Will Paris be the first major capital to get rid of electric scooters?

The mayor of the French capital wants to eliminate them from the public space, but has assured that she will respect the result of Sunday’s referendum on the issue

A man rides an electric scooter in Paris, on January 15, 2023.
A man rides an electric scooter in Paris, on January 15, 2023.AFP

For or against electric scooters for rent? This is the question that Parisians of legal age who registered on the electoral rolls of the French capital will be able to answer. The popular consultation, which will take place this Sunday, will determine the future of these electric vehicles in the city, one of the first to open up to this personal mobility market. The mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has said loud and clear that she wants to ban them because she considers them dangerous, environmentally unfriendly and a source of conflict in the public space.

The scooter craze has not waned since they arrived in the French capital in 2018, when more than 12 operators offered their services. The devices have proliferated across the city’s wide boulevards, but also on its narrower streets and on the hundreds of kilometers of bike lanes that authorities have built in recent years. Their growing use, however, has been accompanied by criticism and controversy due to their difficulty in coexisting with pedestrians, motorists and cyclists, and the fact that they obstruct some sidewalks.

It’s a dividing issue. While for some residents of the capital the scooters represent the ease of getting around cheaply at any time, others see them as the source of chaos and lawlessness in public space. “Rental scooters are an object of tension” for Parisians, Socialist Hidalgo, mayor of the capital since 2014, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday.

Prior to Sunday’s vote, the city government already took action on the matter. Since June 2019, scooters are considered as “motorized personal travel devices” subject to traffic regulations. Their speed is limited to 10 kilometers per hour (a little more than six miles per hour) or in some specific areas to 20 kilometers per hour (12 miles per hour). In the event of a violation, the fine can be up to 1,500 euros ($1,630). The vehicles, in which only one person may be in, are also forbidden to circulate in public parks and on the sidewalk. The minimum age to use them is 12 years old, and they must be parked expressly in the designated places.

In 2020, the City Council went a step further by reducing the number of companies authorized to offer the service. Now there are only three left—U.S.-based Lime, France’s Dott and Germany’s Tier—and they operate a fleet of 15,000 devices in total. The measures, however, have not been sufficient, according to the mayor.

“Let’s get rid of scooters for rent”

“Despite these regulations, we still have a number of problems,” a spokesperson for the Paris City Hall explained by phone, referring to road safety and the fact that they continue to obstruct traffic in some areas of the city, one of the densest in the world. In 2022, a report by France’s National Academy of Medicine warned of the danger of scooters and said they had become a “major health problem” because of the growing number of accidents. The cause: the design of the devices, the behavior of drivers and the shared use of public space.

In 2022, there were three deaths and 459 injuries in Paris, in more than 400 accidents involving this type of vehicle, according to police data cited by local media. These figures have been rising for three years. In 2021, there was one dead and 353 injured in 318 accidents. “My idea is that we get rid of scooters for rent. But I will respect the vote of Parisians, even if it is contrary to what I would like,” Hidalgo said in mid-January, announcing the popular consultation on whether or not to ban the vehicles.

Voters must vote in person at one of the 21 polling stations in the capital. The vote excludes citizens’ private scooters. The result, which will be known on Sunday evening, is not legally binding, but both the mayor and the deputy mayor for transport, environmentalist David Belliard, have pledged to respect it. Both also consider that the scooters are not as environmentally friendly as they seem, because of the short life of their lithium batteries.

Influencers and free riding minutes

It remains to be seen what the outcome will be. If the votes against scooters are in the majority, Paris could become in September the largest city in the world to expel rental scooter operators. Detractors and the three companies that operate them have criticized the modalities of the consultation. The fact that it is not possible to vote online or by proxy does not favor the vote of young people, the main users of these devices.

Fearing being driven out of the city, the operators launched a campaign to encourage their users to vote, sometimes with the help of local influencers. The company Lime even proposed 15 minutes of free use of its scooters to users who proved they had registered to vote, a strategy that drew criticism. “Our operation aims to ensure that as many Parisians as possible can have their say in this consultation,” the company defended itself. A few months ago, the operators also announced new measures to reassure local authorities, such as identity checks to prevent underage users, the use of license plates and an increase in agents to control the correct parking of vehicles.

The vote also has a political edge. “Scooters can be an opportunity if they are well organized and regulated,” Transport Minister Clément Beaune said Wednesday. The French government, which has strained relations with the capital’s City Hall, announced a plan agreed upon with the scooter operators to raise the minimum age of use from 12 to 14 years and have fines of up to 135 euros ($147) in cases when there was more than one person on the same vehicle. The opposition also criticized that Mayor Hidalgo initially wanted to ban scooters without any consultation. The vote could be a way, according to Le Monde, for the mayor to recover at the political level before the end of her mandate in 2026.

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