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European Green Capital Award - Citizen Diaries - Gloria Leroy

Gloria Leroy, female entrepreneur, vélotaxi (bicycle taxi) driver and soft mobility promoter

What’s the story behind the vélotaxi?

It all started while reading a local magazine. I came across an article that was describing the opportunity to launch a business without the need of a classic loan. I was wondering how this was possible and understood that ADIE (L'Association pour le droit à l'initiative économique or The Association for the right to economic initiative) existed to help people like me, who would like to launch a business and who are not considered eligible by banks to get a loan. The small picture of a bike added to the article got my attention immediately.  

The idea gripped my mind and I looked more into the usefulness of a bike taxi service in Grenoble. When I looked for business options, forty-eight hours later I had the answer: I was going to ride that bike with a social objective. Furthermore, the idea of being a female entrepreneur in my city, offering green public transportation services to citizens gave me even more confidence.  

I laid the first stone of the project in June 2015, a period when bike delivery in general started to emerge as well. In September that year I received the bike, and in October I rode my first trips. 

Who helped you to transform the bike into a taxi? 

I looked for the goodwill of people around me who were ready to give a hand. I discovered bike technicians and bike designers and since then I collaborate every day to improve and optimise the lifespan of the vélotaxis. My story is based on human connections and a passion for bikes that other people share with me for this project (you can find it here).  

Do you need a driving licence for your vélotaxi?

Not at all, I am riding a bike. However, knowing the driving code is a plus.  

It is important to note that the vélotaxis are not classical bikes, considering their functioning and their size. However, we are lucky in Grenoble to have great biking infrastructures.  

How do you communicate about your project and whom are you transporting? 

The diversity of my job is a fantastic characteristic. I help seniors and pupils commute, while during weekends I take care of parcel deliveries. It is a 38-hour full-time job. To me, it is essential to get to know the people I transport and their habits in order to build a relationship with them. 

Regarding the communication plan, you may smile, but there exists a “Facebook for seniors”. It is enough that one of them sees a post about the vélotaxi on her or his timeline for word-of-mouth to start giving results. Their children and grandchildren who grew up with Facebook inform them as well about the vélotaxi service once they see our posts.  

Finally, it happens that once we have a client that lives in a senior residence, she or he will of course spread the information about us. 

I also have young customers. This way, mothers don’t have to leave their job at 3:30 PM to drive their children to judo or to swimming class. Here again, while waiting with the vélotaxi for a pupil in front of the school, parents see me and ask for more information. This is my promotion channel. 

Tell us more about “Les boîtes à vélo” Association (“The bikes boxes” Association)  

Today, the vélotaxi is part of “Les boîtes à vélo”, the association that groups all entrepreneurs that work only by bike. It was created in Nantes (European Green Capital in 2019) under the impulse of the Nantes City Hall. When we heard about this in 2016, we also  requested to have “Les boîtes à vélo Grenoble”. The idea proliferated in the country and by 2019 we were so many across France that “Les boîtes à vélo France” saw the light.  

In this association, there is a great deal of jobs that I discover at which I’m amazed every day. For example, the latest person that joined “Les boîtes à vélo France” is a 40-year-old man who created a carwash for bikes and generated a job for himself. You see, the jobs done by bike range from vélotaxi to technicians that will come to your office or at home to repair your bike, bicycle plumber, bicycle electrician, and bicycle food truck. Finally, personal and household services such as hairdressers and estheticians are also commuting by bike.  

The “Les boîtes à vélo France” association allows us to team up and show others how much can be done with a customised bike. Considering that it is still a fresh business model, sticking together on a local and national level makes me feel that I am a part of to something growing. I feel that I belong.  

Furthermore, being together helps the association defend our interests and show that despite the fact that we work on two wheels, it is still labour. It has been 7 years since I’ve been trying to raise the awareness of national authorities about the vélotaxi activity that I strongly consider to be a personal and household service. In a way, I do the same work as a homecare assistant. Therefore, if my activity will be recognised as such by the government and I will receive financial support, I would love to collaborate with women that are looking for social reinsertion jobs as there is high demand.  

Is vélotaxi a solution for cities across Europe? 

The vélotaxi surely is a solution for any city as seniors and children exist everywhere. We offer secured transportation to those that can’t move by themselves. We can also reach where cars nowadays have difficulties to move forward in the city. 

Looking ahead, tomorrow’s cars won’t exist anymore in city centres. Vélotaxis are therefore a solution to make cities’ traffic more fluid and to ensure the decarbonization of our cities by 2050, as planned within the EU Green Deal.

Follow Gloria’s activity here.