Electric car service Blue Indy ceasing operations

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Blue Indy, the electric-car-sharing service that launched in September 2015, is pulling the plug on its Indianapolis fleet.

“We regret to announce that Blue Indy will end its collaboration with the City of Indianapolis, effective May 21st, 2020,” the company said in a letter sent to customers Friday morning. “This difficult decision to end the service has been made because we did not reach the level of activity required to be economically viable.”

As of August, Blue Indy had 3,000 active members—a fifth of the total it had projected that it needed for profitability. It had 92 stations and 200 cars—80 fewer cars circulating than two years ago.

When the Paris-based company backed by French logistics company Bollore and billionaire Vincent Bollore launched in Indianapolis, it predicted that it would be operating profitably by 2020, with at least 15,000 members, 200 stations and 500 cars.

This isn’t the only place Bollore has struggled with car-sharing.

Autolib, which Bollore launched in Paris in 2011, closed seven years later after city officials refused to contribute money to offset a revenue shortfall.

On the other hand, Bollore’s 2017 launch of BlueLA in Los Angeles has gone well, James Delgado, managing director for Blue Indy and vice president of business development for Bollore’s Blue Systems, told IBJ in August.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti praised the service last spring, saying it has brought “new transportation options to neighborhoods on the front lines of climate change.”

Indianapolis spent $6 million to help launch Blue Indy and wasn’t expected to recoup the investment until the service turned profitable.

The controversial deal came at the end of former Republican Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration, and spurred a lawsuit from the Marion County auditor, a Democrat, that was eventually dismissed.

In return for the $6 million, Blue Indy promised to share profits with the city—once its own investment was recouped and Indianapolis Power & Light recovered 125% of the more than $3 million in ratepayer hikes that made the charging stations possible. IPL initially filed a $12.3 million cost-recovery request to pay for installations but the request was denied by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

Blue Indy, which has said it invested more than $40 million of its own money to launch the service, did not disclose its annual revenue or what performance it would need to achieve to turn a profit.

The company said it would remain in operation locally until May 21 but gradually reduce the number of cars it has operating over that time. It said it would stop charging monthly membership fees on March 21 and terminate the memberships.

The company did not say what would happen to the charging stations, which can be found all over Indianapolis and are heavily clustered in and around downtown.

In an August interview, Delgado told IBJ the company did not expect to be profitable in the next 12 months, but he said there were signs of progress. The company saw a 12% increase in rentals from 2017 to 2018, from about 46,000 to 51,600. Rentals were on track this year to eclipse the 2018 total, even though several Blue Indy stations were effectively shut down because of IndyGo Red Line rapid-transit bus line construction.

The company also was bringing in more revenue than projected by selling advertising on its vehicles.

Indianapolis Deputy Chief of Staff Taylor Schaffer said the city would explore whether the Blue Indy charging stations can still be used.

“For many years, Indianapolis residents and community leaders have been engaged in thoughtful conversations around transportation and personal mobility,” she said in an email to IBJ. “Blue Indy has been an instrumental part of that conversation, helping to provide an innovative car sharing option for Indianapolis residents with an eye toward sustainability and equity.

“Over the coming months, we will work with neighbors, corporate partners, and personal mobility advocates to explore whether financially-sustainable options exist to put the electric charging infrastructure to use. While today’s announcement is unfortunate for those who have embraced Blue Indy as a transportation option, we remain steadfast in our commitment to access and equity in transportation and improved connectivity for all Marion County residents.”

According to its website, Blue Indy has 20 stations at Indianapolis International Airport.

“With the recent Blue Indy news to cease operations in Indianapolis on May 21, 2010, we’re currently having internal discussions on the future use of the electrical infrastructure at the Indianapolis International Airport,” airport spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland said in an email to IBJ. “Nothing has been decided at this time, and we will continue to discover the best possible solution to serve the traveling public.”

In a letter sent Friday afternoon, Delgado said Blue Indy signed up 11,000 members who took 180,000 rides over the past four years, but residents failed to embrace the service enough to keep it in business.

“Indianapolis drivers have been slow to adopt alternative transportation options and car ownership remains extremely high,” he said.

He said the city can still benefit from the infrastructure Blue Indy leaves behind.

“If the city decides to maintain the current charging infrastructure already in place, it will have a network of 455 charging points strategically set up across the city including locations at all major universities, the airport, and popular destinations in downtown Indianapolis and the surrounding areas.”

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32 thoughts on “Electric car service Blue Indy ceasing operations

  1. GOOD! I am all in favor of electric and hybrid cars. I have 3 Prius’ (Prii, we call them) in my family. However, I am not in favor of the city’s investment in this private firm at the expense of lost parking spaces and redirection of infrastructure dollars to this project. Since the program’s inception, I have perceived it as under-utilized, and therefore a waste of taxpayer dollars, again, at the expense of lost parking spaces. Parking has been an issue in Indy since long before Blue Car arrived. I just hope the parking spaces are returned to the general population after they cease operations!

    1. Parking is not an issue in Indianapolis? What utter nonsense. Try parking within a mile of the City-County Building during the middle of the day. You will drive around a long time looking for a spot. Blue Indy swallowed up scores of vital parking spots in downtown Indianapolis. There are probably about 16 Blue Indy spaces less than 3 blocks from the City-County building. Love to have those back. There are scores of other parking spaces that were taken up by Blue Indy in front of their business establishments that lost customers because they could not park close and decided to go elsewhere. Plus, I would point out that if parking spots are taken out of circulation, the City needs to pay the private parking vendor for those spots. (Yet another bonehead contract entered into by the Ballard administration).

    2. there are 4 garages within a block of the city county building that are never full.

      Your anecdotal inability to understand the surplus of parking does not mean there is an issue.

      Statistically we have the largest surplus of parking to need of any city in the country in our mile square.

    3. I’ve never had any problem finding a parking space. According to Downtown Indy, inc., there are 70,000 publicly available parking spaces in the Mile Square. Those garages rarely fill up. Additionally, the City-County Building is probably the most easily accessible place in this city to get to not by car. It’s literally across the street from the transit center. Parking is not a problem in Indy.

  2. I hope the City finds a way to retain the vehicle chargers for public use of electric-vehicle owners since we provided some of the investment and were promised additional revenues. It would be a huge step back for us and the City’s climate goals if we were to allow it to all be thrown away and have to start from square one.

    1. No. Artificially expanding supply does not create demand. That never works. Haven’t we learned that lesson from the “build it and they will come” approach to bus service in Indy. The Red LIne is struggling to get riders even when it’s free.

    2. 8-9,000 rides per weekday and it immediately jumping to the busiest transit line on the entire network within the first two months is “struggling”? Kinda sounds like you have some personal biases framing your viewpoints but okay.

  3. Another “partnership” that only existed due to a weird business model. Nobody rent normal cars like this – why would anyone think adding a complex and expensive battery to the car would make that model work?

  4. I’m hoping and would like to see the city go ahead and keep all these electric charging stations. I believe they could charge extra money for those spaces, say $5 for an hour or some reasonable fee that takes the costs of the electric charging feature into account. Since a person could charge their electric car there and pay back the city for the electricity cost, I think it’d be better than wasting all the money we spent to put them in, just to remove them. Also, these spaces are primely located, so by charging the extra money it’d also serve as a convenience fee for those that do park in these spaces, but don’t use the electric charging station.

    1. That’s a really good idea! Keep the spaces available for electric cars. It does modernize the city a bit since there will be more EVs on the streets during the next decade.

    2. They wouldn’t be able to keep all of them as they’re smaller spaces than average. They would likely have to take out every other one in a run to fit a normal sized car. But yeah, they should definitely keep them, invite all PEV cars to use them.

    3. The cars were smaller but the space dimensions are standard. BlueIndy offered an option for local EV owners to use the spaces and I’ve seen Teslas parked in them before. If we can expand that platform, that would be great.

    1. Agreed!
      Store owners and residents need back these prime spaces.

      Question: What will we do with the Red Line loading stations when it fails next year?

    2. Amen, Michael Q. The driving public, residents and business owners desperately need those spaces back.

  5. Good riddance. Next time we try this, please start by organizing the informational/marketing campaign. There should have been TV ads and targeted e-mails (to downtown employees, etc.) showing how to use the service. (I do not recall seeing those.) Also, taking prime spots away by fiat was not a great start. I appreciate the idea of EV’s. And, I appreciate EV owners wanting a place to charge their cars. There are a BUNCH of hybrids on the streets – not so many EVs. So, I hope they do not dedicate great parking spaces to the 1% of cars that are electric-only vehicles. I hope they are more inclusive and allow hybrid cars to park in those spaces, too.

  6. The entire time these cars have been around, I think I’ve only seen them in use maybe twice? As in people actually lined up at the station to rent them and using them as I’m driving by. This is not a surprise to me.

  7. It is a shame that the one time that we try to be progressive, and not wait for someone else to see if something will work, but took the initiative to try something that should have been a positive opportunity, especially for lower income neighborhoods, that it ultimately failed. If the L.A. model had been available I think that there would have been a completely different experience here and a viable option for lower income families would have existed.

    1. I agree. It’s a shame. I know many people who used Blue Indy as an option to get around the city. I wish the city would pick up the service.

    2. Being “progressive” means taking away public parking spots to GIVE tgo a private company it can operate a car rental business from those spots? That’s being “progressive?”

  8. Before Blue Indy, we were a two car family (of just two people). With Blue Indy, we downsized to just one car and saved thousands of dollars a year in car payments, maintenance, insurance, gas, and parking. Even with the annual membership, it was less expensive than Uber or other ride shares yet gave of the freedom to get around town when and where we needed. We will miss have it as an option. Hopefully another more “traditional” car share venture – such as Zipcars – will discover the Indianapolis market.

  9. Agree on several points. As a one-car family, blue Indy helped us. This idea is worth revisiting. Meanwhile, keep some charging stations. We cannot sustain our 1950s approach to transportation.

  10. Would have helped if they had some stations farther out from downtown. I would have to drive to the library in Irvington, park and then rent a Blue Indy car to drive downtown. Liked the service because I could get a parking space easily and avoid the high costs of parking downtown. Wasn’t really viable if people living downtown wanted to drive out to areas either…Lowes, Menards, Best Buy or any other assortment of shops not downtown. You would have to park and keep paying while you were shopping as there were no stations close by. Good idea in theory but not planned well for a city this size.

  11. Per the comments about parking – I happened to stumble across this story:

    “Parking Has Eaten American Cities: A study documents the huge amount of space taken up by parking, and the astronomical costs it represents, in five U.S. cities.”


    Because this new commenting system won’t let us create clickable links, you’ll have to copy & paste it.