paris alone against only 1600 cars. Eventually deliveries of the BlueCar will reach 3000.

Discussions in Paris have also centred on the thorny questions of financing Autolib. Bolloré, which is investing 200 million euros, is expecting a contribution from the local communities of 50,000 euros per station in return for a 750 euro annual fee per space. The investment for Paris is therefore 25 million euros paid in 2011 and 2012 and the receipts will be 16.88 million euros at the end of the 12 year contract.

But for the smaller communities being asked to invest an entry fee of 200,000 euros (minimum 4 stations) the entry ticket price is off-putting. Autolib' is making an effort, helped by 4 million euros of regional financing, to directly finance some stations and by helping communities absorb any borrowing they need. This has not been enough to convince them all since 30 communities – 9 abutting the capital – are still resisting Autolib.

“Final and Definite No” from some communities.

Some of them, driven by ecological considerations, are giving a “final and definite no” to the project. “As opposed to the Velib bike scheme, this does not reduce the use of cars” says the communist Mayor of Ivry-sur-Seine. A larger number are simply waiting to see how the wind blows. “We haven’t seen any demand from our residents, we aren’t sure about the economic viability, it does not address the problem of too much traffic. So we are not going to join…. while reserving the right to change our mind”, explains the mayor of Vincennes.

Autolib recognises that “the refusal of communities closest to Paris is a problem, since it blocks those who are in the second row”. They are still working to persuade them - Le Perreux, Noisy-le-Sec and Nogent-sur-Marne could shortly see BlueCars start arriving.

Self Service Car, How it Works

Registration. Before being able to hire a car, the driver has to register at a local office or in the kiosks neat some Autolib stations. he has to show his driver’s license, passport or ID card, proof of address, credit card and give a deposit (not cashed) of 150 euros for a 1 day or 1 week subscription and 200 euros for one year. Fees Three subscriptions are available: one year (12 euros per month), 1 week (15 euros) and 24 hours (10 euros). Hire rates will be between 4 to 8 euros per half hour depending on the subscription selected and the length of time the car is hired.

The Car. The BlueCar selected by Autolib' is a 4 seat city car with a 30 kWh battery. Top speed: 130 kph (80 mph). The subscription desk will give out a contactless card for opening the door and starting up. The clock starts running when the driver disconnects the electric cable connected to the car. The car won’t start until the plug is removed.

Usage. As opposed to other car sharing schemes such as Autolib in Lyons which offers ICE or hybrid cars, the user can take a car from one station and leave it at another. He can drive anywhere in the Greater Paris region but will only find stations in the 46 communities which are members of the Autolib consortium, located in the central ring. To avoid competition with the taxi drivers there won’t be any stations at Roissy or Orly airports.

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