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A Week With The Bolloré Bluecar & BlueIndy Carshare Service

By Stephen J. Veneruso

You can’t buy the Bolloré Bluecar in the USA, but you can rent them by the minute in Indianapolis for a song via the new blueindy car sharing service. What is a Bluecar and how does the blueindy car sharing service actually work?

The car

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The Pininfarina-designed Bolloré Bluecar is a 3-door four seat hatchback all-electric car with a 30kWh battery good for 93 highway miles (speed-limited by blueindy to 65 MPH). Power is rated at 49 kW (66 hp).

Acceleration: 0-60 in 6.3 seconds. Before you get excited, that’s 0-60 kilometers per hour (37 mph). Claimed 0-100 kph (62 mph) acceleration is 16.2 seconds. Not bad considering it only has a bit more than double the power of mid-range John Deere lawn tractor.

The best way to describe how the Bluecar’s glacial all-electric acceleration feels is to sing along with the opening lines of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody:

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide
No escape from reality
Open your eyes…
(Hey, look, you’re going 60 mph!)

Yes, it’s really is that gentle. And slow. For comparison, the Tesla S can hit 60 mph by the word “real” (although “Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening!” seems more appropriate).

If the Queen reference above reminded you of Mike Meyers’ Wayne’s World, you might be interested to note that the Bluecar is nearly two seconds slower than Garth’s AMC Pacer 0-60.

But unlike Garth’s ride, there’s no shuddering or shifting (the Bluecar is fixed gear). In fact, there’s no drama or excitement of any kind when accelerating. This is, I believe, a very good thing in a rent-by-the-minute car. Only someone from Plano, Texas could possibly consider the Bluecar joyride-worthy.

Upon entering the car, the high seating position is striking. While diminutive, the Bluecar’s seat height is similar to that of a Ford Escape or Honda CRV.  The car’s profile also belies the sizable headroom. At 6’4”, I had headroom to spare.

The back seats are accessible by tilting the front seats forward. While I didn’t attempt to climb back there, concerned that a call to 911 and firemen wielding the Jaws of Life may be required to extract me, they appear large enough for a pair of children or small adults.

The hatchback, which is only accessible by pulling a handle next to the driver’s seat, is large enough to stow two overhead-sized and accompanying laptop bags, or four grocery bags.

Ergonomically, the most peculiar thing about the Bluecar is the GPS’ exceedingly low position on the dashboard just above the floorboard. With the blueindy service, the GPS is used for more than navigation as it displays the live status of the service’s on-street parking spot availability. To determine the best drop-off location therefore requires taking your eyes completely off the road (as in no peripheral vision even) for a solid two seconds. As a result, the GPS is effectively useless unless you’re at a stoplight, have a copilot, or are a sociopath with no fear of vehicular manslaughter charges.

Driving Experience

At home in Maryland, I drive a Tesla S. I love my Tesla. So much, in fact, that it proudly displays its name “The Most Fabulous Object in the Universe” on start-up. The Bluecar is no Tesla. Comparing the two would be like watching a gasmobile drag a Tesla P90D. Humorous to be sure, but about as predictable as the plot to Titanic (spoiler alert: that fabulous example of twentieth-century technology also goes down in the end).

When on business in Indianapolis, I’ve driven a wide variety of rental cars, from the lovely Kia Optima Hybrid to the comic-tragic Mitsubishi Mirage. Out of technical curiosity (and desire to please my CFO during budget season) instead of renting a car I decided to try the blueindy service’s Bolloré Bluecar last week. Thankfully, the Bluecar is no Mirage!

The Bluecar and Mirage are both three-door vehicles of roughly the same size and extremely modest acceleration. Their driving characteristics, however, couldn’t be more different. Where the Bluecar is smooth and predictable, the Mirage is coarse, jittery and as terrifyingly unpredictable as a bi-polar teen.

Weighing only 200 pounds more than the featherweight Mirage (2,200 vs 1973 lbs), the Bluecar feels vastly more sure-footed. This is especially true over rough roads and railroad crossings which induce panic in both the Mirage and driver alike. And whereas the Mirage is a cacophony of unpleasant and startling noises, the Bluecar is quiet.

Steering and cornering are also incredibly different experiences. While the Bluecar has substantial body roll due to its tall and narrow stature, it tracks predictably and corners with ease. This is in stark counterpoint to the aptly named Mirage where the steering inputs result in what are best described as optical illusions on the pavement. Although I can’t imagine there could be a market for such a thing, Mitsubishi has clearly mastered the Drive-by-Jellyfish system.

Braking in the Bluecar is similar to a hybrid, modestly re-gening when you lift off the “gas” pedal and it consistently using friction brakes. Braking in the Mirage was far more visceral. Seriously, Rosary beads should be provided gratis with every Mirage rental!

Another delightful difference is cabin heating. Whereas the Mirage, like all gasmobiles, requires many long cold minutes to begin warming the cabin, the Bluecar’s electric heat comes on immediately. For short urban trips in cold weather, this is a major plus!

The 93 mile driving range of the Bluecar is more than adequate as the furthest two points in the network are less than 15 miles apart. In a week of driving I never picked up a Bluecar that wasn’t fully charged so definitely no range anxiety here.

Overall Bluecar driving impression: I found it to be practical, predictable, and utterly uninspiring. Aside from the horrible floorboard height GPS, it is a solid urban runabout vastly superior to the comparable gasmobile Mitsubishi Mirage.

The blueindy Car Sharing Service

The blueindy car sharing service launched in September inside the loop in Indianapolis. With 47 locations open to date, and many more including the Indianapolis International Airport on the way, it offers an inexpensive, app-enabled, and blissfully free on-street parking way to explore and enjoy the delights of the city.

At least, that’s the elevator pitch. What’s it like to actually use the service?

An inauspicious beginning

It was a dark and stormy night. Seriously. I was laughing between shivers as I clutched my new blueindy card in the rain, laptop bag upon my shoulder, recalling how all my father’s campfire stories seemed to start with that line. They never turned out well for the main character.

But there I was, in the cold rainy night as I attempted my first rental of a blueindy car. And my luggage was at my feet. You know, just for giggles.

You may be wondering, why would I choose such a night to try a brand new car sharing service? Is it that I’m a congenital early adopter (I come by it honestly) or, as I was beginning to suspect, more than a bit mental?

After checking out the car at the kiosk with my card, entering my PIN, and answering a few basic questions (Yes, I’m licensed, not inebriated, and not going to be transporting the recently deceased or some such), I attempted to unplug the car. It wouldn’t unplug. I tapped my card on the plug pylon again. Approvingly, it blinked green. But I still couldn’t unplug the car. I returned to the kiosk, hoping to view the presumably helpful video I’d skipped in my haste, but replaying the video was not an option (Seriously, this is a minor and needed software change because, men). After a few more failed attempts and inappropriate utterances, I called Uber.

Later that evening, now unburdened by luggage and expensive technology, I re-attempted a rental downtown. This time, despite my masculine instincts, I watched the video.

It explained that to rent a car, you must first check out at the kiosk by tapping your card, entering your PIN and confirming eligibility. Then you must walk to the driver’s side door and tap the card a second time on the reader attached to the little quarter glass to unlock the car, walk back to the passenger side and tap the card a third time on the charging pylon. Then and only then can you unhook and stow the power cable in the charging pylon.  Good to know.

This three card-tap process seems peculiarly complex. I wondered, once inside out of the rain, why did they place the door-lock reader on the driver side requiring you to walk twice into the traffic side of things rather than placing the door lock reader near the charger? Moreover, why doesn’t the car simply unlock when you tap your card on the charging pylon saving both a tap and a walk into traffic?

Thankfully, Indianapolis has first-class lane sizes so doubling the walk to the driver side isn’t too harrowing. Doing so in the cold rain while carrying a laptop, well that just sucks.

Another peculiar thing is that it takes two hands to plug/unplug the cable since the car’s charge port is covered by a spring-loaded door. Every other EV I can think of only requires a single hand. Aside from the obvious accessibility issue, and being really annoying, this design requires you to either stow your goods in an unlocked car while you mess with the cable or try to perform the requisite two-handed maneuver while juggling your valuables and/or an umbrella.

Once in the car, I was unable to find the key. The dome light was inoperable, so I searched for it using the light from my mobile. Still at a loss, I found their helpline on my mobile and called for assistance.

The key, the helpful service rep explained, should be dangling from a thin cable. After a brief search, I found it lodged between dashboard panels. Once inserted, the car turned on and I was quickly off in my garishly blueindy-branded Bluecar.

To return the car, the process is as similarly and curiously complex as the checkout. After turning the vehicle off and tapping the card to lock it, you must first tap the card on the charging pylon and then insert the cable. If you plug it in prior to tapping your card on the pylon, the service will continue billing you even though the vehicle is returned and charging. So tap and then plug, not plug and then tap. And wait for the text on your mobile confirming your rental return to make sure you got it right or you’ll be facing eye-popping charges! This makes as little sense as the driver-side mounted door lock reader.

Availability

After a week of use, it appears that blueindy does a pretty good job of ensuring vehicles are evenly distributed across their service area and open spaces to drop them off are plentiful. They have crews that redistribute the vehicles, much like bike sharing programs, to keep it this way.

The pickup/drop-off locations are numerous, particularly in the downtown area where they’re spaced every block or two. So even if a location doesn’t have a car, a quick glance at the blueindy app will guide you on a very short walk to a location that does have a car. Available cars can also be reserved, avoiding the poaching issue.

Overall, due to the plentiful spacing and admirable redistribution of cars, renting a blueindy takes less time on average than catching a ride with Uber/Lyft. Of course, this presumes that your source and destination is within blueindy’s current service area (which is quickly expanding).

Costs

Trips of 20 minutes or less cost a mere $4.68, including taxes, with an annual membership ($9.99/month for a yearly subscription), and $0.20 per minute thereafter. Given Indy’s glorious traffic conditions, nearly any two of blueindy’s current points are well within the $4.68 per trip range. Trips to and from the airport, when that location opens, will cost an additional $6 due to airport charges.

How does blueindy compare with the alternatives?

Although the Uber drivers I’ve queried are emphatic that blueindy is not a competitor, the cost and convenience of blueindy should definitely give them cause for concern. For a short trip within blueindy’s service area, Uber costs $7.25 plus tip compared to $4.68 for blueindy (35% less). An American-standard 20-minute 12 mile trip would cost $14.75+ tip each way with Uber (a $10 difference, or 65%+tip savings). If you’re a carless urban resident or frequent business traveler (as I am), these savings can add up quickly. Annualized, savings for just the workweek can soar to north of $4,800+tips per year.

If money is no object and poor quality transport is your thing, an old school taxi will set you back $27+tip for the same standard 20-minute 12 mile trip, so blueindy is $22 (or 83%+tip) less expensive in comparison. That said, as with pretty much any city in the Midwest aside from Chicago, good luck hailing a cab in Indy unless you happen to be at the airport or hotel.

Compared to car rentals, the savings are even more dramatic. A typical car rental during the business week will cost, all in, around $75 per day (plus parking fees!). Round-trip in blueindy costs as little as $9.36 + $0.50 subscription fee (88% savings) per day with no parking fees for an annualized savings north of $11,000 per year compared to business week car rental.

Finally, if you don’t value your time, a bus ride will save you nearly $3 per trip compared to blueindy if you ride alone. With 3 or 4 people, blueindy is less expensive than even a city bus.

Conclusion

Aside from the peculiar and cumbersome (yet fixable!) check in/out process, I found the blueindy car share service to be a reliable and very inexpensive alternative to the Uber/Taxi/Rental options. The mobile app, which displays open spaces and available cars, was solid as well. The Bluecar itself, aside from the horrendous GPS location on the dashboard, is practical, smooth, predictable and simple. If their service area covers your needs, blueindy is a compelling transportation option.

For more information about the blueindy service, see http://www.blue-indy.com

Stephen J. Veneruso is the VP of Engineering at the Kinney Group Inc., dedicated to harnessing the power of technology to make life better.

 
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