By Kim Watts
This past weekend, Parisians had an opportunity to vote on whether to ban shared e-scooters in the city.
Less than 8% of eligible Parisian voters showed up at the polls, voting to ban the popular—especially with younger people—transportation option which some have come to see as a nuisance. The use of a referendum to determine the fate of this mode of transportation was controversial, and certainly seems a blunt way to navigate a complex and evolving ecosystem of new mobility options.
As the Coalition for Reimagined Mobility noted last month in a blog post, this reactive approach threatens to undermine larger sustainable, accessible transportation goals. It is also likely to have an undesirable ripple effect throughout Europe, given Paris’ prominence as a leading European city and Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s reputation as a sustainability champion.
This is especially concerning given how unrepresentative voter turnout was for Paris’ referendum. The future of shared e-scooters in a city of more than 2.1 million residents was determined by just 103,000 registered voters; furthermore, lack of electronic voting likely limited participation of younger voters.
While shared e-scooters have presented challenges as policymakers try to integrate them into urban transportation networks, this popular mode of travel also has tremendous potential to reduce demand for less efficient and sustainable ways of getting around, such as private cars and ridehailing services.
Paris’ ban may eliminate the challenges that come with shared e-scooter programs, but also eliminates this popular way of getting around that, if managed properly, can help cities meet sustainability and traffic-reduction goals while expanding people’s access to mobility options that give them the freedom to move.
Policymakers around the world have looked to Paris as a leader in the regulation and management of e-scooters, so what does it say that the city threw in the towel?
Managing and monitoring e-scooter services to ensure public safety was undoubtedly time and resource intensive for the city to undertake. And shared e-scooters alone are no silver bullet when it comes to emissions reductions. But e-scooters do have a role as a useful form of public transport for some trips, especially in urban areas where there are hard-to-fill gaps in train or bus service, and that is worth investing in.
In the wake of the Paris referendum, many have noted the disproportionate focus on this one mode of getting around. In a recent op-ed for Streetsblog, Paris resident and PhD candidate at UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning, Marcel E. Moran, noted the glaring contradiction in targeting e-scooters while failing to address the much bigger public health danger presented by cars on the streets of Paris:
“But of course, there will be no forthcoming referendum on the legality of automobiles in Paris, the transport mode that by far causes the most damage, both in terms of roadside fatalities, and the fouling of the air all Parisians breathe, ranking the city near the worst in all of Europe,” he wrote.
Instead of banning an entire transportation option, a better way forward would be to give public transport authorities the scope—and budget—to contract with these micromobility providers (just like other forms of public transport) and integrate them properly into the public transport system.
Public transport authorities—in Paris’ case, the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens)—may be better suited than municipalities to understand how to manage different mobility services as part of an overall network of a connected transport system.
Despite the referendum, it’s clear that e-scooters are here to stay. Sunday’s referendum only banned shared e-scooters, while privately-owned e-scooters remain legal, though they are much harder to actively monitor and regulate in terms of speed and other safety concerns, than shared e-scooters. A recent study by Micromobility for Europe found that the fatality risk of shared e-scooters was half that of private e-scooters.
In the days before the Paris vote, France’s Ministry of Transport published a blueprint to better regulate both private and shared e-scooters that was backed by operators across the micromobility sector. Minister of Transport Clément Beaune said he found it “unfortunate” that Paris was discarding the option chosen by many cities, which is to have e-scooters “but with more rules.”
As a novel transportation option, politicians and residents alike measure micromobility differently than the ever-increasing volumes of cars. On one hand it’s hardly surprising that new mobility solutions face higher entry barriers and are met by skepticism. That’s to be expected. Yet it illustrates something more fundamental. How can we reduce congestion and pollution in our valued city centers if all new mobility solutions are met by steep barriers that favor the status quo?
Perfection should not hinder the good. Or least new solutions should be given their fair chance to learn and optimize if the ambition is to find viable alternatives to privately-owned vehicles. This is a perfect case for close public-private sector collaboration.
For municipalities considering following the Paris precedent of an outright shared e-scooter ban, it is worth considering a more nuanced approach that captures the benefits of innovation in transportation while trying to minimize the negative disruptions that innovation may cause. The Paris e-scooter ban undermines sustainability goals and the development of new mobility options that could better meet the needs of the traveling public.
Kim Watts holds a Ph.D. in Law from the University of Antwerp, Belgium where her doctoral research was an international study of alternative liability systems and their application to mobility developments. She is the Program Manager for Passenger Transportation at ReMo.