Tycoon Vincent Bolloré to back London electric car hire scheme
A point-to-point electric car-sharing scheme has been promised for London by the billionaire tycoon behind the Paris prototype, with thousands of new vehicle-charging points to be added in London this year.
The scheme, planned to start in March 2015, would allow drivers to book electric cars using smartcards and phones for short journeys between parking points in the city, based on the French Autolib’ model.
Vincent Bolloré (pictured), whose Bolloré group has won the contract from Transport for London (TfL) to upgrade and extend the electric charging network, said: “We believe it could be equally successful in London, offering people a convenient and low-cost form of environmentally friendly transport.”
About 100 Bluecars built by Bolloré will be in service at launch, with a view to 3,000 cars given public takeup and the agreement of London boroughs to provide parking space.
But Bolloré said: “Until now, the electric car is a toy of the happy few: it’s very expensive and does not have the autonomie [range] of a normal car. We have designed a car that is cheap: a beautiful, real car, with four seats, but cheap.”
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, said they were ambitious and exciting plans that would help to reduce air pollution.
Leon Daniels, head of surface transport at TfL, said it was “one more big step” in improving air quality in the capital, one of the most polluted in Europe.
He said: “London is in very serious danger of getting a €300m (£250m) fine from the EU for its breaches of air quality. We think electric vehicles are very much the right answer for London, and in particular when shared, reducing the total number of vehicles on our streets and drastically reducing emissions.”
Bolloré will be running Source London, the charging network, for TfL, but the car-sharing scheme will be a commercial proposition of which TfL is “supportive”.
Electric car-charging points to date have been largely underutilised in the capital, but transport authorities believe that the problem is one of scale, with potential electric-vehicle drivers unable to rely on a full recharging network. Bolloré intends to extend the current 1,400 charging points to 6,000 by 2018, as well as bringing in more vehicles to use them.
While TfL does not plan to endorse a potential London Autolib’ – other car clubs already exist – there are hopes that a large-scale scheme would provide the critical mass to encourage widespread electric-car use. The scheme would differ from existing car clubs in its combination of electric technology and running point-to-point – ie not having to return vehicles to where they were collected. Bolloré is targeting 60,000 members and regular users, who would pay £10 a month subscription and £5 per half-hour hire, to break even in London.
In Paris, the silver stubby Autolib’ cars have become a familiar part of the landscape since 2011, a natural progression from the highly successful Vélib’ free bicycle scheme – the precursor of “Boris bikes”.
There are around 2,000 Bluecars – 3,000 were originally promised – and 862 unmanned hire stations, with around 43,000 subscribers and around 10,000 daily rentals on average.
Subscribers receive an electronic badge card, which unlocks the vehicle. A GPS in the car helps to navigate and find spots to park the Autolib’, though availability of spaces in some areas has been a problem. Parisians can sign up for one day for free with higher hire charges, or pay a €120 annual fee, with car hire down to €5.50 for 30 minutes.
While the Bluecar causes no air or noise pollution and is quite nippy around the city, critics say the scheme has failed to reduce the number of cars on Paris’s streets overall, with no concrete evidence that the number of private and company cars has dropped. Taxi-drivers and car-hire companies also complained to the courts about unfair competition and some town halls complained about the cost of the scheme.
Story: The Guardian Image: Olivia Harris/Reuters