Just like the state of Indiana and its Republican Governor Mike Pence, Indiana’s capital city Indianapolis isn’t having a particularly good time of it of late.
In addition to being front and centre in the ongoing media frenzy over GLBT rights — caused by Governor Pence signing Indiana Senate Bill 101, otherwise known as the “religious freedom restoration act” bill into law — Indianapolis is at the heart of a crisis involving French car sharing giant Bolloré.
A crisis which, as the IndyStar reports, means the multi-million dollar scheme could fail before a single car has been rented.
Back in the spring of 2014 the Bolloé Group, standing side to side with city Mayor Greg Ballard, announced Indiana would be the first of many U.S. cities to benefit from its bespoke car sharing system. Based on Bolloré’s highly-successful Autolib car share scheme that has been in operation in Paris, France for the past few years, Indiana’s own car share scheme — called BlueIndy — would offer citizens or visitors to the city the chance to rent a zero-emission electric car by the hour or by the day.
In addition to offering a full rental service with automated rental kiosks, smartphone booking and of course, the latest in in-car technology, the BlueIndy project was also meant to substantially increase the amount of public electric car charging infrastructure in the city, with an additional 1000 charging stations dotted all over Indianapolis. Eventually, the service was expected to expand to a total of 500 cars in total, alongside 200 service kiosks and the aforementioned 1,000 charging points.
But while the cars themselves and some of the necessary BlueIndy infrastructure have been installed and ready to go for many months, operating on a ‘demonstration only’ basis, not a single car has been officially rented yet due to a $13 million funding shortfall.
When the scheme was first conceived back in 2013 and then officially announced last spring, the intention was that the Indianapolis Power & Light Company would contribute some funds to the project to install 250 brand-new electric car charging stations throughout the city. IPL would, in turn, raise its electricity rates slightly to provide that funding to BlueIndy.
But when the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission denied that request back in February, saying that it could not condone charging all of IPL’s customers for a service that only a small percentage would use, the BlueIndy scheme was left short.
Talks are reputedly in progress between BlueIndy, the City-County Council of Indianapolis, and IPL over how that $13 million shortfall will be found, but at the moment no firm plans have been laid out.
What we do know, via IPL spokeswoman Brandi Davis-Handy, is that the utility company won’t be appealing the IURC decision. “We accepted the order and have been in constant contact with the city,” she said.
Mayor Ballard, whose has publicly said that he won’t be seeking a third term of office as Mayor of Indianapolis, has said that until last week when the state’s RFRA bill took up everyone’s attention in office, talks were progressing steadily.
“We were close,” he said. “We had most of the parties together on it.”
But the passage of the RFRA last week — something which caused Ballard to sign an emergency executive order to protect Indianapolis’ LGBT community — could also jeapordise the future of the car share scheme, since those who are likely to use the service are also the very people most likely to be upset with the new anti LGBT legislation.
“It threatens what thousands of people have spent 40 years building,” he said.
With many large companies and investors already swearing off Indianapolis and Indiana as a backlash to the controversial bill, finding money to make up the shortfall will be tougher than ever before. With BlueIndy apparently unwilling to provide the extra $13 million in investment, some are even questioning its business plans moving forward.
As recent experiences in London with Bolloré’s BluePoint London network have illustrated too, the group isn’t finding it as easy to duplicate its successful Autolib scheme elsewhere in the world as it hoped. Let’s hope a solution is found soon, or BlueIndy could be the first of several expensive mistakes for the French firm.
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