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The difficult mutation from Vélib’ to Vélib’ Métropole in Paris


The difficult mutation from Vélib’ to Vélib’ Métropole in Paris

BY   Alexandre Gauquelin   

January 1st 2018 was not only the start of a new (great) year, but also the beginning of a new chapter for Paris’ Vélib. After 10 years of services, JC Decaux’s historical grey Vélib’ retired, and saw a few of its successor hitting the streets of the French capital. This is the first full transfer (system and operator) of a very large scale station-based bike-share scheme, and as we could have forecast, it is no pleasure cruise: with an important delay in stations set up and technical difficulties, new year’s eve must have been unpleasant for the new operator Smovengo.


The planning was tight, really tight, with a contract signed only 8 months before the launch. With 20 000 bikes, 1600 stations with around 45000 docks to produce, it was a logistical and industrial challenge to rise for the small company Smoove, whose biggest contract so far was in Moscow with 3000 bikes. But the challenge seems to have been accomplished, as Catherine Barrati-Elbaz, President of the Mixed Union Autolib-Vélib Métropole, confirmed that all the equipment has been delivered.


The plan was to open 600 stations on January 1st, and to rise to 1600 on march 31st. That’s theory. In reality, only 66 stations are available at the moment (january 10th 12:00). Smovengo’s CEO Jorge Azevedo promise to add 80 stations per week until the end, but the number stays between 60 and 70 since the launch (you can check the real-time numbers and history at “Where are the Vélibs’?“). The explanation to the delay given by Smovengo is the difficulty to electrify the stations, which all have to be. That’s inherent to the implementation of a new product, and the electrifying work has been under evaluated.


Along with the stations availability came another technical trouble. The new app was bugged: the map did not load, both on Android and IOS, and it took almost 2 weeks for the app to be fixed. More rarely, users report problem in the geolocalisation. As the density of stations is low, you had to know by yourself where stations are available to drop your bike!



All this bas publicity is almost hiding the feedbacks about the system and bikes itselves. The quality of both bikes, and the real improvement coming with the E-bike are unanimously acclaimed. This is a crucial point in the recent competition with the dockless systems that arrived in the French capital in late 2017 (Gobee/oBike/Ofo). The only drawback is the use of pictograms on the V-Box, which is largely judged unintuitive by users.



Together with most of the users, politicians and associations are now putting pressure on Smovengo to improve the service quickly. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said that she is “thumping the table” in front of Smovengo “to ask them to match with the required quality of service”.  According to her Transport deputy Christophe Najdovski: “We are clearly not satisfied at all of the operator’s service”. And Paris en Selle, the main local cyclist association, to add that “the new Vélib’ is a nightmare for users, and the transition has been a total chaos, an industrial accident.”


The mixed Union Vélib’ took measures today to apply penalties to the operator, that will be used to compensate the users. It has been agreed that:


  • every user will benefit from 3 free hours of ride (mechanical or E-bike)
  • new users will have a 50% discount on their monthly subscription
  • the cumulated “time bonus” won’t be limited


Let’s hope it will calm down the users, and help them to enjoy the ride. Actually, most of the feedbacks from riders are really praising the quality of the bicycle, which is an important point in the recent competition with the dockless systems in the French capital (Gobee/Ofo/oBike). All the discontent you can hear or read show that the Vélib’ became a vital mean of transportation for Parisian, and we can only wish that Smovengo will catch up the delay to offer a real service, and quick enough not to loose users.

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  1. Fairly commented Alex !!!

    The Velib eBike will bring for sure the Cycling Happyness again in Paris…once stations plugged !!!

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  3. I used the old system when I visited Paris. I have not been able to use the new system at all. I am pissed off!

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