Paris’ transport strike: Potential and limits of shared micromobility services
4 February, 2020
I am happy to collaborate with fluctuo for a set of articles to analyse and explain mobility phenomenons highlighted by their products. Episode #1: the lessons from Paris’ transport strike.
In December 2019 started one of the largest social movements in France (at least for this decade). Fighting to maintain their specific pension rights, a large part of employees of RATP (Public Transport Operator in the Greater Paris area) and SNCF (French National Railway Company) have stopped working from Dec 5th to January 19th, thus paralysing public transport.
Of course, it hugely impacted the Paris area, where people rely heavily on efficient and dense transportation networks. The commuters’ behaviour changed drastically and a significant part of them turned to car-pooling, car-sharing and shared micromobility services. Thanks to the data provided by fluctuo, a Mobility Intelligence company, we are able to see how the strike affected those services, both from a user and from an operator point of view.
The evolution of the ridership figures of shared bikes (docked and dockless), shared e-scooters and shared e-mopeds in the French capital is amazing. From around 130 000 daily trips before the strike, a record of 306 500 trips was reached on December 20th ! People did turn to these small and (usually) widely available vehicles to bypass the massive traffic jams (up to 620km).
As free-floating mopeds and bikes mode-share remained around 8%, the share between Vélib and free-floating scooters moved significantly in favour of the latter: from 65% Vélib and 20% e-scooter trips, to 50% Vélib and 35% e-scooter trips. Due to significant operation difficulties, a part of Vélib’ users certainly switched to another mobility solution that is shared e-scooters.
fluctuo data also allows looking at the trip length evolution, that gives other interesting conclusions. For shared scooter services – the same pattern applies to shared bikes – average distance increased by 45% in December, from an average 1.60 km in November 2019. What we call “First and last-mile transportation options” are therefore more largely used to cover the full trips from A to B.
Consequently, usage is spread across a larger area, sometimes out of the designated operation zones, making the operation of the services harder for many companies. This is confirmed by the vehicle density maps: users are willing to cover the longest part of their trip on shared-vehicles until the limits of the operation zone (or even further) where we can spot a higher density of vehicles.
The trip distribution evolved similarly. The shared scooter example is easy to understand. While trips were very much centralised in the inner Arrondissements before the strike, users have been using shared scooters for longer trips, covering all the city during the strike.
Challenges for the operators
The combination of high traffic and high usage creates a difficult situation for most operators, irrespective of the vehicle they operate: more operations are required while their ability to access the streets of Paris and suburbs in their vehicles is hindered by the record-level of congestion.
According to fluctuo data, the numbers of vehicles available dropped from 36 000 on December 5th to 22 700 on December 20th: Vélib’ has performed better with only -20% of availability, compared to -44% for free-floating scooters, -50% for bikes, and -60% for mopeds. Even with a softer strike in January 2020, operators are still struggling to catch up with the initial numbers (25 600 available vehicles on January 6th).
Here is the vicious circle: (lower availability + high demand) => higher ridership per vehicle => more need for maintenance/charging => lower availability. To break this vicious circle, you cannot just drop more vehicles in the streets. You need more efficient maintenance and balancing process while adding more staff to fill the gap.
Each Vélib’ has been used 14 times on December 20th, each free-floating bike or scooter more than 10 times (+70% to +100% from December 5th). Combined with a +40% trip length, it means that each vehicle travelled 3 times more kilometres than usual… and that each vehicle required 3 times more maintenance and charging actions.
|Dec 5th 2019||Dec 20th 2019||Jan 6th 2020|
Evolution of the number of trips/vehicle/day
But wait, warehouses are in the suburbs, the staff is struggling to get to work, traffic inside Paris is horrendous… It is no surprise that operators cannot keep pace, even if some have doubled their OPS staff. Solutions have to be found and applied to improve the battery charging management (remember that Vélib has the best availability rate, partially due to its charging docks), and the remote maintenance diagnosis.
In addition, balancing, maintenance and charging operations have to be performed in a much wider area. Longer trips were needed in more congested traffic. Once again, it demonstrates the need for operators to innovate: implementing smaller warehouses in the inner Paris; using smaller vehicles to swap the batteries, perform first-level maintenance or rebalance.
Better operations to match with the demand
The strikes in Paris confirmed the real potential of the shared micromobility services, with huge ridership increases for all types of vehicle, even in cold and humid December. This global appetence for active modes has been confirmed by the high cycling ridership stats published by the city council.
But we are still to see the limit of the demand, as it is blocked by the availability of the vehicles. It is a real call to operators to improve their operation model: full of hope with the ridership potential, they know that there is plenty of room for improvement, for example on battery charging or fleet management thanks to the fast development of hardware and software solutions.