Paris is set to become the first European capital to ban shared e-scooters. Will this start a trend that other cities follow?
Since busting onto the streets of European cities, e-scooter sharing has dominated mobility headlines for the best part of the last 3-4 years. The coverage often focused on controversy: The scooter’s erratic user behaviour. How they are left strewn across the streets (or even thrown into rivers). Increases in pedestrian and rider injuries. Or how they just suddenly appear in their hundreds in unprepared cities. However, the industry has been maturing over the last couple of years – with consolidation of the sector and the major players attempting to makeover their image from gig-economy startup cowboys to responsible, sustainable, mobility providers. In light of this, the referendum in Paris probably comes as a bit of a shock to them (and their financial backers and shareholders).
So, what happened? In brief, a referendum was held on Sunday April 2nd where city residents were asked to vote on whether shared e-scooters should be banned or not. In total, 103,084 people turned out to vote, which is about 7.5% of registered Paris voters. The result was dramatic. 89% voted against keeping shared e-scooters in the city. While the referendum results are not binding, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, a previous supporter for introducing e-scooters, has already announced that she intends to respect the results of the vote. She added following the referendum that the e-scooter business model was "very expensive -- five euros for 10 minutes -- it's not very sustainable, and above all, it's the cause of a lot of accidents."
E-scooter operators in the city such as Dott, Lime and Tier were quick to issue a joint announcement, where they pointed out flaws in the referendum process which resulted in the low voter turnout –
“They blamed restrictive rules, a limited number of polling stations (and thus long lines that dissuade young voters) and no electronic voting, saying the combination “heavily skewed toward older age groups, which has widened the gap between pros and cons.”… Additionally, the companies said the referendum was held the same day as the Paris marathon, and that only residents of the city were allowed to vote, leaving out those who live just outside the city but commute in.” – As reported by Tech Crunch.
Operators say they are being unfairly singled out as responsible for the often-chaotic nature of Paris streets, where mayor Hidalgo has championed bikes and other forms of non-emitting transport since coming to power in 2014.
Paris, which opened up to e-scooter operators in 2018, has progressively tightened regulations since by creating designated parking zones, limiting the top speed, and restricting the number of operators. Such measures seem to have failed to convince residents, who often complain about reckless and drunken driving, as well as clutter on pavements.
"They're dangerous, both for those who use them and for pedestrians," Francoise Granier, a 68-year-old doctor who voted in the ninth district of the capital, told French news agency AFP. "And the police never intervene."
Like her, IT worker Michael Dahan, 50, deplored the state of the capital's streets, saying: "If it was better regulated, I wouldn't be against... but you see people behaving in a crazy way."
The referendum will not affect privately owned electric scooters, of which 700,000 were sold nationwide last year, according to transport ministry figures.
The upcoming ban will be a significant financial and reputation hit for the major scooter operators and the whole micromobility industry. Beyond Paris, they will surely be worried that this could start a trend, with other cities following. It’s also a very loud wakeup call. The strategies these companies have employed so far to clean up their image, and the very real problems associated with their vehicles on public streets, haven’t been very effective.
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.”
As I see it, the key problems still plaguing the industry (echoed by the AFP interviews of voters in the Paris referendum) are reckless rider behaviour, pedestrian safety, and the improper parking of vehicles. So far, the e-scooter providers’ attempts to rein in these issues seem to have relied heavily on technological solutions. For example, the much publicised trials that uses sensors and AI to detect when scooters were being ridden on sidewalks or not, sensors to detect when riders were carrying passengers, or even self-driving capabilities that would allow the vehicles to properly park themselves. Arguably these have had negligible effects. What seems to have had some success, however, are more restrictive measures such as geofenced speed limits and closing the service down near nightlife areas on weekends.
An approach companies have not been so keen on is banning their own users that abuse the vehicles or ride dangerously. This may need to change. It would be much better to sacrifice the (presumably) minority of bad apples amongst their user-base rather than to lose their social licence to operate completely. And they need not even rely on savvy tech sensors and algorithms for this – they could just send their employees out into public areas where the scooters are most often used because such behaviour is obvious.
The Paris ban could also signal a turning point for the free-floating nature of the e-scooter business model. Cities like Stockholm, which stopped short of a ban, has already introduced much stricter rules last year that only allows shared scooters to be parked in designated bays. Scooters parked outside these bays can result in fines, with the bill picked up by the companies. Riga and Helsinki are considering the same approach. And in the UK, where shared e-scooters are still technically operating under trials, scooters have, for the most part, only ever been allowed to park in designated areas. It seems that despite the e-scooter companies trying to self-regulate the parking issue, by requiring users to take photos of their vehicles before ending the ride, designated parking spots may be the only solution that actually works.
It will be interesting to see how the e-scooter business model will evolve over the next 12-18 months and whether, what’s left of it, after adapting itself to become a more ‘respectable’ and considerate form of mobility, can still be a compelling form of transport for its users.
Written by Bobby Chen,
RISE Mobility & Systems