’Emergency plan’ for Paris bike-hire system as debacle deepens

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File photo showing ‘rent a bike’ stations on a pavement, as companies compete for the Parisian market. (Reuters)
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Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger arrives to Paris 'Hotel de Ville' to meet with the city's mayor. (Reuters)
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French President Emmanuel Macron riding his bicycle prior to his election as President of the Republic. (Reuters)
Updated 04 May 2018
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’Emergency plan’ for Paris bike-hire system as debacle deepens

PARIS: The city of Paris is scaling back its once-vaunted Velib bike-hire service after a chaotic change of operator that has infuriated cyclists, many of whom had hoped to be back in the saddle for the start of the summer.
Smovengo, which took over the system late last year, unveiled Thursday an “emergency plan” demanded by the city to end the crisis that began after it won the contract to run one of the world’s biggest bike-share systems.
It has abandoned for now its target of opening 1,400 stations to replace those run by the previous operator, and pledged to fix the technology bugs blocking hundreds of bikes.
So far Smovengo has built only 670 stations, about 400 of which are powered by batteries — a stop-gap solution while Smovengo tries to get them hooked up to the electrical grid but which has been fraught with problems.
It will also pull from service all electric bikes — promoted as a key feature of the new system — while replacing within a week some 3,000 of the 9,000 mechanical bikes rolled out so far.
The 9,000 bikes are still a far cry from the 20,000 bikes that were supposed to be up and running by end-March, a delay that has cost Smovengo millions of euros in fines.
Further slowing the rollout is an ongoing strike by Smovengo employees demanding the return of a 45 percent bonus for night shifts and double pay on weekends — terms they enjoyed under the system’s previous operator.
“The situation is bad and unacceptable,” said Jorge Azevedo, the head of Smovengo, an upstart firm whose previous bike-sharing programs were limited to much smaller schemes in cities like Vancouver or Moscow.
Cyclists are clearly fed up, with subscribers falling to some 220,000 as of end-April down from 290,000 for the former service.
And tourists to the City of Light are in for a shock as well, as Smovengo has upped the price of day passes to five euros ($6) from just 1.70 euros before.
The fiasco has become a public-relations disaster for Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo, whose administration is accused by critics of severely underestimating the difficulty in tearing up and replacing thousands of docking stations.
City lawmakers aligned with President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move party on Thursday renewed their demand for the Smovengo contract to be canceled.
“The design, the rollout, the management, it’s all pathetic. Smovengo has to go,” said Jerome Dubus, a spokesman for the group.


Mariam’s journey to North Pole ‘an inspiration for Saudi women’

Crossing the unwelcoming terrain of the North Pole is not for the faint-hearted. Mariam Hamidaddin’s brave and inspirational journey to the top of the earth was ended by the threat of frostbite. Reuters
Updated 20 May 2018
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Mariam’s journey to North Pole ‘an inspiration for Saudi women’

  • Mariam Hamidaddin was one of 11 women from Europe and the Middle East taking part in the recent Women’s Euro-Arabian Polar Expedition, an initiative aimed to foster greater dialogue and inspire women to push their limits and fulfill their ambitions.
  • Two weeks later and Hamidaddin still could not feel her fingertips. She struggles to cut a steak and needs help to tie her shoelaces. Medics say it could be months or even years before she fully recovers.

LONDON: Mariam Hamidaddin was skiing toward the North Pole in temperatures as low as minus 38 C when she was advised by her team leader to give up on her dream and take a helicopter back to base camp.
She did so reluctantly. Frostbite had taken its toll on the Jeddah-born entrepreneur’s hands, but with no previous experience of such climates, Hamidaddin was unaware of the severity. Only when she was assessed by a Russian medic who spoke pidgin English did she appreciate how close she was to losing her fingers.
“The words he told me were: ‘No chop’ ... which was scary but also a great relief to hear,” said Hamidaddin, one of 11 women from Europe and the Middle East taking part in the recent Women’s Euro-Arabian Polar Expedition, an initiative aimed to foster greater dialogue and inspire women to push their limits and fulfill their ambitions. Team leader Felicity Aston deliberately chose women with no athletic or Arctic experience with the intention of demonstrating that anybody can achieve their goals with determination.
As Hamidaddin discovered, however, having an expert on hand helps. The transition from frostnip to frostbite can be a matter of five or 10 minutes, so it is essential for people in extreme weather to pay attention to their body. The tiniest sign can help avoid severe consequences.
The 32-year-old had followed all the instructions learned during training camps in Iceland and Oman: She kept moving to circulate her blood and had not removed her gloves even once in the Arctic. She felt pain, yes, but the entire team had frostnip, so why should she consider quitting?
Fortunately for her future — and her fingers — the decision was taken for her.

Mariam Hamidaddin was an inspirational member of the North Pole expedition before a doctor’s verdict cut her journey short.


“There was no proper moment where I realized I had frostbite,” Hamidaddin told Arab News after returning to the heat of Saudi Arabia. “If it was up to me, I would have wanted to continue, so I am extremely thankful that I was asked to evacuate because the frostbite gradually got worse and worse.
Basically, the team leader saved my fingers.”
Two weeks later and Hamidaddin still could not feel her fingertips. She struggles to cut a steak and needs help to tie her shoelaces. Medics say it could be months or even years before she fully recovers.
This month on her Instagram feed @InTuneToTheSound, she is posting photos of her journey in non-chronological order. The intention is to be “open and vulnerable and hopefully inspire people.” In a post, a video shows her typing at a computer using only her right pinky finger.
“There is a negative media perception of what a Saudi woman looks like and what she can and can’t do,” said Hamidaddin. “For this reason, it’s important for us to show that what you see in the media isn’t necessary a true reflection of who we truly are.
“It is also important to share our failures as well because when I see success upon success, I cannot connect with that. I am human, I have weakness and I fall, and I need to know that when I fall, I can rise again. Those stories are the ones that will connect most with people.”
With Saudi Arabia women now competing at the Olympic Games, being allowed to attend football matches at certain stadiums and the imminent lifting of a ban on driving, opportunities for women in the Kingdom are blossoming.
Hamidaddin, founder of the Humming Tree, a co-working space and community center that focuses on creativity and wellbeing, said she sees examples of strong, athletic and confident women every day.
“You can see them everywhere — women running, biking, climbing mountains,” she said.
“So we are already there. It’s just a matter of sharing these stories more. We are strong women; we know what we want and we find a way around it. We do what we need to do and we get it done. The fact that driving now is going to be open for us, just makes all that easier.”
Although Hamidaddin’s journey to the North Pole was cut short, the team’s doctor said she could wait out the expedition in the warmth of base camp and celebrate with her team when they reached their destination.
It was an opportunity that, even with frostbite, she was never going to turn down. What she found at the top of the world was a beautiful, dreamlike landscape — and, perhaps fittingly, a perpetual chase to reach her goal.
“Unlike the South Pole, which is a landmass, the North Pole is a constantly drifting landscape. It’s sea ice on top of the Arctic Ocean and it’s always moving, so you are constantly trying to catch it,” she said.
“One minute you’re on top of the world taking a photo and by the time you’re done taking it, well, the North Pole is a few miles away. You have to keep trying to catch it.”