Tuesday, 15 February 2011 18:29
By press release
Following on from the success of self-service bicycles, Autolib’ is a new service offering very short-term car hire. The first self-service electric cars will be on the streets of the French capital from next October. A scheme that has already proved worthwhile in several major cities in France and abroad.
It’s the car version of the Vélib’ self-service cycle hire scheme. From this autumn, visitors to Paris and local residents will be able to hire a self-service electric car for short periods to travel around the city and its suburbs. As with the Vélib’ scheme, users will be able to pick up a car at one point and leave it at another.
The city of Paris is a keen supporter of the project, the contract for which was awarded to the Bolloré Group, and has set its sights high: a fleet of 3,000 electric cars in over 1,000 locations in Paris and around 40 neighbouring towns. An experiment on an unparalleled scale designed to encourage Parisians to give up their vehicles, by offering them the use of a car as and when they need it, which costs less and is better for the environment.
A subscription will cost €12 a month, with a €5 euro charge for the first hour of use. Paris’s city runabouts will be fitted with lithium polymer batteries produced in Brittany in the west of France. Shared cars are nothing new for Parisians. Caisse Commune, Okigo, Mobizen and Carbox already offer car hire by the hour or half-hour in the capital. Users simply reserve a car online and pick it up at one of the city’s car parks.
But what is new this time is that the whole scheme is based on self-service: the ability to pick up a car in one location and drop it off at another. A benefit that should appeal to large numbers of users, since 58% of Parisians do not own a car and two-thirds of them have expressed an interest in the project.
Around 20 French cities have already set up similar projects, but they are not really self-service schemes, allowing you to pick up and drop off the vehicle in different locations, they are more like car-sharing.
With these schemes, you borrow the car for a quick spin and take it back to the same place a few hours later. That is how it works in Lille, Rennes, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Lyon and La Rochelle, a pioneering town in terms of ecological transport, which has been running the scheme for ten years. Besançon, Strasbourg, Montpellier, Chambéry and Marseille have also set up car-sharing schemes, called Carliberté, Autotrement and Autocité.
The scale of these experiments is still modest: the network in La Rochelle consists of 50 electric cars kept at seven different locations. The economic advantage of these schemes is however unquestionable: if you drive less than 10,000 km a year, as many city dwellers do, it makes much better sense to use a car-sharing scheme than to own your own vehicle. More to the point, residents no longer have to worry about maintaining their car or finding a parking space!
Germany, the Netherlands and most countries in northern Europe have launched car hire services to cover very short rental periods.
Zipcar, an American firm, operates in around 60 cities in the United States and leases its vehicles to both businesses and individuals.
At a more experimental level, Japan has introduced a fleet of three vehicles equipped with photovoltaic panels that run on solar energy in Tsukuba, a university town and research centre around 50 km from Tokyo.
Car-sharing and its self-service counterpart are options for the future, but they are not particularly profitable at the moment. The system is very expensive to run, particularly with electric cars. If it is to be viable, Autolib’ will have to attract 200,000 subscribers, a target many people believe to be over-ambitious.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, fear that the self-service system will put more lorries on the road, redistributing cars to empty locations. In any event, work is due to begin in Paris in April.