E-scooters in Paris have become a flashpoint for the industry in Europe and the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is going to put the question to the people.
As reported by France 24, Hidalgo will allow Parisians to decide whether to allow e-scooter rentals to continue. The vote — expected to take place in April — means the three companies that operate in Paris will be kicking off a charm offensive to retain their place in a vital city for micromobility in Europe.
Critically, the outcome of the vote and the fate of e-scooters in Paris could have a wide-reaching effect around Europe and the way cities regulate micromobility vehicles.
But how did it get to this point?
Tier, Dott and Lime won contracts in Paris in 2020 but have had a tumultuous relationship with authorities since then.
The licences were issued as part of a much grander plan by Mayor Hidalgo to reduce car usage in the city but complaints over scooters being parked dangerously or reckless users have beset the programme. For example, tragically, a pedestrian was killed in 2021 when she was struck by an e-scooter rider on the footpath.
A number of politicians in the city have led the condemnations of e-scooters, such as David Belliard, a deputy mayor.
Last year, the situation came to a boiling point when Paris City Council told the three companies in September to make a significantly greater effort on safety.
The companies came up with a joint proposal, which included ID checks, licence plates and sidewalk detection technology as well as a fund for financing infrastructure upgrades on streets.
A spokesperson for Lime told The Next Web that after filing the proposal, the company was met with silence from lawmakers. “At this stage the City has not responded to any of the meeting requests and letters sent by Lime or the two other operators,” the spokesperson said.
Dott said it too has not had much contact since late last year.
That led to another crossroads last week when a group of employees from Lime, Dott and Tier went to City Hall to request a meeting on the matter, voicing discontent over the lack of feedback from the council as the expiry date for the companies’ licences in March looms. They argue that 800 jobs at the companies in Paris are at risk. One employee said they wanted to put “pressure” on the council to make a decision.
It is amid this backdrop that Tier, Dott and Lime will contend with the vote.
Tier’s director of public policy Erwann Le Page said in an interview that the vote could finally solve the issue for good. “I think it’s good that we ask Parisians what they think. If we do so, we may hear from them that they like scooters,” he said. “I think the City of Paris may have a good surprise by asking Parisians what they think.”
Despite Le Page’s confidence, there has still been great discontent among some quarters in Paris.
Given the scale of the operations in the city with 15,000 scooters, the issues have garnered a lot of attention but grievances raised by opponents and critics in Paris are not unique to the French capital either.
Complaints against e-scooters will be familiar to anyone that has tracked the micromobility industry in recent years. Careless parking, sidewalk riding, street clutter and other dangerous riding activities are all frequent issues that have dogged e-scooter companies in many cities.
Increasingly city authorities are taking action. Vienna is planning a stricter framework of rules this year that will also cut down on the number of e-scooters a company can have in certain districts from 1,500 to just a few hundred.
Last year Rome moved to implement a strict new regime to curtail the more than 14,000 e-scooters on its streets. Meanwhile authorities in an area of Istanbul said they would start towing away scooters left on the sidewalk.
In a bid to appease city authorities and residents, e-scooter companies have rolled out different measures and technologies over the years. This includes the use of geo-fencing to dictate where an e-scooter can park and cameras and sensors that can detect when a scooter is being used on a footpath. Companies like Tier and Sweden’s Voi have rolled out such tech in various markets.
Tier’s Le Page pushed back on some of the criticisms against e-scooters, saying that the industry is much less chaotic than it was just a few years ago. Among the proposals that were sent to lawmakers in Paris, two of them have been implemented by the three companies proactively he said.
First is ID verification to ensure that no one under the age of 18 is riding the vehicle, similar to Rome’s new rules. Secondly is the introduction of licence plates on each scooter, making it identifiable and easier to report to the company or to the police. This measure takes a cue from London where Dott has rolled out such plates to address similar complaints made in that city.
“That facilitates the work of the police,” Le Page said as residents can report dangerous riding or vandalism. “We’re building a partnership with the police in a specific district in Paris to test that to see if that is going to really work.”
Speed limits are emerging as another chapter in the e-scooter debate. The typical speed limit for e-scooters in Europe has been around 25km/hr but recent moves in several cities have seen that reduced to 20km/hr as authorities have become increasingly cautious about regulating micromobility.
Lisbon recently limited speeds to 20km/hr for the five companies operating there. In Ljubljana, perhaps the strictest restrictions on speed have been implemented with e-scooters required to be slowed to 5km/hr once the vehicle enters an area with many pedestrians.
Kersten Heineke, co-leader of the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility, said that cities are still in something of a transition phase in trying to figure out the best regulations.
“We as a society have gotten used to designating and dedicating a ton of space, and much more than their fair share of space, to cars and personal vehicles,” Heineke told The Next Web. “If you were to apply the same standards that people seem to be applying to scooters to cars, I believe we would have a much more intense discussion about cars.”
Heineke said that Paris may not actually be a massive revenue generator for Lime, Dott and Tier given all the requirements they must invest in but the city is very symbolic as a place to be operating in for your brand.
“Paris isn’t necessarily the city where e-scooter companies make the most money, simply because of how the tender is designed with all the limitations. All the requirements don’t necessarily allow for massive profitability,” he said.
The industry is watching
Whatever happens in Paris will be closely watched by players in the micromobility industry. As France’s most populous city, a tourism powerhouse and the host of next year’s Olympics, it is a key case study in how to implement e-scooter regulation at scale.
Other cities could be taking notes.
“It’s the most regulated market in Europe,” Le Page said. “The fleet is capped, you cannot ride if you are under-18, you have mandatory parking zones, the speed limit is not 25km/hr but 20km/hr. It’s very regulated, there’s possibly more to do but it’s a nice showcase of what micromobility can do.”
He added that increasingly hefty regulations could mark a turning point for a company like Tier in how they operate and their ability to generate revenue.
“At some point we won’t be able to operate in an over-regulated market sustainably in economic terms and we will leave,” he said.
Heineke said that it will be important to watch how the “power struggle” between governments and e-scooter companies pans out in 2023.
“There’s going to be this equilibrium eventually between what the cities demand and what the players can deliver to actually turn a profit. There might even be a situation in which we only have three global players that say if you write a tender in a way that doesn’t allow me to make money, I’m simply not going to come to your city.”
Back in Paris, politicians like Maud Gatel, a member of the national parliament and a critic of e-scooters, said effective regulation is still possible.
“I am not against trottinettes, per se,” Gatel said, using the French word for scooters. “In some cities in Paris’ suburbs, the integration of trottinettes is successful. This is not the case in Paris.”
But come April, it will be Parisians that have the final say. Many will be watching.
Get the TNW newsletter
Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.