Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Pride of Paris will rise again

July 9, 2018 -- "Once it was the pride of Paris," begins the story in The Guardian.  The apt headline tells the story in a nutshell:  "Wheels come off Paris bike-share scheme after high tech upgrade."

The Statue of Liberty as seen from the Grenelle bridge over
the Seine, with the Front de Seine towers in the background.
Tom and I have been noticing that there are no or almost no bicycles in any of the Velib docking stations that exist on what seems like every third block in the city.  Parisians had become so accustomed to relying on Velib that this current failure is a possible political disaster for the mayor, Anne Hildago.

The contractor that ran Velib for its first decade, the advertising billboard company JCDecaux, either decided not to re-up the contract or the City of Paris made that decision for them, I'm not sure.  At any rate, the contract was put up for bid last year and the new operator is now Smovengo.

Empty Velib docking station near the Grenelle bridge.

Smovengo promised to provide high-tech, internet-connected bikes.  Many of them are supposed to be electric.  Smovengo was also supposed to provide new docking stations.  But in spite of all the promises made, Smovengo has had a lot of technological trouble, and is way behind schedule.  Meanwhile, Velib barely exists.
Sign on the Velib docking station's terminal tells the
tale:  "This station is under construction.  Here you can't
take or return a Velib."

And along have come a couple of competitors who are providing rental bikes that are lighter weight need no docking stations.  The good part about not having docking stations is that you can ride the bike right to where you are going, dismount, engage the kickstand, and leave the bike right there, wherever.

So we see these bikes, standing solo, in some of the strangest places.

These competitors' bikes have chips in them, and I guess you use your smartphone to scan the code on the bike and then use your credit card info to pay for the rental.

One of the problems Velib has had (in addition to a lot of vandalism) will also be experienced by the competitors:  Parisians like to ride downhill only.  So many of them start their daily commute in the upper reaches of the city -- which are also atop hills -- on a Velib (or competitor) bicycle, leave the bike downtown where many work, on either side of the Seine, and then they take the metro home because they don't want to pedal uphill.

Each afternoon, there is a glut of bicycles left in the lower parts of the city, which must be moved by truck back to the hills in the northern part of the city before the next morning's rush hour begins.

In another scenario, one might ride a Velib or competitor bike to shop at a place like the Beaugrenelle Mall (yes, that was once a swamp).  If one is successful in making many purchases, one certainly isn't going to ride a bike back home.  One will take the metro or even a taxi.

This bike belongs to a competitor to Velib called Mobike, whose web site
calls itself "the world's first & largest smart bike share."  It has been left in the middle
of a busy sidewalk.
How can you rely on the competitors' bicycles if there are no docking stations?  How do you know where the nearest available bike is?  I guess there is an app for that.

One of the competitors is called Gobee.bike.  Unlike Velib, which is free for the first 30 minutes, Gobee.bike charges 50 centimes for a half hour.  Gobee.bike came to Paris last October, I think, but it already existed elsewhere, like Hong Kong.

But there aren't enough Gobee.bikes to go around, and I've seen a few that have been vandalized already.  The City of Paris is under great pressure to resurrect Velib.
The Beaugrenelle has a new slogan, curiously in English.  The tiny print
at the bottom gives the French translation, which literally says "The place
where one feels well."

The day after we arrived in Paris this summer, Mayor Anne Hildago called for an investigation or audit of Smovengo's Velib deficiencies and failures.  I bet she'll find human error, not just technology glitches.

She also recently "signed the death certificate" (lefigaro.fr) for Autolib, the almost free electric car rental (or "car-sharing") system in Paris.  Autolib had racked up a 230-million-euro deficit.

Technology has advanced to the point where an auto sharing system could be set up without terminals (just as bike sharing can happen without docking stations).  The mayor has asked for information from service providers who could propose an auto sharing service without terminals (called "bornes" in French).

So it seems that bike and auto sharing services aren't dead in Paris; they are just being re-invented and are both in a sorry state of dysfunction at the moment.  I have faith, however, that Paris can pull this off.  Stay tuned.
Nicely landscaped promenade on the 15th
arrondissement's side of the Seine, with towers nearby.

My thing is walking, not riding.  This morning I challenged myself to a long, uphill walk to the far side of the 16th arrondissement.  At the top of the hill on the rue Boulainvilliers, I turned around and crossed back over to the 15th to walk the full length of the Tuesday street market on the rue St. Charles.

When I was home, Maria delivered the mail, which included a slip from UPS saying that my small package containing a USB3-Ethernet adaptor had been left at a UPS "Access Point," a realtor's office on the rue de Laos.  I knew this was going to happen, but I thought the Access Point would be closer.  So I took an additional short hike, bringing my total up to 6 miles already today.  And there is yet more walking to do before the day is over.

Last night, we walked down to the end of Avenue Felix Faure to dine at La Table d'Hubert.  This was a merely good dinner, and a great value.  My calamari was decidedly un-French -- in a heavy tomato and curry sauce on risotto.  It could have been an Indian dish if it had rice in place of the risotto.  The chef is from Bangladesh, I think.  Tom's large shrimp were overcooked, but the dish came with a nice salad and salsa.  At least my calamari was tender (and not like tough rubber bands).

Hubert was a bit down in the dumps, but he did greet us nicely and was kind to us.  I hope he cheers up.  The restaurant business is so tough.

Today's adventures will include a big trip to the sparkling, big FranPrix to get us stocked and ready for the visit from Dan, my stepson.  He's travelling all the way from Louisville, and will arrive this evening for a few days' stay in Paris.  We're looking forward to this!

No comments: