In January 2018 there were construction sites like this all over Paris, where the Vélib’ bike sharing stations used to be. On this one, the sign on the right read:
Vélib’ will return quickly!
New bikes, new stations, new functionalities.
Your Vélib’ station is going to be replaced.
We will be working here from 6/11/17 to 15/12/17.
The new Vélib’ will begin operating in January 2018.
To find out which nearby stations are available
join us at VELIB2018.COM.
It was signed by Smovengo, the consortium that had been commissioned to set up and run the new bike sharing system for the fifteen years from 2018 to 2033, and by Autolib’ Vélib’ Metropole, the public authority responsible for overseeing the bike sharing system in Paris and over a hundred nearby cities and towns.
I took the photo (above) on January 10, so they were already nearly a month behind schedule, since the new station was supposed to have been finished on December 15. No work was done at this construction site during the week I was there.
The plan was, originally, that the old JCDecaux stations were supposed to be gradually replaced by the new Smovengo stations over a six-month period from October 2017 to March 2018, which both systems operating in parallel during this time. What really happened was JCDecaux stopped selling 7-day subscriptions on Christmas Eve and turned off its system one minute before midnight on New Year’s Eve — after that, people could still return bikes but not check them out.
It took several months before all the new Smovengo stations were installed, and even longer before they were working properly. Apparently no one had realized that the new stations would need more electricity than the old ones, not only because of the 30 % electrically-assisted bikes in the new system, but also because each of the new mechanical bikes had its own little computer, and these had to be charged up before the bikes could be used.
When I returned to Paris at the end of March, they were still promising Vélib’ revient vite ! (= Vélib’ will return quickly!) on all the construction sites. They did seem to be making some progress, though, compared to January.
My third visit to Paris in 2018 was at the end of May/beginning of June. Before leaving home, I optimistically booked a 7-day Vélib’ subscription online at https://www.velib-metropole.fr/ for 15 Euros — up 88 % from the year before.
By this time some of the new stations were actually in operation, but with very few bikes. Occasionally I managed to snag one, and rode around the 17th arrondissement, where I was staying, but in general the stations were empty or the few bikes were marked as not usable. I didn’t complain about this, but several months later they refunded the 15 Euros to my credit card, because the city of Paris had determined that the level of service in the month of May was unacceptable.
My fourth and last visit to Paris in 2018 was in June/July, when I stayed in the 14th arrondissement. There still weren’t enough bikes, but the situation was starting to improve, and I was usually able to get one on the second or third try.
When I did get a bike, I tended to keep it for an hour or two, despite the extra cost after the first half-hour, because if I docked a bike I was not at all sure I would be able to get another one later.
But I soon started to like the new bikes, because they really are easier to dock. You no longer have to ram a metal tongue into the dock, but just roll the front wheel in until it clicks.
(Once, however, I got the strap of my rucksack caught in the docking mechanism, and the only way to get it out was to check out the bike again, remove the strap and re-dock the bike, so it looked as though I had had a ride of about twenty seconds. This only happened once, as I was careful about it after that.)
Another improvement is that to borrow a bike I can type my subscription number and personal code directly into the display on the bike itself, so I no longer have to run back and forth between the bike and the info column.
(People with yearly passes can just swipe their cards onto the display, but they could already do that with the old system.)
Also the display tells me how many minutes I have been riding, so I know when my free half-hour is nearly finished.
During the first week of July I even saw a couple of Vélib’ trucks coming around to fill up empty stations, so I started to feel that things were getting back to normal.
One thing that surprised me in 2018 was that I saw very few “free-floating” third-party rental bikes in Paris. These were bikes from private companies that had no docking stations, but could be rented (with a smartphone and credit card) anywhere you found one and left anywhere else when you were finished. I had heard and read that several different companies had flooded Paris with these bikes in the autumn of 2017 (when I wasn’t there), and that they were a nuisance because people left them lying all over the sidewalks, like the equally annoying electric scooters. But by 2018 at least one of these companies had gone bankrupt, and the city of Paris had apparently regulated the rest to the point where they were no longer a problem.
My photos in this post are from 2018. I wrote the text in 2020.
Next: Vélib’ 2019.