Electric Car Sharing Comes to Coal Country

A French company has launched a fleet of carbon-free cars in Indianapolis.
(Photo: Bolloré)
Sep 4, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Kristine Wong is a regular contributor to TakePart and a multimedia journalist who reports on energy, the environment, sustainable business, and food.

A French electric car sharing company has landed in the United States with ambitions to create the biggest carbon-free automotive network in the country.

The company, Bolloré, is establishing its beachhead not in San Francisco, Seattle, or any of the usual coastal hot spots of green living but in Indianapolis, the conservative capital of a coal-dependent Midwestern state.

“It’s providing one more transit option in a city that really needs it,” said Hervé Muller, who heads up the BlueIndy car-share program for Bolloré.

BlueIndy launched Wednesday in Indianapolis with 50 cars and more than 100 charging stations, making it one of the largest electric vehicle sharing programs in the U.S. (San Diego’s Car2Go network went online in 2011, and its fleet has 400 vehicles.) By the end of the year, BlueIndy plans to have 200 cars available for rent.

The service, which is designed for trips lasting 20 to 30 minutes, is modeled after Autolib’, Bolloré’s E.V. car sharing operation in Paris that is considered the largest in the world.

(Photo: Bolloré)

Drivers pay a monthly membership fee and $4 to $8 per 20 minutes and up to 40 cents a minute thereafter. They can use a smartphone app to reserve a Bluecar, an Italian-made four-seater with a range of 155 miles. Members can also reserve a parking space, which doubles as a charging station, at their final destination. BlueIndy members with their own E.V.s can plug in as well.

Why Indianapolis, the city famous for its motor speedway?

“Because we are deploying something that is transforming the city, we needed the political leadership and support to be able to install [E.V. charging stations] on city streets,” Muller said.

For three years, the company explored setting up shop in San Francisco and other cities. Indianapolis won out because the city offered less red tape, according to Muller, and was open to swapping out public parking spots for BlueIndy charging stations.

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Under Bolloré’s deal with the city, Indianapolis will receive a share of revenues once BlueIndy becomes profitable, Muller said.

The company invested $41 million in the BlueIndy venture. Building the charging station infrastructure alone cost $16 million. The city of Indianapolis chipped in $6 million and a local utility, Indianapolis Power and Light, contributed $3.7 million toward the infrastructure cost.

BlueIndy has had its share of challenges. It expected to launch a year ago but had to wait to get regulatory approval for construction of the charging network.

There’s been public opposition as well. According to the Indianapolis Star, some residents—as well as city council members—have been upset that BlueIndy charging stations have been built in locations previously reserved for public parking.

“We have to be mindful of reaching out to the public to explain the benefits,” Muller said. “Some wonder why we take public parking spots, and we have to explain that in the long run, it will help with traffic congestion because people will use BlueIndy instead of their private cars. This will free up more parking spaces.”