Residents of Paris are set to vote on Sunday on whether to banish electric scooters for rent from the streets of the French capital, in what would be a world-first for a major city.
Paris was one of the first to adopt the devices that are rented via an app such as Lime, Dott or Tier and are popular among young people as an alternative to public transport for covering short distances.
“Symbolically the vote is very important,” said Erwann Le Page, public affairs director at Tier, a Berlin-based operator. “It’s a city that has been a pioneer.”
After a chaotic introduction of the scooters in 2018, city authorities have progressively tightened regulations, creating designated parking zones, limiting the top speed and restricting the number of operators.
But their presence remains controversial, with pedestrians complaining about reckless driving while a spate of fatal accidents have highlighted the dangers of vehicles that can currently be hired by children as young as 12.
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, under pressure over rule-breaking on the capital’s roads, announced the referendum in January to settle the issue of whether for-hire scooters should be allowed.
The pro-cycling Socialist, who favours a ban, called them a “source of tension and worry” in the lives of Parisians in an interview with AFP on Thursday.
The consultation will not affect privately owned electric scooters, of which 700,000 were sold nationwide last year, according to transport ministry figures.
Around 100,000 journeys are completed each day in France on rented e-scooters in around 200 towns and cities.
– Watched abroad –
Paris residents have been invited to cast their ballots on Sunday, but they must be on the electoral lists and have to travel physically to one of 21 voting centres set up around the capital.
Transport Minister Clement Beaune expects it to result in a ban, while some operators also privately fear a negative result unless their mostly young users turn out to vote.
“It’s an important consultation that will be watched by a lot of other towns in France and overseas,” Beaune told the Europe 1 radio station on Wednesday. “I find it a shame that we have caricatured and dumbed down the debate.
“Instead of having it as ‘for’ or ‘against’, we could do ‘for, with rules’,” he added.
He argues that e-scooters are a valuable new transport solution that have replaced up to one in five journeys in Paris that would have previously involved an emissions-producing vehicle.
On the streets of the capital, the subject of e-scooters provokes fierce debate.
“Scooters have become my biggest enemy. I’m scared of them,” Suzon Lambert, a 50-year-old teacher, told AFP. “Paris has become a sort of anarchy. There’s no space any more for pedestrians.”
But Mathilde Caruso, a 31-year-old graphic designer, wanted them to continue “because it’s a vital form of transport for quite a few people.”
– Operators –
A ban would be a setback for operators and could encourage other cities to follow suit, but the companies insist they are expanding elsewhere.
“Paris is going against the current,” Hadi Karam, France general manager for California-based Lime, told AFP, citing decisions to increase the number of e-scooters or extend contracts in Washington, Madrid or London.
“There’s a trend towards these vehicles and this trend started in Paris which was a pioneer,” he added. “Today everyone else is convinced and Paris is deciding to make a step in the other direction. It’s incomprehensible for us.”
Le Page from Tier welcomed new efforts to regulate the sector by French authorities, which will see the minimum age for renters hiked to 14 and fines for some driving offences increased to 135 euros ($150).
“There’s still a memory seared into people’s minds of 2018 and 2019 when it was a bit anarchic in the streets, even though it is not like that anymore,” he told AFP.
The vote has also focused attention on the environmental record of e-scooters amid a debate about whether they help reduce emissions given that in most cases they replace a journey that would previously have been made on foot or in public transport.
Their batteries also have short life expectancy of around three years on average, according to the transport ministry.
“We think it’s a useful device,” Tony Renucci, head of the Respire charity that works to reduce air pollution, told AFP. “We should preserve it and not ban it.” (AFP)