25 Jun 19

Shared e-scooters: unsafe alternative to walking

In cities where shared scooters are available, there’s no escaping them. However, are they safe? And are scooter providers living up to their mobility claims?

Scooter safety

According to recent French research by 6t, scooter use would go down 71% if riders had to wear helmets, suggesting that what would make them safer would also be their deathblow.

Nevertheless, scooter safety is a contentious topic, as more and more stories of serious accidents are emerging. In Barcelona, a 90-year-old woman died after being hit by a scooter. In Paris, an 80-year-old men befell the same fate.

In Brussels, a scooter rider died after an unfortunate fall, in a case that confirms American research: in over 90% of scooter accidents, no-one else is involved. Most scooters have small wheels, making them prone to slipping away on even the smallest of obstacles.

This suggests the only way to make scooters safer is by fundamentally redesigning them. Bigger wheels are an important part, but adding a seat could also improve stability considerably.

Basically, stop using scooters and switch over to electric mopeds. Bird did just that when it launched the Cruiser, an electric moped, at the start of June 2019. They won’t be replacing all scooters with mopeds, though. 

Scooters replace walking

Scooter safety is one thing, but let’s also look at what scooters are being used for. Many scooter advocates claim they are an alternative for short-distance car trips, or they are a complement to public transport.

Lime, for instance, states it wants to reduce dependency on passenger cars for short distances while leaving behind a cleaner and healthier planet for future generations.

French researchers have asked 4,000 scooter users how they would have travelled if scooters weren’t available. Of all the riders interviewed, 44% said they would have gone on foot, 30% would have used public transport and 12% would have used a bicycle. Only 3% of respondents would have used a private car if no scooters had been available.

Scooter anarchy

In most cities, scooters have been introduced in a somewhat anarchic way, without much (or indeed any) deliberation with city halls. In Paris, for instance, the number of scooters is expected to rise to 40,000 by the end of the year, much to the chagrin of Mayor Anne Hidalgo. In response, the French transport minister has introduced a ban on riding electric scooters on pavements, including hefty fines for unruly riders.

Berlin has also introduced new rules for electric scooters whereas Barcelona has banned scooter rental services entirely. In the UK, electric scooters are only allowed on private land. Sao Paulo city hall has introduced very strict new scooter rules, including a requirement for scooters to be equipped with indicator lights.

Other cities are considering their own clampdown, particularly with regard to scooter parking and riding scooters on pavements. 

Increasingly, city authorities are putting up a fight against shared scooters. However, that’s not the only threat to the scooter business.

Image: scooters on a square in central Lisbon, Portugal.

Authored by: Benjamin Uyttebroeck