Autolib' in Paris

By Graham Crawford
Published May 09, 2012

Autolib vehicle
Autolib vehicle

On the Boulevard Bourdain in Paris, which is a street that runs along the Canal Saint-Martin in the 4th Arrondissement, they have installed this new electric car rental service called autolib', which launched in December 2011.

It has a very French rounded pavilion where you buy your ticket. Then you go outside to one of the four charging stations and pick up your car.

Pavilion where you can buy your autolib ticket
Pavilion where you can buy your autolib ticket

If you plan on being a frequent user of autolib, you pay 12 euros a month to access the vehicle. Then, you pay 5 euros for the first 1/2 hour and 4 euros for the second 1/2 hour. Each additional 1/2 hour is 6 euros. Clearly they want people to use the vehicle and return it within an hour if possible.

You can also join by the week and by the day. A week-long membership is 15 euros, with the first 1/2 hour at 7 euros and the second at 6 euros. A day-long membership is 10 euros plus 10 euros per had hour.

It comes with insurance, too. The first accident is billed at 150 euros maximum, but goes up fairly dramatically for the second and third accidents.

You can also subscribe to the program if you already own an electric car and simply want to charge it. You pay a subscription of 15 euros a month for a car and 15 euros a year for a two wheeler.

Step-by-step instructions
Step-by-step instructions

They have a new bus shelter design that they have installed at the Bastille bus stop. It's very hi-tech: touch screens, video screens for large ads, and a tourist panel on the outside that has an interactive map.

Another screen lets you select a part of the city near a monument and then it has an interactive timeline that allows you to see pictures taken at the same spot over the past 100+ years. Neat.

The vehicles are designed by famous auto design company Pininfarina and built by a company called Bolloré, based in Italy.

Autolib vehicle, another view
Autolib vehicle, another view

Graham Crawford was raised in Hamilton, moving to Toronto in 1980 where he spent 25 years as the owner of a successful management consulting firm that he sold in 2000. He retired and moved back to Hamilton in 2005 and became involved in heritage and neighbourhood issues. He opened Hamilton HIStory + HERitage on James North in 2007, a multi-media exhibition space (aka a storefront museum) celebrating the lives of the men and women who have helped to shape the City of Hamilton.


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By quo (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2012 at 13:29:34

It's a bit depressing to see how fast other places are pulling ahead of us.

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By Martini (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2012 at 13:47:49

I just returned from Paris less than a week ago, and noticed these AutoLib stations everywhere. Personally I still think the Metro is better (and cheaper), although crowded.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 09, 2012 at 14:50:10

Autolib is an interesting idea, and they immediately went big with 250 cars in the initial launch on December 5, 2000 by the end of June and 3000 by the end of 2012. I was in Paris for the launch and it was interesting to see that it was quite controversial for three reasons:

  1. Car rental companies immediately cried "unfair competition" (threatening to sue), although this was clearly a niche they weren't filling. (Some companies are now making similar short-term offers with non-electric cars.)

  2. Environmentalists claimed that no solution that puts more cars on the streets is good, since most users probably don't already own cars. They also don't like the batteries.

  3. The general public (and several people I talked to here) seem to think it is expensive and not competitive with the metro, buses or velib'.

Nevertheless, the autolib' stations I see seem to be well-used. It's an interesting experiment.

I'm glad that Hamilton has a car share programme, but it's unfortunate that like so many other such initiatives here it is really too small to be of much use: only four cars in a city of 520 000.

Like the cycling networks and pedestrian friendly streets, such initiatives aren't going to work until they are convenient and form a well-connected network. Paris has a tradition of big, successful, transportation infrastructure investments (e.g. metro, RER, LRT, cycle lanes, velib',..), but governments in Canada seem very reluctant to make the necessary initial investment in anything other than roads...

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 04:15:55 in reply to Comment 76708

I should just clarify one thing: both autolib' and velib' are concessions operated by private companies.

Autolib' is financed and developed by investment and industrial holding group Bolloré and velib' has been financed and developed by urban advertising and street furniture company JCDecaux

Bolloré announced today the results from the first 6 months of autolib' operation:

118 000 individual uses

15 000 subscribers (of which 5 198 premium subscribers, who signed on for at least one year)

growth in subscribers of 10% -15% each week

80% of origins and destinations within central paris (population 2.2 million)

expect 30 000 subscribers by the end of the year

most users are 18-35


80 000 subscribers (should be profitable at this level)

From June, focus on services for businesses

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By mdruker (registered) - website | Posted May 09, 2012 at 16:14:26 in reply to Comment 76708

With help from the city, Hamilton CarShare will likely be able to expand the fleet this year. It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario, because car-sharing is more viable with network effects from a dense network -- which we don't have yet.

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