World class cities and the development of new transportation technologies: Paris and electric cars
This weekend I was flipping through the news channels and because Fox "News" (I think it was Fox, but now I can't find the story) was doing a story on Ecotality, I watched the piece.
A Bluecar departs from the Autolib electric car pick-up station in Place de Catalogne, Paris, France, 02 October 2011, during the first test day in Paris metropolitan area. 60 Bluecars are used for test purposes. The service will be inaugurated next 05 December with 250 cars, their number increasing to 2000 at the end of June 2012. EPA/HORACIO VILLALOBOS
World Class cities don't just "take" they "give"
On Sunday, Paris launched the first phase of their autolib’ electric vehicle car sharing program. See "Paris launches electric car-sharing plan" from the Los Angeles Times and "Paris Tests Short-Term Rentals of Electric Cars" from the New York Times.
If Parisians can share bicycles, why not cars, too?
Bertrand Delanoë, the Socialist mayor of Paris, and the billionaire investor Vincent Bolloré think they will. To that end they have begun an ambitious new electric-vehicle partnership called Autolib, extending the city’s effort to reimagine urban mobility and improve air quality with alternatives to exhaust-spewing cars.
On Sunday, Autolib rolled out 66 ultracompact Bluecars at charging stations for a two-month trial period to help familiarize the public with the system and work out the bugs before it fully goes live. Officials hope to have 3,000 of the zero-emission, four-seater Bluecars on the streets and 1,000 charging stations in Paris and surrounding cities by the end of 2012.
The bet is that urbanites needing occasional access to a car will opt out of ownership in exchange for the convenience of an easy, occasional rental, without the hassles of paying for gasoline, insurance, taxes and maintenance.
A few years ago I saw Charles Landry, the author-urban vitality theorist-practitioner, give a couple presentations on creative cities, and I was really struck by one of his points, that true world class cities are the cities that give to the world by being innovative and creative and passing what they learn on to others.
Paris' introduction of bike sharing is a perfect example.
But there are a couple lessons in the Velib system launch that seem to elude most bike sharing practitioners in other places:
1. Velib launched on a huge scale, with an intense number of stations and bikes
2. Therefore developing a critical mass of users and a usable system from the first day
3. Helped of course by urban density of population and buildings
4. Complemented by a great transit system
5. With a design forward system and defined brand image and position.
With regard to electric vehicles, the Velib lessons are relevant, and the relative lack of deployment of electric vehicles in the U.S. is an illustration of a different kind of approach, one that takes a lot longer and is more likely to fail because it isn't focused on achieving critical mass.
I talk about what I call action planning.
Action planning is basically what Paris did with Velib and is now doing with Autolib, although focused also on a point not defined yet in action planning, but should be, and that is on achieving critical mass.
Contrast Autolib with the deployment of electric vehicles in the U.S. Rather than focus on making electric vehicles a practical and deep option in a particular region, and growing from there, they are being deployed willy nilly all over the country, and at a metropolitan scale, are nowhere near being able to achieve critical mass.
With regard to brand image, design, and integrated program delivery systems, look at the difference with Autolib. The cars are well marked, promote the concept, and by the end of next year they intend to have deployed 3,000 electric vehicles and 1,000 charging stations in Paris and the suburbs.
That's about scale and critical mass.
Again, it's an example of how to launch new mobility technologies successfully.
It's also an example of a visionary mayor and a world class city "giving of itself to the world."