By on June 3, 2020

Indianapolis’ electric car-sharing program, BlueIndy, died in May. Failed green initiatives are fairly common these days, but they remain an important exercise in finding out what works and what doesn’t in order for progress to be made. Unfortunately, that doesn’t preclude host cities from having to deal with the aftermath — and Indiana’s capitol now needs to decide what’s to be done with the EVs and their stations.

BlueIndy lasted four years, with the company announcing it was forced to cease operations because it “did not reach the level of activity required to be economically viable.” The plan was to provide an eco-friendly alternative to car ownership, though Indy citizens seemed less eager than their leadership. This has left the city with dozens of small, relatively new EVs waiting to be crushed and roughly 90 charging stations it has no idea what to do with.

Naturally, it’s asking for advice. 

According to the IndyStar, the charging stations are still owned by parent Bolloré Group but are connected to the city’s electrical infrastructure and include about 400 parking spaces. Indianapolis has until September 21st to decide if it wants to buy the space or just let come what may. While the price point isn’t clear, it’s bound to be a sizable sum — even if BlueIndy’s seeking of greener pastures results in a sweeter deal than it would gotten otherwise.

“We continue to be mindful that the best solution may look different on a station by station or on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis,” Mayor Joe Hogsett said last week. “One size does not necessarily fit all.”

Turning those spaces back into public parking is probably desirable for the city, as it has relatively high vehicle ownership rates. However, if we’re still assuming EVs will become increasingly dominant, it might not be a bad idea to maintain a charging infrastructure that has basically fallen into your lap. Either way, Indianapolis will need to address its own needs — which is why it’s asking for help.

From IndyStar:

The city plans to solicit requests for information in mid-June on how to use the kiosks and charging stations above ground. The electrical infrastructure underground is owned by Indianapolis Power and Light, which the city also has been in contact with.

City officials say they want to consider all options in order to possibly take advantage of existing infrastructure.

BlueIndy has basically faulted Indianapolis residents for not getting with the program and left them with some parting thoughts as it refocuses on BlueLA — its Californian-based counterpart. “We believe that the continued reliance and predominant use of traditional personal vehicles is not sustainable long term in a growing urban environment and the need for additional mobility options to complement operators in Indianapolis including BlueIndy, IndyGo and the Pacers Bikeshare is significant,” the company said in its goodbye press release.

It also said that Indianapolis-based Bolloré Bluecars used for its services will be transported to LA after some repairs. Yet the glut we’ve seen amassed at Zore’s Inc.’s tow yard doesn’t seem to foreshadow anything more than the whole lot being crushed. You don’t stack cars three high if you plan on reusing them, and the relatively small urban fleet makes us doubt that these basic EVs all suffered irreparable damage. Many seem to have been in good working order upon their arrival and are only at the junkyard to be harvested for spare parts.

“Some of the cars with body damage are indeed being scrapped after the LMP batteries and key components/parts have been removed and stored,” James Delgado, vice president of Blue Systems, told local outlet WTHR. “[Other vehicles] are being held in storage and eventually will be shipped to Los Angeles.”

[Image: WTHR/YouTube]

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44 Comments on “Indianapolis Muses Solution to Failed EV Program, Asks for Help...”


  • avatar
    ravenuer

    Any reason they couldn’t have just sold them as private cars?

    • 0 avatar
      Imagefont

      Liability? Lack of service and parts? I doubt they’d get much for them, it might be worth it just to crush them, write them off for tax purposes and and never get a call about them again.
      Same reason why GM crushed the EV-1, because it made perfect sense.

    • 0 avatar
      ScarecrowRepair

      My thought too. Bankruptcy involves selling assets. Those cars would have to be mighty crappy to be worth more as scrap than functional cars. Sort of like GM junking the EV1s rather than selling them to the leasees, who seemed pretty happy with them.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      If they’d pulled the plug on the program earlier, they might have been able to ship them to Ghana.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “We believe that the continued reliance and predominant use of traditional personal vehicles is not sustainable long term”

    That’s where they went wrong. Americans don’t like communal sharing of stuff, especially cars.

    The propulsion system is secondary to the issue, but I’ll guess that shared little 2-door EV turds with short range have extremely narrow appeal.

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      Zip car and bicycle programs are doing fine.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Even with COVID-19 still lurking around?

        The bike-share stuff, maybe. Does a ZipCar employee or employees go around a city and sanitize each vehicle every so-often?

        I dare say that the demographic most concerned about re-opening and societal interaction at this point, and that which is most likely to avail themselves of a service like ZipCar, would show some intersection on a Venn diagram.

        • 0 avatar
          Matt Posky

          Avis/ZipCar took quite the hit this year, though nowhere near Hertz. I used to use ZipCar semi-regularly, as it was a cheap way to abuse a wide variety of late-model vehicles and I HAD to check it out. I was initially quite pleased. But their upkeep is wonky with certain areas always having sparkling clean autos and others yielding mobile biohazards in need of some light maintenance and a good wash. This probably has everything to do with them simply being communal objects and local parking garages (who are often responsible for the cars) not doing their utmost to keep em clean.

          ZipCar has said it has improved its cleaning schedule post-COVID and implemented “antiviral and antimicrobial solutions.” But I wouldn’t bet on it doing a better job than traditional rental firms, who at least get to see the cars every time they’re returned.

      • 0 avatar

        Avis Budget, the owner of Zipcar, mentions them only in passing in their last few annual reports. Given the PR (and stock P/E) benefit, that would not be the case if Zipcar was making money. I have looked repeatedly the past year, and found nothing to indicate that Zipcar does anything but run red.

  • avatar
    MKizzy

    Any reason why those vehicles could not have been shipped to this program’s BlueLA counterparts where resident acceptance would be more likely? Seems to indicate those vehicles were not worth much to start.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      In another article I read earlier it said they had already shipped many of the best cars to LA. Ones with damage were immediately sent to be dismantled and apparently there is another group of them that they claim they will be sending to LA.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      This isn’t a Leaf, Bolt, or even one of the compliance models like a 500e. Outside of the cities blue whatever operates there is zero infrastructure for servicing these. As such if you purchase one and move to Scranton or something and then a safety recall becomes necessary it can’t be done. I doubt these are even legal for private sale.

  • avatar
    dreadsword

    I don’t understand why the EVs are being crushed. This would be like Hertz just crushing their fleet instead of selling the cars. Which of course is what Hertz is doing (selling not crushing), as part of an orderly bankruptcy proceeding.

    So I guess my question is — why are any of these things questions? Why aren’t the assets of the company just being liquidated as part of bankruptcy proceedings? Or did the city of Indianapolis have an ownership stake or something?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The cars should be crushed because they are Italian-built EVs with no service infrastructure in the US.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bollor%C3%A9_Bluecar

      • 0 avatar
        dreadsword

        I mean, OK, sure, they’re crappy and not directly supported in north america. But — they’re evidently street legal here, and lord only knows, there’s hobbyists that would be happy to pick one of these up for cheap and maintain it themselves, put the drivetrain in something else, etc. Lord only knows, Italy isn’t that far away more when it comes to ordering parts.

        Doing so would have turned them from an expense (storage / disposal) into cash.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Interesting, as they look like Chevy Bolts, at least in the picture.

      • 0 avatar
        ScarecrowRepair

        If BlueIndy could service them, had parts and mechanics and all the rest, someone else could too. It might not last long. Those cars might break down so often that they’d all be gone within a few years. But that would be a good sign of incompetent management, and maybe that’s why they are going out of business.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Depending on the charging capacity and location of these 90 orphaned chargers, they may be useless to a business like EVGo or ChargePoint – companies who have already done their homework (allegedly) on charger location.

    Maybe just let the city have the parking spaces back.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      ChargePoint shouldn’t have a problem with them provided the locations have 240v 30a to 50a power. They’d want to put in their own units of course, but that’s a good thing since they could then get revenue from them and there would be status monitoring.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yeah the chargers themselves are probably worthless, but I’m betting at least some of the locations would make sense for a commercial operator as it sounds like some were in prime downtown curbside locations, that probably wouldn’t have been cost effective to build out unless the gov’t and electric company were footing the bill.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    In general I was a fan of Mayor Ballard who brought these little e-junkers in, but they were so totally worthless that somebody had to be on the take.
    Bad for business too because they sucked up useful parking spaces near restaurants, etc.

    The transit system bought a bunch of electric Chinese buses and they turned out to have very poor range in cold weather so the next buy it’s back to diesels thank goodness.

    • 0 avatar
      Greg Hamilton

      indi,
      Somebody’s hand was definitely greased.

      • 0 avatar
        hondaaustin

        Yes, can confirm… (it wasn’t me) The horrible state of (dis)repair of these vehicles showed that much expense was spared and/or squandered. There were multiple interior parts broken off and stowed in the passenger footwell the one time I used one of these cars. Of course that was after they offered me free membership and gave me 2 hours of free usage… I certainly wouldn’t have paid for it.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Precisely Indyfan. Fellow Indy resident. This deal with Tom Wood stunk from the beginning.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    The simplest answer is that car-sharing is just not going to work. Any individual that owns a car is not going to want to share it out to complete strangers UNLESS they need the money more than they want to keep their car in decent condition. About the only kind of vehicle I’d offer for car-sharing would be a 10-year-old beast with a lot of miles that maybe can either pay for its own repairs or help build up a down payment for a new car before it dies.

    Commercial car-sharing is simply going to be to costly to maintain. We’ve already seen how at least some people treat ‘rental’ cars, with those even here on TTAC adamantly stating, “Drive it like you stole it!” The costs of maintenance will override any revenue earned. If the major brands want to get into that thing, let them take over the rental agencies and require extensive restrictions on how a rental can be treated or require a high insurance fee (or at least verify that their claims of personal insurance would cover all repair costs in the event of crash. In other words, actively verifying they have the insurance and confirming its coverages before releasing the vehicle.)

    Ride sharing isn’t doing much better. The cost to the passenger is little different from taking a commercial taxi (sometimes significantly higher) while the driver has to cover all costs of any crash with their own private insurance AND suffer a lower income as a “contractor” rather than a salaried/wage-earning employee compared to certified taxi drivers. Again, it seems to me that few people would want to risk their personal vehicles to such an industry.

    The only way something like this can work is if it’s fully and independently controlled by the owner and either runs a set route like metropolitan transit or rides tracks that prevents mis-use of the vehicle (though likely has a deleterious effect on the condition of the interior over time.) They would also need road/railways that are not accessible to “surface level” traffic and don’t physically interact with surface-level traffic in any way. Either above ground or below ground would be the most efficient with above ground offering less interference with both surface level traffic and underground utilities.

    Monorail transit or even something similar to the Hyperloop with four-person pods rather than 20- to 40-person pods would be more effective than car-sharing.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I guess my point is that if you’re going to do something, especially for city transit, do it right the first time. It may cost more up front but there’s a far better chance it will work and pay for itself over time.

    • 0 avatar
      Greg Hamilton

      V,
      I think Uber and its $63 billion market cap would disagree with you. I probably wouldn’t, however.

      • 0 avatar
        ScarecrowRepair

        There’s a huge difference between ride sharing and car sharing.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @Greg Hamilton: Uber has its problems, too. They’ve had multiple lawsuits from both customers and drivers because they’re essentially an unlicensed taxi service where the vast majority of their drivers are NOT Chauffeur-licensed. I’m surprised that any US city would permit them to operate without the associated fees and regulations.

        This isn’t to say it’s all bad; my wife has used Uber a couple times and received good service but there seems to always be some issue, somewhere, that tarnishes their name.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Zipcar includes insurance, gas, maintenance and in some cities parking in its membership and user fees.

      The cost for using their vehicles in downtown Toronto can be lower than the cost of a cab/etc.

      I keep my membership for access to trucks/vans as they are available 24/7. In the GTA most car/truck rental offices are closed on Sundays and close early on Saturdays. Plus with the rise of Amazon it is almost impossible to rent a cargo van anymore. They are booked continually by ‘couriers’.

      Indianapolis is listed in Wikipedia as the 40th largest city by population in NA and has a strong ‘car culture’. So perhaps not the prime candidate for this type of service?

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    What is good for Los Angeles is good for Indianapolis. Indianapolis leaders simply need to ask CARB what to do. Perhaps an electric vehicle mandate is appropriate.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Indy resident, this whole program stunk to high hell from the beginning. Tom Wood one of the major local dealers got the deal to sell the cars to the city. To see all this toxic scrap metal now is the perfect end to this sleazy story. Hey hopefully we’ll atleast get some nice prime parking spots back across the city.

  • avatar
    Don Mynack

    Nobody is getting in a dirty-ass shared car post-corona. Good luck, Euros.

  • avatar
    Don Mynack

    Reviews VERY mixed on these guys…

    https://www.yelp.com/biz/blue-indy-indianapolis

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @ravenuer–Agree they should sell these cars to individuals especially the ones they are going to destroy. At the right price I would buy one as a commuter.

    @Vulpine–Agree but it seems that most city leaders do not consult those who use the transit system. I am working at home because of Covid-19 but when I go in the office I take the park & ride to work. I have been using the park & ride for almost 24 years now and one of the great incentives for me is my employer pays for it. Cincinnati has turned down a monorail system several times but it makes the most sense because it could be placed down the middle of the interstate and the Greater Cincinnati and Northern KY Airport is along the interstate and not that far from where I live. Ride share does not work for most people.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Too bad this didn’t work out but I have tried carpooling and that was a bust too so I am not surprised this failed .

    Maybe in some small areas it’ll pan out as many no longer like to own private vehicles .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    “Failed green initiatives are fairly common these days, but they remain an important exercise in finding out what works and what doesn’t in order for progress to be made.”

    Most of these schemes don’t make sense on paper. That doesn’t stop politicians and rent seekers from plowing full speed ahead though, usually with your tax dollars.

  • avatar
    Kruser

    There has to be real perceived net value to get people into these. I spend a lot of time in Italy, and while there, I happily use Turin’s electric car program as it no-kidding saves me pain in parking, etc. In the US, there are only a handful of cities where that is true, and Indy isn’t one of them.

  • avatar

    This is (was!) the US experiment of the late (d. 2018), unmourned Paris-based Autolib’. When the collapsed Paris left a few charging stations at each site, available for other EVs, but scrapped most of them. The business model was flawed. I’d forgotten about it, but – lo! – I found I’d actually blogged about them 3 years ago: https://autosandeconomics.blogspot.com/2017/06/airlib-and-uber-all-failure-in.html

    Autolib’ used very basic vehicles – Indy the same ones – where were much abused by their short-term renters. With the manufacturer defunct, it will be almost impossible to keep them running – no repair parts. That means no bank will finance one, either. A few electrical engineer hobbiests may want one, but otherwise they are worth no more than their weight as scrap.

    That’s scrap after removing the Li-ion batteries, which can’t be recycled: with multiple battery formats and chemistries and electrical characteristics, and low volumes [small numbers of Leafs, Teslas and the like that met untimely demises], recycling (or even repurposing) isn’t be viable. Maybe that will be different 15 years from now…

    At least, local and state subsidies aside, most of the money was from European hedge funds and venture capital investors. No one in the mobility segment has yet to earn a profit – not Uber, not Zipcar. Note AvisBudget doesn’t break out Zipcar numbers, but they would be highlighted rather than receiving a mere 2 mentions AvisBudget annual reports if they ran other than red). [OK, the Russian Yandex might be an exception, and no info is available on the privately held Grab that dominates Southeast Asian markets…but Didi in China loses money, and others I’ve tried to research.]

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    Per the Indy Star article, undamaged cars are headed to L.A. to join the same company’s service there. Sounds like damaged cars are being stripped for spare parts and then the shells alone are being scrapped. Local media says 30-40 cars are in the junkyard out of 250 total, but Jalopnik says about 50%-50% are being kept vs. scrapped; maybe a company insider would like to clear up the confusion? Did our esteemed scribe reach out to them for comment?

    The battery isn’t standard lithium-ion; it’s a solid-state lithium-metal-polymer battery, paired with a supercapacitor. The company says some of the batteries removed from those cars are being repurposed for their energy storage projects; it would be interesting to learn more about that too.

    The city would be stupid not to capitalize on the charging infrastructure already built for them. Granted, streetside charging can invite tension between those who need to charge and those who don’t. One possible way around that: make them all premium parking-meter spaces. Everyone using those premium spaces pays the same higher rate whether they charge or not. Nobody can say the infrastructure isn’t there; nobody can say parking has been reduced. If you need it badly enough, whether to charge your car or to nip in and grab something without walking far, you’ll pay the difference. Seems like a solution that would make everyone equally unhappy, which as we know is the mark of a great compromise. :-D

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