VeloMetro: A New Wave of Sustainable Vehicle Sharing
When John Stonier presented VeloMetro’s sustainable vehicle sharing concept, he was met with applause and genuine enthusiasm from approximately 1,200 attendees at the GreenBiz VERGE conference in San Francisco, held in late October 2014.
VeloMetro is introducing a new sustainable transportation sharing service to Vancouver, based on the ‘Velocar’. Graphic by VeloMetro.
The Velometro concept is based on an old idea combined with the (relatively new) business model of car sharing. Instead of a car, what Stonier and his team have devised is a three-wheeled human-powered with electric-assist vehicle. Stonier says that he is “filling the gap between bike sharing and car sharing to create convenient, affordable and sustainable transportation for the urban dweller.”
PR Associates first met with VeloMetro’s Co-Founder and CEO, John Stonier, while attending the VERGE conference, and was later invited to meet-up at the burgeoning start-up company’s Vancouver, B.C. headquarters. Upon arrival, we discussed VeloMetro’s plans, as well as taking the three-wheeled prototype out for a test drive!
The fully-enclosed tricycle initially started as a concept by a pre-World War I French inventor named Charles Mochet, who at the time was interested in small three and four wheeled, pedaled vehicles for personal transportation. Since then, velomobiles have been used for racing and personal projects – but never as ride sharing device for busy urbanites.
All that is about to change when a fleet of 50 “velocars” will become a part of a number of pilot trials in local communities and a university campus beginning in 2015. Stonier explains, “The pilots will test our prototype vehicles and user sharing systems. As a result, our final production version will benefit from the experience we gain from the pilots prior to embarking on higher volume production.”
The Velocar is different from contemporary low-slung velomobiles because it is specifically designed for easy use by anyone. The vehicle has a step into side door entry, and an upright riding position that allows for better visibility for both the rider and motorists. It is lockable and provides basic cargo space, giving it car-like functionality while allowing users to ride in the sun or rain without concern. In addition, by offering Velocars as a shared fleet, the cost barrier is practically removed, thus making it affordable for anyone to use as an everyday urban personal transportation solution.
The Car Sharing Model
The idea behind VeloMetro’s vehicle sharing program will focus on serving central neighbourhoods within city and town centres. Stonier explains, “Our goal is to make the experience simple and convenient. Because it is a one-way vehicle sharing model, it is simple and flexible for regular commuting and taking care of errands in urban areas.” We also see the service connecting with transit users who can use the velocars to get around after departing the train or bus, providing a “last mile” solution to suburban transit commuters. The Velocar can park on any street, and because our sharing system knows where the vehicle is and the status of its battery charge, users are assured reliable service and a great experience.”
According to Stonier, the car sharing services such as Car2Go and co-op, Modo, have developed an enthusiastic user base familiar with vehicle sharing. In addition, owner operators such as VeloMetro can learn how to manage fleets and anticipate customer expectations. After the pilot test is complete Stonier will configure his fleet numbers based on the size of the urban area. Stonier adds, “Our shared fleet size will vary by community, but we can serve both large and small community centres. We expect a large city like Vancouver could take hundreds of velocars to meet demand.”
For Stonier, a Chartered Accountant, who has a background in telecom, renewable energy and electric vehicles, the key to success is making the vehicles readily available in urban neighborhoods and easy to use. “For people interested in renting a velocar, they need only be 18 years of age and possess a valid credit card to get started. Then, in minutes, using only their smartphone, they can sign-up, locate, and access the vehicle to get moving.” Stonier says while adding, “each velocar will include a built-in display (about the size of a tablet device) that will present all users a short introductory video.”
Built to Accommodate Anyone
Stonier describes how the Velocar is built to accommodate virtually anyone because it is easy to ride and can go almost anywhere a bicycle can go. The vehicle weight is approximately 118 kilograms (260 pounds), and with the power assist, it can move rapidly up hills and along urban streets with ease. When I took the velocar for a test ride, it was instant fun. It has smooth steering, easy (regenerative) braking and a fantastic turning radius. The Velocar also has storage space for groceries or packages and even a hook for dry cleaning that is fully enclosed protecting riders and their cargo from the elements.
The Velocar will have an auxiliary power supply from its 80-watt rooftop solar panel. The battery has a range of 100 km and takes two to three hours and 20 cents of electricity to charge when plugged into any 120-volt outlet. However, according to Stonier, because each vehicle is internet-connected and tracked by GPS, VeloMetro is alerted to which vehicles need recharging or a quick battery swap. In addition, real-time monitoring provides the ability for users to find and reserve Velocars, and for VeloMetro fleet operations to maintain them efficiently.
Expansion to Progressive Cities
While attending the VERGE conference, Stonier met with many people interested in seeing the Velocar sharing service in their community. Looking beyond Vancouver, Stonier is confident the Pacific Northwest is ideal. “Portland would be the quintessential city for our Velocar because of its progressive nature and extensive cycling infrastructure.” However, Stonier also believes the Velocar has a much larger role to play in growing urban centres around the globe and wherever there is a need for economic, sustainable personal transportation with car-like functionality.
A Beacon for Green Economic Development
The VeloMetro “Velocar” is fully enclosed to protect the rider and their cargo from the elements. Graphic by VeloMetro.
The early success of VeloMetro has not come just from inside the company of eight full-time and three part-time staff. Stonier is quick to give credit to his partners that include government programs such as IRAP and EBC. Referring to the business accelerator VentureLabs, Stonier says, “they have been fabulous support providing us with terrific business advisors, meeting space, and connecting VeloMetro to events and forums to help promote our company.” Stonier continues, “It was the Vancouver Economic Commission who linked us to the VERGE Accelerate program. They see us as a beacon for their green economic development mandate, and we tick many boxes in that area.”
Stonier explains that the network of strategic partners has been vital to keeping VeloMetro active well beyond its facility in Vancouver. “These accelerators really do help small businesses to thrive, and it’s well known that small businesses are the ones that create the most jobs in our economy.”
The next steps for Stonier and his team are to begin production on the 50 Velocars for the upcoming pilot fleets, and securing investors for future growth. In addition, they will continue reaching out to interested cities and communities who recognize the value and potential of such a convenient and sustainable vehicle sharing service.
Edward Munro is a Communications & Sustainability Consultant with PR Associates, a Vancouver-based public relations and communication firm.