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Paris mulls e-scooter ban in global test for micromobility industry

A dozen scooters and electric bikes on the sidewalk of a small street in Paris. (iStock)

Wander through the streets of a major city in Europe or North America, and there is a good chance you’ll eventually stumble upon a flock of brightly colored electric scooters, arranged in more or less orderly fashion, waiting for riders.

For some, e-scooters for rent are an eyesore, liable to cause accidents on and off the sidewalk. For others, they symbolize convenience, and are a welcome alternative to cars.

This polarization is especially evident in Paris, which is undergoing a major transformation led by its mayor, Anne Hidalgo, with the aim of reclaiming public space from roads and vehicles to make the city more livable.

Now, Hidalgo is faced with a stark choice: Politicians from several parties are calling on her to ban e-scooters from the city when their operators’ contracts end in February 2023. Meanwhile, Lime, Dott and Tier — the three companies licensed to operate scooters in Paris — say they are helping the city achieve its environmental targets. She is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks, according to one of her deputies, David Belliard.

“We are asking ourselves about the cost-benefit ratio of these machines,” he told The Washington Post, citing congestion, safety and insufficient evidence of their environmental benefits.

Any decision made in Paris could have global ramifications: While many cities around the world, including New York and D.C., have expanded the use of the scooters, many are also passing legislation to rein in the micromobility industry.

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A major concern is safety: In France, government figures show that 24 people died last year as a result of an accident involving a personal motorized vehicle, which includes scooters, hoverboards and Segways. That’s up from seven deaths in 2020 and 10 in 2019. Beyond deaths, there were 337 accidents involving these vehicles in the first eight months of this year, according to Reuters, up from 247 in the first eight months of 2021.

Paris has strict rules for where the dock-free scooters can park, but in many cities, it is common to find them strewn across sidewalks, creating risks for pedestrians, particularly the elderly and those with visual impairments.

Scooter operators stress that the rise in accidents and deaths should be seen in the context of higher usage. Nicolas Gorse, chief business officer for Dott, told The Post via email that “safety per trip is increasing.”

A spokesperson for Lime, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal company data, told The Post via email that between January 2020 and June 2022, “over 99.99% of Lime trips in Paris were safety incident free.” The spokesperson said Lime e-scooters “see fewer fatal incidents on a per-ride basis than bikes, and far fewer than those caused by mopeds or cars.”

Proponents of e-scooters argue that they help get polluting vehicles off the roads. But Belliard, who is a member of the Green Party, says the environmental benefit is overstated. There is debate over what share of e-scooter riders would take a vehicle — instead of using public transportation, cycling or walking — if the scooters were not available: Experts told the British Parliament in 2020 that in general, “current evidence shows a relatively low shift away from car use in European cities, and more of a shift away from active travel models and public transport.”

Operators also say e-scooters can help relieve pressure on public transportation, particularly ahead of events like the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. They point out that when public transportation workers went on strike in Paris earlier this month, e-scooters were a popular alternative among commuters.

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Opponents of e-scooters have other concerns, especially around parking and congestion. Traffic infrastructure in Paris was not built to accommodate a fleet of thousands of new micromobility vehicles, says Jérôme Monnet, co-director of the Paris School of Urbanism.

To deal with these problems, the city of Paris has imposed new restrictions on the e-scooter industry, limiting the number of licensed operators to three, capping their collective fleet at 15,000 and implementing restrictions on where the scooters can park and how fast they can go. Now, officials want to go further, and have requested proposals from Lime, Dott and Tier on how they will better integrate the vehicles into the city if their contracts are renewed.

The proposals the companies have put forward include age verification for riders and a pledge to equip more scooters with license plates to allow police to more easily issue tickets to riders who violate traffic rules. They say they have already implemented some changes, including testing new technology to force riders to park their scooters in designated spots.

“If Paris accepts our proposals, it would become the city with the strictest scooter regulation in the world,” Garance Lefèvre, Lime’s public affairs director, told Reuters.

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Paris is not the first city to consider banning shared e-scooters: In April, the Cincinnati City Council imposed a curfew of 6 p.m. on scooter use, before extending it to 9 p.m. a few months later. According to local broadcaster WVXU, city officials said they were considering a ban. And in 2020, authorities briefly banned free-floating e-scooter rental in parts of Copenhagen.

But Paris has been at the forefront of regulating the micromobility industry, and could serve as a bellwether for both the industry and the broader debate within France about how to improve urban mobility.

Belliard argues that the back-and-forth with operators over scooter safety proves that Paris needs “a regulatory framework” to manage the rise of micromobility.

“I always feel like we’re kind of in a race against the private operators of free-floating scooters,” he said. “It is a system that is not sustainable over time.”