BlueIndy illustrates everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with the electric carsharing model. It is an electric carsharing service patterned after a highly successful program in Paris that has 80,000 members sharing 3,000 cars. But it has been beset by foot dragging and determined opposition by local city officials.
Bolloré Group is a French corporation deeply committed to promoting electric carsharing in metropolitan areas using its Bluecar – a three-door, four-passenger electric car of its own design. The Bolloré carsharing program is a subscription service. Members pay an annual membership fee of about $150.
Membership entitles you to rent a Bluecar whenever you need one. All you have to do is drive it, then return it to one of the company’s many curbside charging stations and plug it in. Rental rates average around $6 per half hour. That’s a lot cheaper than owning a car and paying a monthly loan plus taxes and insurance. It also eliminates maintenance and repair expenses.
The program is being introduced in London with the enthusiastic support of Mayor Boris Johnson. Greg Ballard, mayor of Indianapolis, is also a strong supporter of the Bluecar sharing service. Bolloré signed a contract with the city in April 2014, but the Indianapolis city council has been openly hostile to the program, delaying the start of the carsharing program again and again.
Most recently, council members declared the BlueCars unsafe because the demonstration models were European cars that did not meet US bumper and seat belt regulations. Despite assurances from the company that the actual cars would meet all applicable US safety standards, the council has continued to create as many impediments as possible. Last week, it threatened to tow some of the demonstration cars that have been parked on city streets for months after the city council prohibited them from driving on city streets.
But now, things seem to be headed in the right direction. BlueIndy officials announced on August 20 that the stalled electric carsharing service will open to the public at 11:00 am on September 2, according to the Indianapolis Star, with the promise that more Bluecars will begin appearing around town soon.
“We’re eager to welcome the first wave of BlueIndy sites to Indianapolis,” said Jen Pittman, spokeswoman for Mayor Ballard. “This service will complement our city’s growing transit options and soon will connect residents to jobs, amenities and cultural attractions in a convenient, affordable way.” Officials said a team of BlueIndy employees will be on hand during the proceedings to help people sign up for the service and to pass out BlueIndy memorabilia.
“Your patience and input throughout this entire process has been invaluable,” said a statement from the BlueIndy team. “We look forward to repaying you with a service that meets your highest expectations and elevates Indianapolis to the utmost standard of clean, affordable, efficient transit. We sincerely hope you will join us and hundreds of others in celebrating this proud day for our city.”
Hervé Muller, president of BlueIndy, says Bolloré chose Indianapolis for several reasons. Tops among them was Mayor Greg Ballard’s willingness to explore alternative forms of public transportation. “We see this as an expansion of public transit and Indianapolis has an active downtown that doesn’t close down after 5 p.m, like some cities.”
Indianapolis was ideal, Muller says, because it has an active downtown and plenty of college students. It also has lots of new rental units under construction that will attract tenants who might not own cars. The city’s current public transportation system leaves many neighborhoods under-served. Muller thinks his company’s electric rental cars will bring much-needed transportation service to those areas without costing taxpayers money to expand the existing public transit system.
What seems to have caused the city council members to get their knickers in a knot is that the city is investing some public funds to help install up to 200 charging stations throughout the city, each with 5 chargers. Their intransigence fails to recognize that Bolloré Group is investing $41 million of its own money to complete the infrastructure part of the carsharing plan. But there is more than a whiff of parochial provincialism to the council’s objections. Is anti-French animus the real cause?
Council members’ vision apparently does not extend far enough to see that adding electric charging facilities will benefit the general public as well and promote the adoption of clean, zero-emissions vehicles in the private sector as well.
Back in 2003, Formula One declined to return to Indianapolis after its original contract with local promoter Tony George expired. Back then, Formula One officials labeled Indianapolis a “cow town” and apparently things have not improved much since then.