All shared e-scooters will come to a stop in Paris as of 1 September. The electric vehicles were voted out in a city-wide referendum by a minority with very clear ideas: only 8 per cent of Parisians cast their ballot on 2 April, but 89% of them agreed that it was time to outlaw ‘les trottinettes’ (e-scooters in French).
Perhaps Parisians feared that someone would eventually ‘e-scooter’ their way down the staircase of Montmartre’s Sacré Coeur basilica. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time a national landmark and e-vehicles meet: last May, an American tourist was caught on video throwing her e-scooter down Rome’s iconic Spanish Steps, causing 25,000-euro worth of damage and incalculable disbelief.
Whichever grievances prompted Parisians to say the final no, it was undoubtedly the same set of concerns that other cities struggle with: poor parking, reckless driving, lack of safety, serious injuries, multiple people riding on the same vehicle, conflict with other road users, e-vehicles dumped in rivers, canals and other water basins…the list goes on.
Unsurprisingly, then, the Paris ban triggered a never-before-seen reflection on the future of e-scooters. If the French capital took safety and bad behaviour concerns seriously, why shouldn’t other cities? The question bounced across digital media all week, leading to the inevitable guessing game: who will be next?
You’ve been warned
In Belgium, Elke Van den Brandt, Brussels Capital Region’s Mobility Minister, issued a sharp warning just after the Paris vote: if attempts to improve safety and regulate shared e-scooters usage won’t succeed in the Brussels region, within a year, “other stricter measures will be considered. For this, we are looking carefully at what is happening in other cities.”
Last summer, Brussels imposed new rules, including a 20 km/h speed limit on roads, an eight km/h limit on pedestrian areas, as well as a ban on riding on sidewalks. This latter is a particularly crucial measure to protect the elderly and people with a vision and mobility impairment “who choose their itinerary according to how freely they can walk on the sidewalks”, Van den Brandt remarked.
The need for protection extends to e-scooter riders themselves: vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians are at high risk of getting injured in a road accident. The number of accidents involving e-scooters tripled in the Brussels region in just a year, data gathered between the spring of 2021 and 2022 shows.
In addition to the new rules, the Brussels regional government plans to install up to 1,000 e-scooter drop-off stations to tackle rampant parking issues. Throughout the city, it’s relatively common to see e-scooters abandoned in the middle of walking and pedestrian paths, sidewalks, city parks‘ footpaths or taking up space on bike racks.
Friend or foe?
And yet, beyond these urban challenges, for mobility experts e-scooters remain a strong ally of green and sustainable mobility in cities.
The two-wheelers may contribute to reducing private car use, improve air quality and congestion and are a more environmentally friendly way to commute in urban areas. The e-vehicles are also an affordable green mode of transport as they are considerably cheaper than shared cars, and can be used to move between public transportation networks rapidly.
For Peter Staelens, Head of Mobility at Eurocities, the two-wheelers can positively impact urban mobility, but only if adequately regulated. “Shared e-scooters have the potential to become part of a wider mix of sustainable transport solutions in cities, but their deployment needs to be embedded in local planning strategies, regulations and enforcement procedures,” Staelens remarks.
Indeed, the discussion on the benefits and challenges of e-scooters in urban areas is divisive. This is especially true for cities as it forces them to choose between competing priorities.
As it seems, municipalities are unlikely to draw final conclusions any time soon. Instead, many local governments have chosen to adopt a middle-of-the-road approach: on the one hand, they’re tightening the rules to tackle unruly behaviours. On the other, cities are seeking private operators’ crucial help, prompting e-vehicle companies to do their share if they want to remain in business.
Zigzagging around Europe
Like in the Brussels capital region, a clampdown on unregulated parking, restrictions on same-scooter double riding and speed limits are high on cities’ agenda across Europe.
Last year, Rome announced new measures to ban riders below 18, bring the maximum speed to 20 km per hour and cap the number of operators from seven to three.
Further north, Riga recently submitted a proposal to the Latvian parliament to allow e-scooter parking only in designated areas, to revoke or suspend the license of sharing services, set speed limits, and impose license plates for e-scooters.
To tackle unruly parking, the city of Helsinki is considering new rules that would impose parking of shared e-scooters on designated locations only, as is now the case for shared e-bikes.
In Czechia, the city of Brno recently enforced new shared e-scooter parking regulations that resulted in fines for operators disobeying the law.
London, meanwhile, devised its own working model. The city has outlawed all private e-scooters; meanwhile, it is running a shared e-scooters trial until October 2023.
As part of the London test, safety features have been installed in the shared e-vehicles that limit their speed to 20 km/h and keep the lights on throughout each ride. By rewarding rule-abiding operators, the British capital could inspire other municipalities.
“We are currently running a competitive procurement process for the new phase of London’s rental e-scooter trial, and operators will be selected on their ability to meet strict safety requirements and high operating standards,” Transport for London (TfL) – the body in charge of the city’s transport network – remarks on its website.
Operators, step to the plate
So what does the future of e-scooters in cities look like? Should these e-vehicles be crossed out of urban mobility plans? Staelens think not. “Despite the negative outcome of the Paris referendum, Eurocities continuously encourages close dialogue and cooperation between shared micro-mobility operators and city authorities,” Eurocities’ Head of Mobility says.
“To address the negative impact and opinions currently associated with e-scooter use, it is also important that companies become more transparent about the performance of their fleet and operations in terms of safety and sustainability, as well as their contribution to modal shift,” Staelens suggests.
As it seems, operators’ commercial success will partly depend on their ability to collaborate with local governments and develop shared solutions that benefit all parties involved.
Companies like Lime and Bolt – two of Europe’s most popular electric scooter companies – are reading the room and taking action. In Paris, where it’s forbidden for two people to ride on the same vehicle, Lime has reportedly installed sensors that send notifications to users and stop their vehicles if they continue to disrespect the rules.
Bolt is riding in a similar direction: in Brno, the e-sharing operator is planning to introduce soon a method that it tested elsewhere in Europe. The company installed sensors on its scooter fleet to detect incorrect parking, accidents, two-people usage, falls and even excessive breaking.
Unruly drivers will first receive educational material and, should that not be enough, their rides’ maximum speed will be limited to 15 km/h. Should users’ misuse continue, they will be banned from renting a new vehicle for a week.
The Eurocities report
A 2020 Eurocities report on e-scooter operators and fleets in cities singled out “early and continuous dialogue with operators” as the most cited factor for e-scooter management success. The conclusions were based on a survey of urban approaches and options to optimise regulations in this field.
The analysis highlighted additional measures that can be a game changer in regulating the two-wheelers sector: ensuring that operators take responsibility for improperly parked vehicles, limiting vehicle fleets’ size, strengthening law enforcement in sensitive areas, as well as data exchange.
With the sector constantly evolving, whichever solutions local governments will adopt will likely need to be reviewed in the near future. Paris isn’t actually the first to ban shared e-scooters.
Copenhagen outlawed the two-wheelers in 2020, only to bring them back the following year, though under stricter rules. In the Eurocities report, most participating cities concluded that “local regulation needs to be updated quickly as the mobility industry develops quickly and dynamically.”