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“Vélibgate” continues…


“Vélibgate” continues…

BY   Alexandre Gauquelin   

I already wrote about the early troubles faced by Smovengo, the new Vélib’ Métropole operator in Paris in january (#velibgate). The saga continues, and well, my “wish that Smovengo will catch up the delay to offer a real service, and quick enough not to loose users” has not been fullfilled… at all. On the contrary, they seem closer to dig the grave of the once famous service than the foundations of all the docks and stations.

Stations evolution data from

There was hope in early April, when most of the users were confirming a real improvement both in stations and bikes availability. The pace of stations set-up increased, and the reliability of both stations and bikes seemed to follow the same evolution. Troubles with stations powering, resulting in blocked bikes, were still here, but we were finally seeing “la fin du tunnel”.


But, ouch, the strike arise! On April 17th, a group of former Cyclocity (JC Decaux) employees blocked the 2 storage and maintenance facilities (Alfortville and Villeneuve-la-Garenne) to ask for better salary and working conditions: low night and weekend wages, resulting in a 700€ monthly loss for some operators (compared with their Cyclocity contracts), no electrical work authorisation, inappropriate or missing working tools…


The ping-pong game is still going-on between Smovengo’s CEO Jorge Azevedo and around 50 of the Vélib’ workers, but 4 weeks later the only result is a summons to appear at the court for the strikers on may 11th… Still under pressure from the Syndicat Autolib’-Vélib’ Métropole and Mairie de Paris, Smovengo is still working (at low pace) with rental vans and temporary workers (investigation by the Ministry of Labor). That is against the right to strike, so illegal. If the investigation from the Ministry of Labor confirms the fact, it will not smell good for the company…


In front of such difficulties, Paris’ city council asked Smovengo to provide an emergency plan on April 26th: replacing 3000 bikes blocked in their docks due to low V-Box batteries, increasing the pace of stations plugging to the electricity network, and stopping to install unplugged stations (stations on batteries are a renowned source of trouble for the system). On May 3rd, Smovengo organised a press conference to present its plan, answering all these requirement and more:

  1. Providing a minimum service:
    1. 3000 bikes blocked in docks will be replaced before may 8th. Temporary workers taking bikes out of the docks looks like this:

    2. 400 stations working with batteries will be maintained when needed (battery swap)
    3. No more unplugged stations will be opened (from april 25th)
    4. The pace of electrical plugging of the stations will increase, with a goal of 640 by the end of june 2018.
    5. The installation of stations will carry on, with a goal of 800 by the end of june 2018.
  2. Providing better information to the users:
    1. The number of call-center operators will double to 160.
    2. The blocked user accounts, when the bicycle was considered as not returned due to bike/station communication failure, will be unblocked.
    3. More information emails will be send  to users and more on-station ambassadors will be present.
  3. Simplifying the system
    1. E-Bikes are temporarily removed from the system, until enough stations are electrically powered to assure the charging.
    2. The Park+ service is deactivated as it was not well understood: it will certainly have to be improved and a strong communication campaign will be necessary. And the problem seems not to be restricted to Paris:

    3. The improvement of the IT system will carry on, but no goal have been set.


One thing seems not to be adressed: according to Bertrand Lambert (a France 3 journalist specialised in Ile-de-France Transports), the rate of unsuccessful rents is still 30%! According to this source, it is due to IT problems in the V-Box (onboard computer) and to the design of the docks. And no actions has been communicated on a design change. As M. Lambert is pointing, Paris is the place of a life-size beta-test!


The recovery will be long for Vélib’: the number of subscribers dropped from 285 000 in january 2018 to 219 000 in april 2018, -23% in 4 months! To change the tendency, we will have to wait for a stabilised service, with no more technical bugs and a good bike availability… and I do not dare any forecast anymore. The users can get the total refund for their subsription from january to may (and maybe later), but it is a small compensation to a useless service.


On Smovengo’s side, they have faced a 1M€ penalty for the third month in a row, and it will carry on until they reach the requested quality of service. The loss is great and many are starting to wonder how the big companies behind Smovengo (Mobivia, Indigo, Moventia) will react to the crisis: injecting money or leaving the boat? In addition to the penalties, they will need to absorb the costs the strike. The additional maintenance and balancing costs, the redistribution of bikes stored in municipal facilities:


Finally, the Vélibgate has an impact on the political life in Paris and its region Ile-de-France. Paris’ mayor Anne Hidalgo (Parti Socialiste, right) is weakened due to the situation, and the opponents are trying to take advantage of it in the perspective of the next elections in 2020. Media and politician are throwing all the responsability of the choice on her, forgetting to mention that it has been chosen by a group of 67 cities through the Syndicat Autolib’ Vélib’ Métropole.


To be continued!


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