Potential Speed Bumps Ahead For BlueSG Electric Car Sharing
After months of anticipation, Singapore’s first large-scale electric vehicle (EV) car-sharing programme, BlueSG, was launched last week. Beginning Dec 12, an initial fleet of 80 EVs and 32 charging stations are available for public use.
BlueSG’s subscription plans offer two options: a premium yearly plan and a weekly membership plan. For the yearly plan, members pay SGD$15 a month to enjoy a rental rate of SGD$0.33 a minute for a minimum of 15 minutes.
For the weekly plan, members do not need to pay a recurring fee but are charged SGD$0.50 per minute. According to BlueSG, a subsidiary of French transportation group Bolloré Group, it has 2,000 members pre-registered prior to the launch.
By end-2017, BlueSG aims to grow its fleet to 110 EVs with access to 42 BlueSG charging stations that offer 165 charging points across the island.
In the agreement inked with the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the BlueSG’s 10-year operating concession requires a 1,000-strong fleet supported by 500 charging stations with over 2,000 charging points. After 10 years, the infrastructure and fleet will revert to public ownership.
The rental programme uses a fleet of Bolloré Bluecar, a three-door hatchback EV supplied by Bolloré. The EV is designed by Pininfarina and manufactured by Italy’s automotive company Cecomp under a Bolloré- Pininfarina joint venture.
With a 50kW electric motor powered by a 30kWh lithium polymer battery, the four-seter Bluecar can go as far as 250km on a single charge. BlueSG says the EV car-sharing fleet in Singapore will be the second largest such programme in the world after its Autolib’ service in Paris.
The Hassle: New User Registration
However, that BlueSG’s user registration process could be improved further. Based on its user guide, users without an EZ Link or NETS Flashpay card — or those who do not wish to use them within the BlueSG network — would receive a BlueSG card via mail.
The requirement of a physical card either way seems an unusual and unnecessary barrier to entry for new members. This may deter some potential users who prefer card-less usage.
To illustrate, part of why bike-sharing services took off is that new users can instantly access the services, going from registration, deposit payment and unlocking a bicycle in a matter of minutes with just their smartphones.
With the right technological adjustments to the infrastructure, BlueSG may gain more traction amongst Singaporeans if it considers a shift towards a smartphone-based user verification system.
For example, it may use an app in combination with a Bluetooth connection, similar to what bike-sharing services implement.
Another issue is that the rental programme’s point-to-point nature could also discourage users. In a nutshell, users need to pick up their rental EV at a BlueSG station and return it at any other BlueSG station to end the rental charges.
According to the guide, users are advised to reserve an available BlueSG EV at least 30 minutes in advance and to book a parking spot at least 45 minutes ahead of time when returning the EV.
That means users still need other forms of transportations to get to a BlueSG station. Apart from the obvious inconvenience that may encourage people to forgo the service entirely, this requirement may also cause other, unexpected issues.
For example, potential users may choose a bike-sharing service to get them to a BlueSG station. This may end up causing clutter at the stations as the number of bicycles parked there increase, especially by millennials who just want to try driving an EV.
Not Everyone knows How to Plug in the Charger
This is not to mention potential carelessness from the end-user side, who for example may not properly plug in a rented Bluecar upon returning it to a BlueSG station. While BlueSG would presumably be able to monitor each car’s power level, aspects such as plugging in the charging cable require manual action.
At the very least, this may require BlueSG to station additional manpower at its stations to mitigate such risks. Otherwise, user-related issues may cause further problems for BlueSG to navigate around, such as inadequately charged vehicles that lead to negative user experience.
To address this matter, BlueSG may consider a free-floating service that does not require users to return the EVs to fixed stations. Instead, users may be more encouraged if they can end the rental clock after parking the EV anywhere.
This may also help increase the accessibility of the service. While increasing the number of locations is part of BlueSG’s plans, going by stations for pick-up and return locations remains a negative for some users.
The Fare: Go EV, ICE or UBER
Given the issues above, the usage rates may also give users pause. While it has been proven that commuters often would not mind paying for added convenience of using e-hailing options as a door-to-door service with its high reliability and availability, in BlueSG’s case the convenience factor remains debatable.
For the cheaper SGD$0.33/minute rate, users need to pay SGD$15 monthly before paying the charges for each trip they undertake with an EV that they must drive by themselves.
It is not a compelling financial proposition given they still must cough up for first-mile and last-mile connectivity to the stations. Users may find the rates of other car rental services more attractive:
- Smove: SGD$50 for the first three hours (SGD$0.27 per minute)
- Whizzcar: SGD$13 for the first hour (SGD$0.22 per minute)
Furthermore, ride-hailing services may also be more attractive given its added convenience of door-to-door transportation. As an example, a 9-minute Uber ride from Tan Quee Lan Street to Stanley Street costs as low as SGD$11 or SGD$1.22 a minute.
For roughly an additional SGD$1 a minute, passengers do not have to worry about driving the vehicle nor about where to return the car and getting to their final destination from the BlueSG station.
Additionally, it’s unclear if the BlueSG app is integrated with a travel-planning service such as Waze to help users choose the fastest route to their destination.
This is critical as factors beyond the user’s control such as traffic jams, traffic light delays and pedestrian crossings add to the rental cost.
BlueSG & Singapore’s Driverless Future
It is early days still for BlueSG and time is needed to see whether its fixed-station approach will take off with Singaporean users. Looking ahead, taking a longer-term perspective means the service may benefit from tailoring itself towards a driverless future.
To recap, the LTA has set out its vision of a driverless passenger car service which it said could happen in Singapore within 10 to 15 years. That is roughly around the time BlueSG’s 10-year concession ends.
Aligning with that vision could involve providing a rental service based on a free-floating location to meet on-demand mobility. This may accelerate its fleet expansion as it can increase the number of cars without being limited by station infrastructure.
While recharging could become an issue, BlueSG could provide incentives to encourage users to return its cars to a charging station while the charging infrastructure across the island is being developed.
Over time, technological advancements will allow the self-driving vehicles to recharge as needed. There is even now possibility in the future of such vehicles recharging while on the move.
Singapore is an ideal place for Bolloré Group to push further into self-driving technology given the various incentives from its government to encourage the segment’s development.
By marching in lockstep in Singapore’s government-led driverless vehicle push, BlueSG could even potentially become the world’s first self-driving car-sharing fleet in the world.