By Geert De Clercq
PARIS (Reuters) - The new bicycles in the Paris hiring scheme will be one third electric and easier to park but subscription fees may have to go up a little, the Velib system's new operators said.
Last month, the city of Paris awarded the operation of its bicycle hiring scheme to the Smoovengo consortium led by French bike sharing specialist Smoove in a 600-700 million euro contract that will run from 2018 to 2032.
With many Parisians living in the residential left bank and working on the right bank, Velib parking stations on the right bank tend to fill up by mid-morning, forcing users to park far from their workplace, while users working late have trouble to park their bike near their home in the evening.
The new Velib bikes, which will go into operation from January, have a locking system that doubles the parking capacity of each bike station, which should reduce congestion, Smoove director Laurent Mercat told reporters on Wednesday.
Movable docking stations will also make it possible to create temporary Velib parking stations near events.
The city hopes that by making a third of the bicyles electric, it will also solve the problem of Velibs disappearing from Paris' hilly neighborhoods such as Montmartre, Montparnasse and Buttes Chaumont, where users happily cycle downhill but rarely bring back the bikes to high-lying bike stations.
The bikes will also have bluetooth connections to smartphones, with apps that can guide cyclists through traffic-free streets in Paris and offer sighseeing tours for tourists.
Later this year, the city of Paris will decide on a new Velib subscription rate, which has been unchanged at 29 euros ($31.50) per year for the past decade.
"We are not planning a major subscription fee increase, we do not want to lose our customers," said Marie-Pierre de la Gontrie, head of the Syndicat Velib Metropole which oversees the scheme, but she added that the electric bikes would cost more.
Smoove's Mercat said that since the previous JCDecaux system was partly financed by outdoor advertising revenues - which will not be the case under the new contract - it was probable that rates would increase slightly.
Only 30-40 percent of Velib's cost is covered by subscriptions, the rest comes from subsidies.
Sturdier bikes, a locking cable integrated into the handle bar and a GPS-tracking system will reduce vandalism and theft, which affect about 15 percent of the bicycles per year.
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Alison Williams)