’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.


Melting glacier in China draws tourists, climate worries

This Sept. 21, 2018 photo shows a Chinese Academy of Sciences research team atop the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the southern province of Yunnan in China. (AP)
Updated 21 October 2018
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Melting glacier in China draws tourists, climate worries

  • The team operates remote sensors that collect data on temperature, wind speed, rainfall, and humidity
  • Millions of people each year are drawn to Baishui’s frosty beauty on the southeastern edge of the Third Pole

YULONGXUESHAN, China: The loud crack rang out from the fog above the Baishui No. 1 Glacier as a stone shard careened down the ice, flying past Chen Yanjun as he operated a GPS device.
More projectiles were tumbling down the hulk of ice that scientists say is one of the world’s fastest melting glaciers.
“We should go,” said the 30-year-old geologist. “The first rule is safety.”
Chen hiked away and onto a barren landscape once buried beneath the glacier. Now there is exposed rock littered with oxygen tanks discarded by tourists visiting the 15,000-foot (4,570-meter) -high blanket of ice in southern China.
Millions of people each year are drawn to Baishui’s frosty beauty on the southeastern edge of the Third Pole __ a region in Central Asia with the world’s third largest store of ice after Antarctica and Greenland that’s roughly the size of Texas and New Mexico combined.
Third Pole glaciers are vital to billions of people from Vietnam to Afghanistan. Asia’s 10 largest rivers __ including the Yangtze, Yellow, Mekong, and Ganges __ are fed by seasonal melting.
“You’re talking about one of the world’s largest freshwater sources,” said Ashley Johnson, energy program manager at the National Bureau of Asian Research, an American think tank. “Depending on how it melts, a lot of the freshwater will be leaving the region for the ocean, which will have severe impacts on water and food security.”
Earth is today 1 degree Centigrade (1.8 Fahrenheit) hotter than pre-industrial levels because of climate change __ enough to melt 28 to 44 percent of glaciers worldwide, according to a new report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Temperatures are expected to keep rising.
Baishui is about as close to the Equator as Tampa, Florida. And the impacts of climate change already are dramatic.
The glacier has lost 60 percent of its mass and shrunk 250 meters (820 feet) since 1982, according to a 2018 report in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
Scientists found in 2015 that 82 percent of glaciers surveyed in China had retreated. They warned that the effects of glacier melting on water resources are gradually becoming “increasingly serious” for China.
“China has always had a freshwater supply problem with 20 percent of the world’s population but only 7 percent of its freshwater,” said Jonna Nyman, an energy security lecturer at the University of Sheffield. “That’s heightened by the impact of climate change.”
For years, scientists have observed global warming change Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the Chinese province of Yunnan.
One research team has tracked Baishui’s retreat of about 30 yards (27 meters) per year over the past decade. Flowers, such as snow lotus, have rooted in exposed earth, says Wang Shijin, a glaciologist and director of the Yulong Snow Mountain Glacial and Environmental Observation Research Station, part of a network run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Nestled into a suburb of Lijiang, population 1.2 million, the station is home to Wang and his team: geologist and drone operator Chen, postgraduate glaciology student Zhou Lanyue and electrical engineer Zhang Xing, a private contractor.
After breakfast, the team heads off by van for the day’s mission. A cable car carries them up to a majestic view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
The team shuffles past a line of tourists __ many in red ponchos, most sucking oxygen canisters, a few vomiting from altitude sickness __ before descending to replace a broken meteorological station.
The team operates remote sensors that collect data on temperature, wind speed, rainfall, and humidity. Other sensors measure water flow in streams fed by melted ice. Cold, downpours, rock slides, gales and glacier movement break the equipment.
“It is not easy to encounter good weather here,” Wang said.
This weather will ensure Yunnan has plenty of freshwater while other glacier loss poses serious risk of drought across the Third Pole, he said.
The next day, the team wore crampons while repairing more sensors scattered across the glacier’s crags.
“Where we’re at right now was back in 2008 all covered with ice,” Wang said. “From here to there at the side, the glacier shrank about 20 to 30 meters. The shrinking is very remarkable.”
The team forded streams and jumped crevasses in search of long iron bars they previously embedded in the ice. GPS tells them how much the bars, and thus the glacier, have moved. They also measure how much height the glacier has lost during the summer.
Back on the viewing platform, Che launched a buzzing camera drone over the white expanse. The photographs help tell a story of staggering loss. A quarter of its ice has vanished since 1957 along with four of its 19 glaciers, researchers have found.
Changes to the Baishui provide the opportunity to educate visitors about global warming, Wang said.
Last year, 2.6 million tourists visited the mountain, according to Yulong Snow Mountain park officials.
On blustery day recently, hundreds of tourists climbed wooden stairs through grey fog to snap selfies in front of the glacier.
Hou Yugang said he wasn’t too bothered over climate change and Baishui’s melting. “I don’t think about it now because it still has a long way to go,” he said.
To protect the glacier, authorities have limited the number of visitors to 10,000 a day and have banned hiking on the ice. They plan to manufacture snow and to dam streams to increase humidity that slows melting.
Security guard Yang Shaofeng has witnessed a warming world melting this mountain, which his local Naxi minority community considers sacred.
Yang remembers being able to see the glacier’s lowest edge from his home village. No longer.
“Only when we climb up can we see it,” he said sadly, as tourists lined up to have their names engraved on medallions bearing the glacier’s image.
The etching is already outdated.