As the European transport system turns increasingly to electrification, the spread of battery-powered scooters is causing increasing disruption on city streets.
The sight of besuited commuters standing precariously cross-legged on the whizzing is not just a hipster novelty. It has also exposed out of date transportation regulations. The deaths of a handful of users has also underlined the dangers of adding a new element to the transportation mix.
Germany has been among the most welcoming in its official response. It has made the scooters legal on the roads and imposed a speed limit of 12 kilometres per hour. However that is twice speed of the average pedestrian, something that has caused friction between pedestrians and scooter users.
Mike Brown, the head of Transport for London, has called for an overhaul of the draconian but poorly enforced prohibition for the scooters on British streets. In an interview this week he described the dangers posed by users resorting to the pavements move around the capital.
Recalling a scene on the pedestrian-only Millennium Bridge across the River Thames, Mr Brown said licencing of the devices was “inevitable”. “I was on the Millennium Bridge the other night and there was some guy on an electric scooter rocketing down the middle,” he told the Evening Standard. “This is not actually all that safe.”
Advocates of the devices argue that as a mode of transportation, the scooters are environmentally friendly and convenient. The rise of short-term rental schemes has become both a boon and black mark against the trend.
“The scooter is emission-free, allows flexible use, and it is also fun to ride,” Bodo von Braunmühl, head of corporate communications at Tier, a Berlin-based startup, when the devices were made legal there. “The scooter is designed to complement other means of transportation, such as public transport.”
Anne Hildago, the mayor of Paris, has promised a crackdown on technology firms that have flooded the city with App-based rental schemes. Across to Le Parisien newspaper, the market itself is in freefall amid a backlash against discarded scooters that litter the pavements. It said that at least six of a dozen operators have suspended operations in recent weeks.
“It’s not far from anarchy and it’s extremely difficult for a city like ours to manage this service,” she said as she introduced speed limits and fines for violations earlier this year.
French scooter users are estimated to represent one quarter of all electric scooter users in Europe. Anger at the role of venture capital-backed firms has had parallels with the backlash against Silicon Valley rental firm AirBnB in the property market.
The overall trend towards electric vehicles is growing rapidly with one industry report estimating 26 per cent annualised growth through 2025. Electric vehicles accounted for 46 per cent of all unit sales in Norway in 2018.