E-scooters in Paris have become a focal point for the industry in Europe and the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is going to put the question to the public.
As reported by France 24, Hidalgo will allow Parisians to decide whether to continue e-scooter rentals. The vote – expected to take place in April – means the three companies operating in Paris will launch a charm offensive to maintain their place in a vital city for micromobility in Europe.
It is critical that the outcome of the vote and the fate of e-scooters in Paris could have a far-reaching effect across Europe and the way cities regulate micromobility vehicles.
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But how did it come to this?
Tier, Dott and Lime won contracts in Paris in 2020, but have since had a tumultuous relationship with authorities.
The permits were issued as part of a much larger plan by Mayor Hidalgo to reduce car use in the city, but complaints about dangerously parked scooters or reckless users have plagued the program. For example, tragically, one pedestrian was killed in 2021 when she was hit on the sidewalk by an e-scooter rider.
A number of city politicians have led the condemnation of e-scooters, such as David Belliard, a deputy mayor.
Last year, the situation came to a head when the Paris City Council in September ordered the three companies to step up their security efforts significantly.
The companies came up with a joint proposal, including identity checks, license plates and sidewalk detection technology, as well as a fund to fund street infrastructure upgrades.
A spokesperson for Lime told London Business Blog that the company was silenced by lawmakers after submitting the proposal. “At this stage, the city has not responded to any of the meeting requests and letters from Lime or the other two operators,” the spokesman said.
Dott said it hasn’t had much contact since late last year either.
That led to another crossroads last week when a group of Lime, Dott and Tier employees went to city hall to request a meeting on the matter, expressing dissatisfaction with the council’s lack of feedback as the due date for the licenses of the companies in March is imminent. They state that 800 jobs at the companies in Paris are at risk. An employee said they wanted to put “pressure” on the council to make a decision.
Against this background, Tier, Dott and Lime will compete for the vote.
Tier’s director of public policy Erwann Le Page said in an interview that the vote could finally settle the issue for good. “I think it’s good that we ask Parisians what they think. If we do, we might hear from them that they like scooters,” he said. “I think the city of Paris could have a good surprise by asking Parisians what they think.”
Despite Le Page’s confidence, there is still great dissatisfaction in some neighborhoods in Paris.
Given the scale of operations in the city of 15,000 scooters, the issues have received a lot of attention, but the grievances of detractors and critics in Paris are not unique to the French capital either.
Complaints about e-scooters will be familiar to anyone who has followed the micromobility industry over the past few years. Careless parking, curbside riding, street clutter, and other dangerous driving activities are all common problems that have dogged e-scooter companies in many cities.
More and more city authorities are taking action. Vienna is planning a stricter framework of rules this year that will also reduce the number of e-scooters a business can have in certain districts from 1,500 to just a few hundred.
Last year Rome moved to introduce a strict new regime to limit the more than 14,000 e-scooters on the streets. Meanwhile, authorities in part of Istanbul said they would start towing scooters left on the sidewalk.
To satisfy the city government and residents, e-scooter companies have rolled out various measures and technologies over the years. This includes using geofencing to determine where an e-scooter is allowed to park and cameras and sensors that can detect when a scooter is being used on a sidewalk. Companies such as Tier and Swedish Voi have rolled out such technology in various markets.
Tier’s Le Page addressed some of the criticisms of e-scooters, saying the industry is much less chaotic than it was a few years ago. Of the proposals sent to lawmakers in Paris, two have been proactively implemented by the three companies, he said.
The first is ID verification to ensure no one under the age of 18 is driving the vehicle, similar to Rome’s new rules. Secondly, the introduction of number plates on every scooter, making it recognizable and easier to report to the company or the police. This measure is an example of London, where Dott has rolled out such signs to address similar complaints in that city.
“That makes police work easier,” Le Page said, while residents can report dangerous driving or vandalism. “We are building a partnership with the police in a specific district in Paris to test that to see if it really works.”
Speed limits are emerging as another chapter in the e-scooter debate. The typical speed limit for e-scooters in Europe was around 25 km/h, but recent moves in several cities have lowered it to 20 km/h as authorities have become increasingly cautious about regulating micromobility.
Lisbon recently limited speeds up to 20 km/h for the five companies that are active there. Ljubljana has introduced perhaps the strictest speed limits with e-scooters required decelerated to 5 km/h as soon as the vehicle enters a pedestrianized area.
Kersten Heineke, co-leader of the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility, said cities are still in a transitional phase in seeking the best regulation.
“We as a society have become accustomed to allocating a lot of space, and much more than a fair share of space, to cars and personal vehicles,” Heineke told London Business Blog. “If you applied the same standards that people seem to apply to scooters to cars, I think we’d have a much more intense discussion about cars.”
Heineke said Paris might not be a huge source of income for Lime, Dott and Tier given all the requirements they have to invest in, but the city is very symbolic as a place to be active for your brand.
“Paris is not necessarily the city where e-scooter companies make the most money simply because of the way the tender is designed with all the restrictions. All the requirements don’t necessarily allow huge 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 an important case study for implementing e-scooter regulations at scale.
Other cities could take notes.
“It is the most regulated market in Europe,” said Le Page. “The fleet is capped, you are not allowed to drive if you are under 18, you have mandatory parking zones, the speed limit is not 25 km/h but 20 km/h. It’s very regulated, there may be more to do, but it’s a nice showcase of what micromobility can do.”
He added that increasingly stringent regulations could mark a turning point for a company like Tier in the way they operate and their ability to generate revenue.
“At some point we will not be able to operate sustainably in an over-regulated market in economic terms and we will leave,” he said.
Heineke said it will be important to see how the “power struggle” between governments and e-scooter companies plays out in 2023.
“Ultimately, there will be a balance between what the cities demand and what the players can provide to actually make a profit. There may even be a situation where we only have three global players saying that if you put out a tender in a way that doesn’t make me money, I just won’t 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’m not against trottinettes per se,” Gatel said, using the French word for scooter. “In some cities in the suburbs of Paris, the integration of trottinettes is successful. That is not the case in Paris.”
But in April, the Parisians will have the last word. Many will watch.