Bike-sharing service Billy Bike has announced the company is bankrupt and its assets in the hands of a receiver, including its stable of bicycles.
The company blames two years of a pandemic, which put severe pressure on the sale of passes to users in the 13 Brussels communes covered out of 19. CEO and founder Pierre de Schaetzen explained the difference between the market for bicycle sharing and that for scooters.
“The scooter market mainly affects 15 to 25-year-olds,” he told RTBF. “This is an audience that easily switches from one operator to another. The result is a market that grows faster and is, therefore, more profitable. On the other hand, the shared bicycle market is slower, because it reaches an older public who find it more difficult to change their habits. It adapts less easily to the market,” he said.
However, despite the news announced on the company’s Facebook page, its own website continues to display details of the zone covered, tariffs and more, including an annual subscription costing €599. The company also recently announced it would be augmenting its existing stock of 650 bikes with 1,000 more.
That was not to be, and as well as the pandemic, the company faced other problems: an increase in the cost of bikes due to higher prices for raw materials; a preference among younger people to switch to electric scooters, and the danger bikes will be damaged once parked.
Billy Bike was then faced with strong competition from Villo!, a more established brand which also just happens to be financed by the Brussels Region. Early entrants like Uber and Lime have already pulled out of Brussels, and Villo! could be set to follow.
“The most important difficulty is maintenance,” Jerôme Blanquevoye, development director at Villo!, told the RTBF.
“Any furniture that is in the street is subject to aggression (weather, misuse). Not everyone has necessarily assessed the additional cost of maintaining the entire system over time.”
Billy Bike announced its decision on Facebook: “In the next few days/weeks, we will end the Billy service. This is a difficult moment for our teams, who have worked so hard to offer a quality service to the 25,000 Brusseleirs who rely on our bikes to get around the capital.”
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“We are proud to look back on the past 5 years. In 2016, we came up with the idea of offering an alternative to short car journeys in the city, with the aim of improving the quality of life for all Brussels residents. The launch of the test phase a few months later was a world first. Since then, nearly 2 million kilometres have been ridden on a Billy. A saving of 300 tons of CO2 compared to using a car.”
Credit packs and active subscriptions will be reimbursed. Subscriptions, in addition, will remain active until the service ends, without having to be renewed.