There were a lot of feelings sweeping the micro-mobility industry recently. From sadness, defeat through to bitterness, the results of the Paris referendum which saw residents vote to ban e-scooters (even if not binding) in the French capital will have ramifications beyond the City of Lights.
Whilst the City of Paris now really ought to think about mobility infrastructure (especially as Paris’ central arrondissements go car free from next year onwards), given the reduction in available modes of transport for Parisians from October onwards, there are lessons for mobility operators too. The defeat of what is nominally a sustainable, affordable, and safe alternative to the personal car or taxi showcases how important collaboration is between cities and operators to ensure that micro-mobility is a long-term part of the sustainable transport future.
Regulation is key
Paris was one of the first cities to embrace e-scooters. Originally there were 19 operators and 25,000 vehicles on the streets which inevitably led to a chaotic situation long before meaningful adoption was reached. It is a sign of how far the industry has come that this would be unthinkable nowadays — and for good reason.
The city learned from this mistake and later introduced tenders, with only three operators on the streets. But the hangover from the early days will have stuck in the residents’ minds and will have contributed to the negative vote (on Sunday 2nd April 2023).
It’s rare for European cities to have zero regulation when it comes to micro-mobility now, with many transport bodies introducing rules and guidelines at the start of a trial or tender. But it is also hard to implement blanket-style regulations across cities and countries when every urban area is unique and has its own transport challenges.
Certain elements are important for all cities to introduce. For instance, operators can use geo-fencing to implement slow and no-go zones, which are agreed upon with the city. Vehicles should have number plates so they can be identified and tracked in case of misuse. To solve the problems of curb chaos, parking spots are necessary. More cities are making provisions to take parking spots away from cars and give them to micro-mobility instead, such as in Berlin and London.
Operators and cities can work together to implement the most efficient regulations for the areas of the city they operate in. Poor regulation in Paris has now held back e-scooters for another year so it’s important to get this strategy right from the start.
Rely on the data
Data is critical to understanding e-scooter schemes. Operators and public authorities can bridge their communication gaps by sharing and analysing mobility data. Data can show where demand is and how people are using shared mobility.
It’s not enough to just count the number of rides taking place and how many vehicles are in the city. The data needs to be understood in context, such as the number of trips taken on scooters compared to buses or trains; how many times a device is used compared to the typical number of car trips taken in the region; or the number of infringements compared to the number of parking tickets issued. All this helps to build up a broader understanding of the role e-scooters can play in a transport ecosystem.
Using this data, authorities can understand gaps in public transport provision or where there may be issues with road congestion or infrastructure as shared e-scooter riders flock to or avoid certain areas and routes. It can also help both operators and cities understand why one mode of transport is preferred over another. This includes having central control systems and real-time enforcement tools for parking monitoring officers, which could have led to a more harmonious relationship between the city and the new mode of transport — as well as micro-incentives to encourage good behaviour.
In Paris, it’s likely the operators may turn to offer e-bikes instead of e-scooters. But we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the user profile may be different and the number of trips lower. In cities where both modes are present, data can demonstrate how people are using the vehicles and offer better insights into how these two modes are serving residents’ transportation needs.
Don’t forget about education — and the storytelling responsibility of e-scooter proponents
Under 10% of the eligible population voted in the Paris referendum, with around 89% voting to ban e-scooters. To me, this shows that it’s essential that education is extremely important for both riders and non-riders — both operators and operating authorities need to get better at understanding the push and pull factors which led to this vote, and then running schemes with these concerns in mind.
Operators and city officials can use rider education to stress the importance of riding safely, such as only riding in authorized areas, avoiding pavements and parking correctly. But engaging with non-riders to showcase the benefits of e-scooters, such as reduced pollution and congestion, can help drive home why e-scooters should have a place in cities. This helps to break down the dichotomy between ‘them’ and ‘us’, people who enjoy riding e-scooters and people who do not.
The industry could also have done more — and should do more elsewhere, to highlight the hypocrisy of having our cities totally overrun with cars for personal use, taking up building space for parking and clogging our roads, versus the lesser impact of e-scooters on streets. Going forward, micro-mobility operators ought to also now really point out the additional taxi and ride hail trips which are made once e-scooters leave Paris’ streets, to showcase the additional congestion this will create — and the polluting impact of this vote.
Steps to repair the e-scooter image
Paris’ mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has suggested an annual referendum on the topic of shared e-scooters to continue to give the city’s residents a say, so there is still potential for e-scooters in Paris. It’s a city that is leading the way when it comes to mobility infrastructure, with around 1,000km of bike lanes and a further 650km planned as part of the “15 Minute City” vision.
Cities and other operators will be watching the fallout closely. This doesn’t need to be the end of the shared mobility industry, but a chance to learn from the mistakes made and an opportunity to design better regulation through collaboration to make shared e-scooters a key part of the transport infrastructure for modern cities.
Not the end of the road: how shared e-scooters can thrive after the Paris referendum was originally published in Vianova on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Feature Image Source: Vianova on Medium