There is a hitch in the marriage between the Brussels Region and Villo! Operator JCDecaux. Brussels Mobility Minister Elke Van den Brandt (Groen) suggested last year that Villo! no longer met the expectations of the Brussels Region. The Brussels Region is now launching a study to replace Villo!
So writes the business newspaper L’Echo. The possibility of public transport company MIVB/STIB taking over the Brussels bike-sharing system is being seriously studied with a view to better integration into public transport.
Contract ends October 2026
JCDecaux’s contract with the Brussels Region will end in October 2026, after which the Region plans on promoting free-floating shared bicycles as the fourth pillar of public transport. Authorities still need to find which model best suits Brussels, but it thus looks like the agreement with operator JCDecaux will not be renewed.
The Brussels Region has had a contract with operator JCDecaux since 2008. However, because these contracts are drafted in very general terms, the Region cannot force JCDecaux to improve the quality of its services.
For example, there were many problems with the eVillo introduced in 2018. For ten months, no portable batteries for Villo!’s shared e-bikes were available, batteries that, by the way, the user had to recharge at his home. Subscribers to eVillo also received no compensation, although their subscriptions were extended for the duration of the service interruption.
Case between lawyers
But according to Brussels news site BRUZZ, JCDecaux would also have suffered damages. The French multinational agreed to introduce eVillos in Brussels on the condition that it could obtain 215 additional building permits for its advertising displays.
However, the company proactively began developing its e-bikes without waiting for the building permits because Urban.brussels faced difficulties delivering the building permits within an acceptable timeframe.
“This is why the company has asked the Region to renegotiate the contract term as compensation for the damages it suffered due to the delay in issuing the building permits,” said Minister Van den Brandt. The lawyers of both parties are examining both damages.
The minister is currently leaving all options open, but that Van den Brandt prefers to step into a new system that does not involve JCDecaux is also evidenced by the fact in January of last year, she commissioned a study from Brussels Mobility to compare the bike-share networks in five other European cities to make recommendations for Brussels as part of the selection procedure for the next operator.
Moreover, the minister wants to play the MIVB/STIB card precisely to reinforce the integration of the bike-sharing system into existing public transport: representatives of MIVB/STIB were included in the study’s support committee.
No more advertising-funded bike share network
According to L’Echo, the study results would be presented to the cabinet in the first half of 2024. Still, Van den Brandt has already made it clear that she wants to eliminate the current advertising-funded bike share network.
After all, most recent bike share systems are no longer funded by advertising. In contrast, the station system proposed by Villo! has now been overtaken by more hybrid systems, such as free-floating with station and free-floating zones – although these also have flaws.
Decree on micro-mobility
Moreover, Van den Brandt also wants to shorten the duration of concessions so that the system can be evaluated more quickly. There are currently 4 200 Villo!-bicycles circulating in Brussels. The new draft decree on micro-mobility also has room for a maximum of 4 000 bicycles.
According to the Regional Mobility Observatory, due to competition from free-floating e-bikes, the number of rentals per day and per bike of Villo! has also dropped sharply since 2018 to 0,55 from 1,8 in 2011.
Subscribers to Villo! – for a subscription, a monthly flat rate of 3 euros is charged – can make an unlimited number of trips with the bikes, with the first half-hour being free each time. Afterward, additional charges must be paid (for example, 0,50 euros for the second half-hour).
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