They surge out of nowhere like furies, jostling pedestrians on pavements, forcing cyclists and motorists to brake suddenly or veer off course. After sowing chaos in city traffic, e-scooter users often drop their rental vehicles in haphazard fashion, encumbering streets and pavements, creating further hazards for residents of the French capital, who trip or run over them.
E-scooters were responsible for three deaths and 317 injuries in Paris last year. A study in the Rhône region shows they increase the number of accidents sevenfold.
Enough, says Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. Personally, she would like to ban the contraptions. But in the spirit of democracy Hidalgo has instead scheduled a citizens’ referendum on Sunday April 2nd, to decide if Paris will ban rental e-scooters altogether, as several Paris suburbs – as well as Nice, Toulouse, Barcelona, Copenhagen and Montreal – have done.
Or, following the example of Lyons, Madrid, Oslo, Stockholm and Vilnius, Paris may place more restrictions on their use. Privately owned e-scooters will not be affected.
Paris swarmed with e-scooters when they came into wide usage in 2018. Twelve different companies offered free-floating rentals, where one activates the scooter with a credit card and drops it at will.
The city government put out bids for tender and limited the e-scooter market to three providers, Dott, Lime, and Tier, who pay an annual €907,000 fee for the franchise and are limited to fleets of 5,000 e-scooters each.
The city created 2,500 e-scooter parking lots, to no avail. The authorities set a 25km/h speed limit and banned the vehicles for anyone under age 12.
A 32-year-old Italian woman was killed when she was hit by an e-scooter with two riders in June 2021. The city lowered the speed limit to 10km/h, except on protected bicycle lanes where the speed limit is 20km/h, banned multiple riders and raised the minimum age to 18.
On the city’s website, e-scooters are called by the abbreviation EPDM, which stands for “motorised machines for personal displacement” and includes the gyrowheel and hoverboard, a sort of electric skateboard on wheels. Under a decree dated October 25th, 2019, all are supposed to be subject to the traffic code.
A €135 fine was established for e-scooters travelling on pavements or in public parks. The scooters have been equipped with lights and licence plates, but police rarely if ever enforce the rules.
“It’s been 2½ years since we enacted the maximum regulations allowed by law, and that we’ve been asking the government for new ways of regulating free-floating e-scooters, with no results so far,” said David Belliard, who oversees transport in the capital.
“Despite efforts by operators, cohabitation with other users, in particular pedestrians, is complicated,” says the Paris municipality’s website. “Too many users behave dangerously. Head injuries, broken arms and legs; the accidents are sometimes serious.”
First deputy mayor Emmanuel Grégoire called e-scooters “vectors of accidents and incivilities” and questioned the operators’ claims that they are environment-friendly. Their short lifespan means their carcasses become a source of pollution.
The city is using electoral lists to contact potential voters. There will be a smaller number of polling stations than for a presidential or legislative election. Any resident of Paris who is an EU citizen may vote in person, not online. The results will be announced on April 3rd.
Dott, Lime and Tier have swung into propaganda mode, commissioning opinion polls purporting to prove that Parisians want e-scooters. They say usage has risen 71 per cent since October 2020, and that two million e-scooter journeys were completed last year, avoiding the emission of 700 tonnes of CO2.