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Shifting Sands of e-Scooter Supervision in Sweden

Stockholm is set to join a growing list of European cities that are charging e-scooter companies for the right to operate. But will such fees address the underlying problems commonly associated with these vehicles?

The City of Stockholm is planning to introduce an annual fee of SEK 1,400 (~ €140) per rental scooter vehicle. This follows in the footsteps of Malmö, the first city in Sweden to take this approach. The fee will be implemented as a polistillstånd, or police permit, which is generally required in Swedish municipalities when private actors seek to use public areas. These are typically used for outdoor seating at restaurants and cafes, food trucks, other street events as well as establishing temporary construction sites. Until now, these fees have not been applied to shared scooter operators in Stockholm.

The city appears to be justifying the new fee on the basis of improving safety and proper parking compliance. "No one who moves in Stockholm should be afraid of tripping over an electric scooter," says Daniel Helldén (MP), traffic councilor for the city of Stockholm in a statement. However, this new fee comes on top of parking fines that were only recently introduced in February, which allowed officials to fine scooter companies SEK 250 (~€25) for every incorrectly parked vehicle.  

The new rules for electric scooters will be discussed in the city's traffic committee in April and are expected to enter into force on 1 July 2021. In Stockholm, there are over 14,000 electric scooters, which means a cost of almost SEK 20 million for the companies every year. The city of Gothenburg also has plans for a similar fee that could raise SEK 6 million annually.

Scooter companies are critical of the new fees. Voi’s manager for Sweden, Eric André says that the company has been in dialogue with the transport councilor and the city about proposals to improve parking compliance by the scooter companies investing in infrastructure, parking racks and technical solutions, as well employing full time staff to fix incorrectly parked vehicles. "To reject the proposal and instead just introduce a pure fee, where the money goes into the treasury, we see very much as symbolic policy. This fee will not solve the acute parking problem, and that is why we are very questionable about it,” André says.

Voi’s competitor Tier points out that they are not against fees, but that those proposed for Stockholm are almost three times as high as the corresponding fees in Paris, and seven times higher than those in Rome and Düsseldorf. "We are happy to contribute to the city", but that it is "important that the fee is reasonable… After all, we contribute with a non-subsidized, climate-neutral mobility service that helps the city achieve its climate goals," says Dan Nerén, senior public policy manager at Tier.

There is also legal ambiguity about the basis for the fees. Since the start of the year, Malmö in the south of Sweden introduced an even higher fee of SEK 1,825 (~€180) per electric scooter. Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, which represents both Tier and Voi, asked the law firm Delphi to clarify the legal situation regarding the fees. The firm concluded that the same parking rules apply to electric scooters in free-floating mobility services as for ordinary bicycles, and therefore municipalities did not have a basis to charge a fee. However, neither scooter companies have chosen to put in a legal challenge yet.

Personal Comment:

The management of micromobility is a first test of how the ecosystem (industry, national and local authorities together) might handle new mobility services. How much should be left to market forces? And how should regulation and governance, as well as fees and taxes, be designed so that they can balance different civic interests with the viability of the new services? These questions bring to mind the establishment of Uber, which posed a challenge to the taxi industry, not to mention local laws and regulations. Likewise, robotaxi, carpooling and sharing services will continue to disrupt the status quo in different ways, and together we must find forms of dialogue and processes to resolve tensions over time.

Stockholm produced a voluntary framework agreement in 2019 which has become a model in several other municipalities. Under the agreement, consultation meetings between the cities and the operators discuss, among other things, measures to improve order, general acceptance, road safety and governance of speeds and recommended parking spaces (e.g. hotspots, hubs). However, it appears that these voluntary agreements alone have failed to produce the desired outcomes from the cities’ point of view. This is indicated by the breakdown of the discussions that Voi’s manager for Sweden alluded to in the news article, and how the new fees were introduced in the midst of the scooter operators making ongoing proposals for dealing with parking concerns. This signals policy makers at the city level are looking at a shift away from the industry self-regulation approach towards more of a direct-regulation one.    

At the national level, the Swedish Transport Agency has just completed the government assignment to investigate micromobility. Now it goes to the Government Offices for further preparation. Simplifications are proposed in the regulation of vehicles and where you can drive them. Core amongst these is that the electric scooter will still be defined as a bicycle. The inquiry has no new proposals for regulating the scope of activities in the municipalities. The Swedish Transport Agency points out in its investigation that there are tools available to the municipalities and the Police Authorities to deal with the consequences of rental of electric scooters. "We recommend that these be used in a nationally coordinated manner." This appears to be what’s happening with Malmö having already introduced the permit fee, and both Stockholm and Gothenburg now set to follow – together representing the three largest cities in the country.

Swedish law today does not appear to provide clear support for mandatory rules. In operation, municipalities have mostly relied on the operator’s goodwill to accept decisions that create a healthy market. It now remains to be seen if any operator will go to court, how many will pay the fee and if the size of the vehicle fleets will be affected.  

This approach of permit fees stands a little in contrast with approaches elsewhere internationally, where many cities have chosen procurement. Serious operators appreciate governance as this facilitates long-term strategic planning. On the other hand, procurement processes are often long and drawn-out, which does not fit the dynamic behavior of the micro-mobility actors. Currently, no Swedish municipality to date have appeared keen to initiate a procurement. It will be interesting to follow how the Swedish approach evolves given that many of its cities also have incredibly ambitious climate goals, towards which they will need micromobility to play a key part.

Written by Kent Eric Lång,
RISE Mobility & Systems (Innovationsorkestrering)