Indianapolis' BlueIndy carsharing could expand to other US cities

We Test Out Bollore's All-Electric Short-Term EV Rentals

It's been a long time coming, but the all-electric BlueIndy carsharing service is about to open up in Indianapolis. The first, flagship station on Washington Street downtown was opened in the spring of 2014. The service will finally open to the public in September 2015. It was supposed to happen early this year. The long ramp-up program has led to a lot of tension between those who want to bring the French carsharing service to the US for the first time, like the Bollore Group, which owns BlueIndy, and people who don't like the way the $50 million EV carsharing program is being implemented. Bollore first started an electric carsharing service with the BlueCars that BlueIndy uses in Paris in 2011.

Thus far, BlueIndy has garnered its fair share of controversy. When you have a City-County Councilor writing a letter to the editor that asks, " Are we a society of laws or not?", then you know it's serious. That question revolved around the five BlueIndy parking spaces on Washington that have been basically unused for the last 15 months or so. This is where the service's demonstration cars have been taking up a lot of space even though the public can't yet access the vehicles. It got so bad that the City Council's Public Works Committee voted 5-1 to have the cars towed. That hasn't happened yet, and it's unclear if the police would take action if the full council votes in the same way.

The shorter your membership period, the more you'll pay for each ride.

We know the cars are still there because we recently got to tool around Indianapolis with BlueIndy's Blake Richmond. Unrelentingly positive about what BlueIndy can bring to the city, Richmond said that the vision is to open up in September with between 30 and 35 stations, with each station having five parking spaces (each with its own charging pole) and three assigned cars to start. Since the idea is to drive these cars to other stations (i.e., an A-to-B carsharing service like Car2go, and not one where you need to return the car to its starting location), the empty spaces are there to accept cars from other areas. In the downtown area, at least, the stations will be located close enough together so that if your destination station is full, there should be available parking just a block or two away.

New drivers will be able to sign up at any of the egg-shaped kiosks or at main BlueIndy staging areas, like at the airport (hello, tourists!). Using an online form or video calls at the kiosks, you can sign up for a daily (free), weekly ($9.99), monthly ($19.99), or yearly (around $120) membership by using a credit card and having a US or Canadian driver's license. The shorter your membership, the more you'll pay for each ride, but the costs range from 40 cents to 20 cents a minute along with a minimum charge of between $8 and $4 that gives you 20 minutes of ride time.

The rental clock starts running once you've unplugged the car, so you can get the keys, load up your groceries and anything else necessary before you get charged. Richmond said that BlueIndy is also working on tech that will have the cars automatically remember your radio station presets from previous trips.

BlueIndy might be the first of a number of "Blue" cities in the US.

The EV range of these cars is around 120 miles, which should be plenty for the BlueIndy zone, which is about a 10-mile by 10-mile square around downtown Indianapolis. The range included the University of Indianapolis and the airport, which, "makes it practical for people visiting," Richmond said. Even for people who live in town, Richmond said, BlueIndy makes sense. Today, people are used to driving their own cars, Richmond said, but once they realize all the money they can save, he expects interest in BlueIndy to grow. And that growth might not just be in Indianapolis. If things go the way Bollore wants, BlueIndy might be the first of a number of "Blue" cities in the US. Richmond would only name Los Angeles as a possible next target, but said that a number of other cities are watching how the Indianapolis project works out to see if they want a similar carsharing service in their town.

Of course, before any talk of expansion can get serious, things have to get settled and started in Indianapolis. Right now, there's still a big problem ahead. A City-County Council attorney said recently that the BlueIndy deal violates city codes because, "the mayor does not have the legal authority on his own to grant an exclusive long-term contract." That's from attorney Fred Biesecker, who said that if BlueIndy enters into a franchise agreement, the problem would be solved since the council could then collect fees and have oversight. Of course, if this happens, then there may need to be public hearings on each of the planned 200 charging station locations that BlueIndly plans to install to charge up the expected 500 cars. In other words, challenges remain. But you wouldn't know if from listening to Richmond, who always sees the bright side, as you can see in the two videos we shot in Indianapolis.

BlueIndy Car Sharing in Indianapolis | Autoblog Short Cuts

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