Things couldn’t get any worse for Franco-Spanish start up Smovengo.
Since winning the tender to overhaul Paris’s ailing Velib bike share system less than a year ago, their road to success hasn’t exactly been a smooth one.
Smovengo has had users complaining about the wheels falling off their bikes, bugs affecting their app, a system malfunction spreading to many of its docking stations and consequently, as well as not surprisingly, a €1 million fine from their dissatisfied employers, public-private consortium Autolib' Velib' Metropole.
But the situation has only continued to worsen.
Ten days ago it was revealed that two thirds of the 414 electric bike hire stations were inexplicably not connected to the general grid, rendering the docked bikes unusable when the batteries run out.
It may come as no surprise therefore that Velib’s troubled operator decided on Thursday to recall “3,000 bikes stuck in their docking stations”, as part of its emergency plan to rescue the project and the company’s reputation.
According to French news channel BFMTV, Smovengo has said that two thirds of the dysfunctional bikes have already been removed, and that all of them will be taken back for repair by May 8th.
The company, which has become both a source of anger and butt of many jokes for Parisians, has also announced its new stations won’t run on batteries, as in the case of the stations they’ve already set up.
This is resulting in “200 batteries (for 400 stations) having to be changed everyday”, Smovengo admitted in a statement, ensuring also that they will only open new stations once they are 100% sure they are connected to the electricity grid.
Then there’s the whole fleet of e-bikes, all of which are set to be recalled because “they cannot be undocked if the stations have run out of batteries”.
Smovengo is also pulling its Park+ as it “was allowing users to drop off the bike at a station that was already full”.
Despite their admittance of guilt and capacity for distaster, Smovengo has said that 800 stations will be up and running by the end of June, 80 percent of which will be on the grid.
They’re planning to run 1400 stations in total, in due term.
Given their previous track record, that really does remain to be seen.
For years, the Velib grey bikes were a familiar sight in the French capital, popular with tourists and commuters alike.
A decade after the scheme was launched it had fallen into disrepair and the bikes were virtually absent from the streets.
In October 2017, Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced a splashy overhaul that would see a third of the bikes replaced with electric ones, with the rest also getting a sleek redesign.
The grey Velib bikes — usually ubiquitous across the French capital — have been virtually absent for weeks because of this botched handover from previous contractor JCDecaux to Franco-Spanish firm Smovengo.