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E-scooters: using rules to combat a bad reputation

E-scooters have established themselves on the streets of European cities. Nevertheless, electric scooters continue to divide opinion in many places. An example of the Swedish capital, Stockholm, shows how providers, infrastructure planners and city administrations are trying to anchor the scooters sustainably in the urban mobility mix.

"There has to be order on the streets. The time for playing around is over." With these harsh words, Swedish infrastructure minister Tomas Eneroth introduced a new law this summer to re-regulate the operation and use of e-scooters. Since 1 September, not only is it forbidden to drive e-scooters on pavements in Swedish cities - especially in the capital Stockholm - but also to park them there. Accordingly, electric scooters may only be parked in specially designated areas; in road traffic itself, they are treated the same as bicycles. "These new rules will improve safety - especially the safety of those walking on pavements," Eneroth added to his statement.

The Swedish push is far from the first attempt in Europe to give the increasingly popular e-scooters a legal framework. Rome recently introduced strong speed regulations and reduced the number of operators. Paris also set zones with GPS-controlled speed limits last summer. And authorities in Helsinki banned e-scooter rentals on certain evenings after midnight, after a series of accidents caused by drunks. The tendency of all regulatory attempts is always the same: with great effort, the respective city administrations are looking for ways to integrate e-scooters into the urban mobility offer without nullifying the advantages of them.

When mobility divides society

"If you look at surveys, e-scooters divide society: either you love them or you hate them. And that's what makes the situation so difficult for cities," explains Johan Sundman. As project manager of the Stockholm Transport Authority, he tries to find the happy medium for operators, people and the city. "We see the good sides of scooters - for example, that they help to cover the last mile faster or relieve public transport. At the same time, there are also the negative sides - such as vehicles lying around on the pavements or users who don't obey the rules and speed through traffic-calmed areas far too quickly," he continues.

Stockholm is a prime example of the rapid establishment of e-scooters in European cities: After there had been just 300 electric scooters in the capital of just under one million inhabitants in 2018, this number rose by leaps and bounds summer after summer. "By 2021, we had a whopping 24,000 rental scooters in the city centre at peak times - that was the point at which it became too much for politicians," Sundman recounts. In the first wave of regulation, the total number of scooters in the city was limited to 12,000 and the licensing procedure for operators was tightened. This year, the scooter law came into force in September. For Sundman, such regulations are the right way to sustainably establish scooters in the city's traffic image: "Even if they initially come with restrictions, they help to calm the skeptical voices. In Stockholm today, there is less criticism than two years ago and positive feedback much more often."

How operators react

One company that has helped shape the scooter trend in Stockholm from the beginning is Voi. After putting the first fleet of scooters on the streets in the Swedish capital in August 2018, the orange-painted scooters are now active in more than 100 cities in eleven European countries. "We have believed in a cooperative approach since day one. We have advocated for balanced regulations, especially tendering, as we strongly believe that this is the only way to ensure a sustainable service for residents, cities and operators," explains Kristina Hunter Nilsson, Voi’s communications manager for Sweden.

In fact, Voi has reacted to the new regulations with several measures. At the end of August, users were informed about the upcoming changes in a special e-mail. In addition, the new parking zones were graphically highlighted in the Voi app. With the feature "Find Parking Spot", a feature was also implemented to help find the nearest scooter parking space. In addition, users are now required to upload photos of their parked vehicles in the app - to document correct parking. "We want to improve mobility, not hinder it. With a good parking infrastructure, electric scooters are not in anyone's way and can let pedestrians and other traffic pass safely and smoothly," says the operator.

Investments from the cities?

German scooter rental company Tier Mobility sees the situation similarly. The blue and turquoise Tier runabouts are now on the road in 540 cities in 33 countries, including Stockholm. "In many cities, a limit on the number of e-scooters or certain regulations for parking spaces or special use fees are being discussed or have already been implemented. In general, we are in favour of cities and municipalities considering, for example, the possibility of starting a selection process and awarding licenses to one or more providers in the future. The goal should be to select the best provider and thus ensure the highest quality for users and optimal cooperation with the city," says Florian Anders, Tier’s Head of Corporate Communications.

However, he also points out that this cooperation is necessary from both sides - for example, with regard to the timely and comprehensive construction and expansion of the urgently needed infrastructure. "Only with a sufficient number of parking spaces for e-scooters, bicycles and cargo bikes, as well as well-developed cycle paths, can micromobility be optimally integrated into the urban mobility mix," he says, pointing out in this context that he does not consider it sensible to limit the number of e-scooters while maintaining the same number of providers. "Following the example of other European cities such as Paris, Oslo, Rome or London, the aim should be to license the providers with the highest standards and the best quality offer in a selection process. This way, not only can high safety and sustainability standards be maintained, but also coverage and supply in the peripheral areas of the cities can be ensured," says Anders.

Shared Mobility as a vision for the future

Regardless of regulations, various studies on the part of cities and manufacturers show that the positive effects of e-scooters on urban mobility are measurable. At Tier, for example, a recent "Citizen Research Project", in which over 8,000 people in various cities were surveyed, found that on average 17.3 percent of scooter rides replace car trips. "E-scooters are clearly a sustainable option in the urban transport mix and, by replacing cars and complementing public transport networks, can help decarbonise urban transport," says Anders. He points to a study by the International Transport Forum (ITF): this assumes that active mobility, micromobility and shared mobility will have to make up almost 60 percent of the urban transport mix by 2050 in order to increase the sustainability of the transport system.

Meanwhile, Johan Sundman from the Stockholm Transport Authority also believes that e-scooters can have a firm place in the urban mobility mix of the future. Currently there are 25,000 to 50,000 scooter rides in the city per day, depending on the weather. "Half of these replace walking, according to our experience. The other half, however, replaces public transport trips or short taxi journeys," he reports. He hopes that the market will become "even more mature" in the coming years. "We can already see that companies are making a great effort to work more closely with us. That's a good thing too - at the end of the day, we all want to improve urban mobility as much as we can."

E-scooters in Stockholm

The Swedish capital, Stockholm, is a prime example of the e-scooter boom in European cities. Since the first scooters were introduced in 2018, the number of e-scooters on offer in the city centre has increased to 24,000 by 2021. Since then, the city government has kept strengthening regulations. Currently, there is a vehicle limit of 12,000 scooters, and vendors must also apply for a licence. Thus, as of October 2022, Bird, Bolt, Dott, Tier and Voi held scooter licences in the metropolis. On 1 September 2022, a new law regulating scooter traffic also came into force: parking on pavements or cycle paths was prohibited, and vehicles may only be parked in specially designated parking spaces. In Sweden, e-scooters are now on an equal footing with bicycles in terms of road traffic.