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Paris considers shutting down indebted car-sharing service

by Ronan Glon

Officials once hailed Autolib\' as the idea mobility solution for big cities.

Once hailed as an example the world should follow, the Autolib' car-sharing service operated by the city of Paris is on the verge of collapse. It has racked up millions of euros in debt and city officials indicated they're considering shutting it down well before the contract expires.

The contract that ties Bolloré, the French company that makes the battery-electric Bluecar used in the service, and the Paris city hall expires in 2023. Daily newspaper Le Monde recently reported funding the program for the next five years will amass a debt that could reach 293.6 million euros ($343 million).

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo wants Bolloré to foot most of the bill. Bolloré -- whose cars are also found on the streets of Indianapolis -- is willing to pay up to 60 million euros. The group asked city officials for an annual subsidy of about 40 million euros, which Hidalgo refuses to pay.

"This service should have been profitable. It evidently hasn't been. It faces competition from the taxi industry plus scooter and bike sharing programs. We're seriously rethinking it," she told Le Figaro.

For its part, Bolloré claims it began warning Paris officials about the looming crisis three years ago but no one listened.

The writing has been on the wall for years. The situation got worse last fall, as Leftlane reported, when the city began closing some Autolib' locations after users complained about homeless people breaking into the cars to sleep in them. Vandalism became an increasingly common problem and many cars ended up trashed and abandoned, especially on the outskirts of Paris. The number of users canceling their subscription to the service grew rapidly.

Autolib' might not be around for much longer, but Paris officials are already looking at how to replace it. Hidalgo told Reuters she's currently talking to several car-makers about setting up a car-sharing service in the French capital, though she declined to reveal who she's considering working with. Peugeot and Renault are widely seen as the most likely candidates.

Regardless, she stressed the city's next car-sharing service will be funded entirely by private companies, not by taxpayers.

Photo by Ronan Glon.