July 19, 2018 / 4:24 PM / 3 months ago

Car share operators jump in as Paris Autolib scheme withers

* Popular Paris Autolib car scheme to end this month

* Private firms like Zipcar plan to boost their fleets

* Scarce parking spaces for car share limits growth

* Renault, PSA also plan Paris car sharing schemes

By Geert De Clercq

PARIS, July 19 (Reuters) - A string of private car-share operators are revving up business in Paris as the pioneering city-run Autolib scheme comes to an end and city authorities promote car sharing over private ownership.

Last month, Paris ended the Bollore Group's contract to operate its Autolib electric vehicles due to financial difficulties at the state-funded scheme. Its nearly 4,000 cars are set to disappear from Paris roads at the end of July.

"We will reestablish a car sharing offer from September and we will have more cars than we had before with Autolib. Paris will remain a pioneer in shared mobility," Paris transport chief and deputy mayor Christophe Najdovski told reporters.

At a mobility event where car, scooter and bicycle share operators demonstrated their services in front of city hall, car sharing scheme operators said they planned to expand their operations, but that growth would largely depend on how many dedicated parking spaces the city makes available.

U.S. car-sharing group Zipcar, owned by car rental group Avis, has been active in Paris for five years and plans to grow its fleet from 100 cars today to 150 in September and about 200 by year-end.

"The end of Autolib is an opportunity for us," Zipcar executive Alexandre Schiro told Reuters, adding that usage of its cars has more than doubled over the past month.

He said it was hard to compete with Autolib as it was funded with public money, but the lack of parking remained an issue.

There are currently only about 225 parking spaces for car sharing schemes on Paris roads, for a combined fleet of several hundred cars.

This forces car sharing firms to rent space in underground parking lots, which they say makes the schemes less attractive for users.

"Dedicated parking spaces on public roads are a key success factor," said Nicolas Frasie of Canadian car share operator Communauto, which operates about 150 cars in Paris.

Najdowski said more car-share parking was being considered but he did not confirm earlier plans for 1,000 spaces by 2020. "We are talking to the operators about their needs," he said.

Communauto's Frasie said there was room for growth in Paris as the company operates 1,500 cars in its home base of Montreal, a city of 1.7 million people, while in Paris all the car share schemes combined have only about 400 cars for a population of over two million.

"One shared car can replace ten private cars," he said.

Justin De Baere of Europcar-owned car sharing service Ubeeqo said news about Autolib's problems had boosted usage of its cars but that the real test would come when Autolib's cars are taken off the road on July 31.

Ubeeqo, which operates 320 cars in Paris and the Ile de France region around it, expects to put an additional 50 to 100 cars on the road by year-end.

French car maker Renault said on Thursday it plans to launch a car-sharing fleet of 120 electric vehicles in Paris in September, in cooperation with car rental firm ADA. More cars will be added early next year.

PSA Group, which owns the Peugeot and Citroen brands, said earlier this month it will launch a car-sharing fleet with 500 electric vehicles in Paris end 2018.

Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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