What can the UK learn from Europe about the pitfalls of electric scooters?
Britain is introducing new transport legislation this weekend to open the route for the introduction of electric scooters to its streets.
It had originally planned for trials to be carried out in 2021, but brought this forward in the hope people would opt for an e-scooter over public transport to aid social distancing efforts.
Joining several countries across Europe, including Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland, the UK will soon be seeing the rental contraptions lining its streets, tipped as a greener way to travel.
But the e-scooter has not come without its pitfalls for European cities, leading to regulations being enforced and sparking a fierce debate.
So – what can the UK learn from Europe as it embarks on a new normal in term of transport?
Are they environmentally friendly?
Electric scooters have been widely touted as an eco-friendly alternative to public transport with their low emissions when charging – but a recent peer-reviewed study has now argued otherwise.
The research, by North Carolina State University, considered more than just emissions in its calculations by including every stage of production and maintenance involved.
This includes manufacturing them, before transporting them to a city for use, and later collecting them for recharging and redistributing.
North Carolina’s scientists found the average global warming impact for an e-scooter was around 202g of carbon dioxide per mile (1.6km) travelled – and could, therefore, be less environmentally friendly than taking the bus or riding a bike.
The impact of a bus journey was calculated at 82g of carbon dioxide per mile, while the use of a personal bicycle was 8g.
And this isn’t the only issue. In France, there have been widespread difficulties with people dumping e-scooters in rivers, leading to concerns about their possible effects on the ecosystem.
In Lyon, alone, more than 100 of the devices were fished from the bottom of the Rhône during a single cleanup operation one weekend last September.
In response to environmental concerns, Lime, a scooter rental company, said it was making “rapid technological and operational advances” to improve the green factor in its product.
Lime added that the earlier study had highlighted “many topics” it was already working to improve, and said the research had been “based on assumptions and incomplete data that lead to an uncertain dimension in the results obtained.”
Are e-scooters safe?
Several fatal accidents have led Europe to impose restrictions on e-scooter fleets across many cities.
France, Germany and Sweden are just some of the countries to impose a 20km/h speed restriction, while the former two have banned driving on pavements altogether.
Drivers in France caught with the devices on the pavement could face a fine of up to €135.
Back in December, many Parisians opted to take an e-scooter as an alternative to public transport, which had been all but paralysed by pension protests raging across the capital. An uptick in accidents involving bikes, e-scooters and motorcycles was later reported.
Specifically, there were 131 accidents in the first two weeks of the month, which marked a 31% rise from the weekly average of the four weeks before strikes began.
And then there’s another problem to address: that is, drink driving.
German police seized hundreds of licenses after people were caught driving e-scooters amid the annual Oktoberfest beer extravaganza last year.
More than 1,000 of the devices were also turned away from the festival’s entry points during the 16-day event between September and October.
Meanwhile, police in Denmark have themselves highlighted the issue with combining alcohol and riding rental scooters, reporting more than dozens of arrests of intoxicated drivers in one weekend last July.
Lime’s company co-founders told Dailyrater last year that they had been considering safety issues for their fleets, including a “breathalyser-type test” that could determine whether someone is fit to drive.
Speeds can also be controlled remotely by the company, which has handed out thousands of helmets to users.
What else do they affect?
Some people have complained that the newly-common sight has created a bit of an eyesore in Europe as riders dispose of their e-scooters wherever they like.
This led to cities like Paris cracking down on leaving the place untidy by introducing a €35 fine for people who leave their scooters parked in ways that could obstruct pedestrians.
Arthur-Louis Jacquier, the general manager of Lime France, told Dailyrater that this was also a concern being addressed to ensure “a system that works in harmony with all the users of the street”.
He said: “Rules didn’t exist at the beginning, now there are rules. But, still, people don’t know them.
“Today we are the main leader of the e-scooter movement in Paris so we believe it is part of our responsibility to take measures.”
Such measures include a “foot patrol” in the French capital to move poorly-parked scooters when spotted.