Electric scooters by California-based bicycle rental service Lime. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters) July 9 at 10:45 AM
BERLIN — Barely a few months after they were introduced in several of Europe’s storied capital cities, the great electric scooter backlash has already begun.
From Paris to Berlin and to Copenhagen, drunken users and poorly parked scooters have provoked the kind of visceral hatred that became synonymous with the dockless scooters’ arrival in American cities last year.
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, already vowed to put an end to what she called a trend “not far from anarchy” on the roads of the French capital last month. That was before their introduction in neighboring Germany, where newspapers have since captured a nation in crisis: a man trying to steer his e-scooter onto a high-speed motorway, reports of scores of drunk e-scooter drivers and polls showing a deeply divided country.
But supporters of e-scooters say that the initial woes can be overcome and are outweighed by the potential benefits. They hope that the electric scooters will help reduce the number of cars in congested European cities that were designed long before the advent of motorized vehicles. In less densely populated areas, e-scooters could fill gaps in public transport networks, proponents say.
Recent European reactions to the beginning of the e-scooter era have echoed similar skepticism in the United States. In cities where their use is on the rise, including D.C., operators and lawmakers have been flooded with complaints over the potential threat their riders pose to pedestrians. In some places, angry residents have taken matters into their own hands and have dumped e-scooters in nearby rivers or lakes. In June, the D.C. Council said it would seek to better regulate the industry by pushing for new speed limits and overnight bans.
The moves have mirrored some of the measures recently taken in European capitals — though attitudes toward the scooters vary widely.
Electric scooters from Swedish startup VOI and Berlin-based Tier sit parked side-by-side in Stockholm, Sweden. (Esha Vaish/Reuters)
In entrepreneur-friendly Stockholm, for instance, there was little opposition when e-scooters were first introduced. But skepticism has mounted amid recent accidents, and city officials have since called for the creation of rental stations — which would be similar to rental bike racks — to prevent drivers from dumping their e-scooters in streets and parks across the city.
In France — where a certain degree of distrust of corporate culture remains part of mainstream politics — authorities have proposed limiting the number of companies that offer scooter rental. The calls for tougher regulations came after Paris faced a surge in the number of companies offering e-scooters, with each of them deploying its own fleet. Within weeks, residents reported broken scooters dumped in parks and side streets.
Data on European usage of e-scooters is mostly based on surveys conducted by operators themselves. In Paris, 11 percent of people said that they were using e-scooters occasionally or frequently, according to a poll in February. The number of e-scooters in the French capital is estimated to have surged beyond 20,000, but given the multitude of competitors, there are no accurate counts for the exact number currently operating on the streets of Europe.
Germany’s experience over the last few weeks may cast doubt on whether more extensive regulation will be sufficient to fully address concerns over e-scooters. German authorities had set a high bar for scooter companies seeking to enter the market even before they legalized them.
Users are not allowed to go faster than about 12 mph, they are urged to wear a safety helmet and are banned from sidewalks. E-Scooters also need to be equipped with an insurance sticker to meet the requirements of German bureaucracy.
But there was one factor lawmakers did not account for: Europeans’ beer lust. In the Danish capital of Copenhagen, for instance, 28 people faced fines for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs over the weekend.
Drunken e-scooter driving appears to be becoming a more widespread problem in Europe than initially anticipated.
Within 24 hours last week, authorities in the German city of Munich caught 24 intoxicated e-scooter drivers. Some were easier to spot than others: One man under the influence of drugs was caught after he crashed into a parked police vehicle.