Pedestrian ‘jungle’: the row in Paris over rented e-scooters

Road safety concerns, scooters ‘strewn across the ground’ and questions over environmental credentials could lead to a ban

Paris is considering a ban on rented electric scooters, warning that its fleet of 15,000 for-hire scooters presents safety concerns, is stressing pedestrians, clogs up city streets and is yet to prove its positive impact on the environment.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo is expected to announce a decision on the future of rental e-scooters in the coming weeks as the French capital’s three operators – Lime, Dott and Tier – hope to renew their licences which expire in February. The operators have proposed a series of changes such as licence plates so police can track traffic offences and ID checks to make sure users are over 18.

Paris was the first city in Europe to open up to the “free-floating” shared electric scooter market in 2018, where scooters could be left anywhere and picked up by mobile app. Two years later, after complaints of anarchic use, the city clamped down with what operators called the strictest regulation in the world: cutting the number of operators to three, automatically tracking and limiting each scooter’s speed to 20km and 10km in some areas, or zero if it entered public parks, and allocating designated parking areas.

Dock-free electric scooters by Lime and Dott sharing services are parked for rent in a street in Paris.
Dock-free electric scooters by Lime and Dott sharing services are parked for rent in a street in Paris. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

But a row is now under way in Paris over the future of rented e-scooters. Last week, Maud Gatel, a centrist MoDem party councillor, told a Paris council meeting that rental e-scooters had turned the city into a “jungle” where “pedestrians are afraid to cross a street or even walk along the pavement”.

David Belliard, the Green deputy mayor in charge of transport and public spaces, said all options were on the table, including a ban. “We still have three major areas of concern,” he said. “First is safety: for scooter-users and others, such as pedestrians.” His second concern was the clogging up of the city streets, despite dedicated parking spaces. “There has been progress, but it’s still complicated: for example, in parking spots you can find electric scooters strewn across the ground and people obliged to climb over them, including elderly people.”

He said there were also questions over the environmental side of electric scooters “which are slightly throwaway and have a very short life”.

A man books an electric scooter from Dott, one of the French capital’s three operators.
A man books an electric scooter from Dott, one of the French capital’s three operators. Photograph: Chesnot/Getty Images

He said: “If we don’t find an agreement with operators on security, public space and environmental credentials, then yes it’s very clearly on the table right now to stop the contracts.”

Belliard said that Paris could survive without rental e-scooters, citing Barcelona which had never introduced them, and towns bordering Paris, such as Montreuil and Aubervilliers which had no rental schemes.

But e-scooter rental operators argued that Paris has one of the most highly regulated, densest and most-used e-scooter fleets in the world with 1.2 million riders last year and a 76% increase in new users between summer 2021 and summer 2022 – most of them Paris residents.

Operators said that banning rental e-scooters would not remove all e-scooters from Paris, nor solve traffic issues.

A woman rides an electric scooter from the bike-sharing service company Lime through Paris.
A woman rides an electric scooter from the bike-sharing service company Lime through Paris. Photograph: Chesnot/Getty Images

There has been a boom in French people buying their own personal e-scooters. In France last year, about 900,000 e-scooters were bought for personal use – making it the biggest market in Europe. Unlike in the UK, which bans personal e-scooters from public streets, they are authorised in France but must stay in cycle lanes, not exceed 25km an hour and not carry more than one person.

Rental operators said that a majority of their users had told them that if they could not travel by shared e-scooter, they would consider buying their own. Companies argued that private e-scooters were harder to regulate than tracked rental e-scooters. At 25km an hour, private scooters could go faster than Paris’s rental scooters, which are limited to 20km an hour.

Nicolas Gorse, chief business officer at the operator Dott, said Paris’s “massively regulated market” was the most organised in the world. “There is no other city where you have 2,500 micro-mobility parking spots – there is one every 200 metres in Paris. It’s an infrastructure boost that marks the massive transformation of Paris in recent years … including more bike lanes, which are not only for cycling but for people using e-scooters.”

Electric scooters lying across a Paris pavement.
Electric scooters lying across a Paris pavement. Photograph: Chesnot/Getty Images

Paris registered 337 accidents linked to all types of e-scooters and similar small electric vehicles in the first eight months of 2022, up from 247 over the same period in 2021. In one high-profile case last year, an Italian pedestrian was killed after being hit by a rental e-scooter carrying two women. But operators say that rented e-scooters account for a small proportion of the city’s tragic accidents, and argued that they represent fewer fatal incidents on a per-ride basis than mopeds or cars.

Garance Lefevre, public affairs director for the US rental operator Lime, said Paris was one of the cities with the highest use of Lime in the world – with a Lime scooter ride beginning every four seconds.

She said that shared e-scooters were often “scapegoated” in the debate over how to properly re-shape public space in the city. “Scrapping shared e-scooters will not resolve the problem of calming shared public space,” she said.

Fabienne, 53, who worked in the media, had picked up a rental e-scooter in central Paris because her bike had a puncture. “Paris is right to regulate more,” she said. “But there’s a tendency to put everything on the back of the rental firms when it’s about the people using them. Like everything in Paris, there’s a need for civility.”

Djemila, 58, a Paris department store manager and cyclist, said: “A ban is a good idea because, although some e-scooter-riders are serious, many don’t seem to know the highway code. You can have two or even three young kids on them, mucking about. It’s like a toy.”


Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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