Paris’s e-bikes recalled in yet another crisis for Velib

The scandal-hit company charged with revamping the French capital’s bike share system has pulled 3,000 dysfunctional bikes and all brand-new e-bikes from its stations in the hope of sorting out their relentless glitches.

Paris's e-bikes recalled in yet another crisis for Velib
The wheels on the bike go "crash, bang, wallop!" Photo: AFP

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.

At one point, Paris City Hall even decided to take over the project to try and fix the calamitous re-launch.

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.


Member comments

  1. I assume there is no connection between the Spanish company and the Spanish born Mme Hidalgo?

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Nantes rolls out France’s first long-term bike rental scheme

The western French city of Nantes is the first in the country to offer its residents the chance to rent out public bikes for anything from a month to a year.

Nantes rolls out France's first long-term bike rental scheme
Photo:Mon Bicloo

Mon Bicloo is the first bike rental scheme of its kind in France, as up to now all public cycle services in l’Héxagone allowed users to rent out two-wheelers for one single journey. 

A total of 1,000 self-service bikes were made available to the public on Thursday at Carré Feydeau shopping mall in the city of Nantes in France’s Pays de Loire region.

Depending on the time, tariffs and conditions chosen, the medium term rental costs range from €20 to €150 per month to between €120 and €1,080 for the year.

The bikes are a mix of classis cycles, electrically assisted, foldable, cargo carriers and bikes adapted to people with reduced mobility.

Routine maintenance is included in the price, as well as a padlock.

A Maison Bicloo has already opened at the launch spot in Nantes, where users can take in their bike for repair, to make new bookings and try out different models. There will also be a mobile Bicloo to offer the cycle services to all 24 municipalities in Nantes.

By 2020, the fleet will be doubled and three quarters will be electric models.

“We believe that cycling must become a means of transport in its own right,” Johanna Rolland, president of Nantes Métropole, told French daily 20 Minutes.

“With this new offering, we want to get more people on board as cyclists. It will allow users to for example test a model before buying their own.”