Roughly five years ago, e-scooters were all the rage. Major cities throughout the world saw an influx of micro-mobility companies launch shared e-scooter programs. Consumers embraced them as well and enjoyed their novelty and convenience. In the process, these businesses touted the positive environmental potential with these devices. They also suggested they offered a more affordable way for end-destination travel. But along with these transit solutions have come a plethora of e-scooter problems posing challenges for cities. Abandoned devices, reckless driving, and limited benefit top the list. As a result, it now seems some cities are strongly considering banning e-scooters altogether.
It’s easy to blame e-scooter companies for the issues at hand. Naturally, companies like Lime, Bird, and others were anxious to succeed. Therefore, it’s not surprising that they advertised the potential pros and downplayed the inevitable cons. But consumers also played a role in this regard, disregarding social etiquette and at times city regulations. These developments have led many cities to become increasingly strict in regulating e-scooter use. But in many instances these efforts have failed, leading some to advocate banning e-scooters and terminating city contracts. Based on recent events in two major cities, a new trend for banning e-scooters may soon emerge elsewhere.
“If you add the accidents, if you add the difficulty on the public space, at some point, you need to say this is not the main solution. We should invest more in bikes, e-bikes, walking.” – Hélène Chartier, Director of Urban Planning at C40
Setting the Stage in Paris
One of the earliest and most notable cities to embrace e-scooter use was Paris. Lime, Dot and Tier represented the three main companies that have provided these micro-mobility services since 2018. During that time, there have been a variety of e-scooter problems arise that led to several regulatory changes. Paris has restricted scooter speeds in recent years, and the city has established dedicated parking areas for the devices. Should violations occur, users are required to pay fines. But even these measures have not been enough to resolve the issues. As a result, the city’s mayor is considering banning e-scooters this fall. And based on a city-wide poll in Paris, such a measure appears well supported.
In a vote that admittedly involved a minority segment of Paris, nearly 90% voted for banning e-scooters. Residents cited reckless driving and accidents are major reasons along with sidewalk clutter and general safety. At the same time, cost was also an issue with rides averaging around five Euros for a 10-minute ride. In addition, some reports suggest e-scooters have been far less than positive in terms of the environment. Only 7% of car rides were displaced by e-scooters since most replaced walking and use of other transit options. Notably, Lime and others pointed to low voter turnout as an issue. they also refuted use numbers with their own, citing over 10 million e-scooter rides last year. While this may seem impressive, it may not be enough to overcome the e-scooter problems present.
“Having people onto any alternative methods, whether it’s bicycles, whether it’s scooters and, preferably, on our buses and our street cars and our cables is the priority. Scooters are definitely not a huge part of that solution but they’re a part of this.” – Aaron Peskin, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President
Similar Struggles in San Fran
Paris is not alone when it comes to e-scooter problems. Like Paris, San Francisco has been utilizing this micro-mobility solution for five years. But it too has had to pass progressive legislation to reign in e-scooter use. Last year, the city prohibiting e-scooters from being ridden on sidewalks in town. It also limited the number of e-scooters that could be in specific areas. These measures and fines for violators sound very similar to the approaches Paris pursued. But in San Francisco, not only did this not solve e-scooter problems, it also led to Bird e-scooters exiting the city. Though Lime and Spin have continued in San Francisco, Bird stated the restrictions prevented profitable viability. Now, San Francisco is thinking of taking measures further by banning e-scooters completely.
San Francisco officials appreciate the potential that e-scooters offer as part of a transit program. However, they too have been frustrated with the downsides of having shared e-scooters in the city. The city and many citizens also cite safety concerns, clutter, parking, and cost issues. Meanwhile, Spin suggests 29% of all e-scooter rides replaced rideshare or car trips. However, this data is hard to validate and represents the company’s own marketing research. Others in city government suspect the numbers are much less. When combined with the e-scooter problems noted and already imposed regulations, banning e-scooters emerges as a consideration. San Francisco’s decision will come later this year regarding its future with e-scooters.
“Unfortunately, the regulatory environment in the city, including the fine structure, has been uniquely challenging, making it extremely difficult to operate a financially sustainable program.” – Statement from Bird regarding San Francisco Exit
Finding a Happy Medium
It seems clear that the ongoing e-scooter problems over the last five years indicates an ideal solution has yet to be defined. On the city-side, the ability to safely, economically, and aesthetically integrate e-scooters has been difficult. On the company side, regulations, fines and restrictions handcuff profits and consumer use. And from a more global perspective, e-scooters appear to represent a small segment of the now-present micro-mobility network. Banning e-scooters doesn’t appear to be the best solution. But unless clear collaborations take place among all stakeholders, this may be inevitable.
It should also be recognized that these types of transportation options are becoming increasingly more affordable for the consumer. E-scooters can be readily purchased, locked, and stored by consumers today, obviating the need for shared solutions. Likewise, e-bikes have also come down in price and portability. Unlike car-related ride-sharing, which eliminates the need for parking in urban areas, e-scooters and e-bikes don’t have this issue. It may be that the banning of e-scooters occurs out of natural evolution of the market. Certainly, some cities may speed up this process due to e-scooter problems. But ultimately, the need for sharing these devices may suffer from its own attrition.