The Future of Mobility
Electric scooters, e-bikes, motorized skateboards, and other light personal mobility devices are everywhere on sidewalks and streets in towns and cities around the globe these days.
They are cheap, they are easily unlocked with a smartphone app, and they are widely available in more than 100 cities worldwide. A study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimates the global E-scooter market to reach up to US$50 billion by 2025, with approximately 50% of usage stemming from Europe and the USA.
When describing the growth of the E-scooter, BCG stated: “If market growth were vehicle acceleration, the humble electric scooter—the latest answer to urban mobility—would be a Ferrari.”
With such an explosion onto the micro-mobility scene, it has been hard for cities, regulators, and insurers to keep up. As e-scooters multiply, cities are under enormous amounts of pressure to work out traffic laws, driver etiquette, public safety, docking rules, street permits, and liability issues. We have all seen the news reports about crashes with pedestrians, road traffic accidents, and even deaths involving e-scooter incidents. They pose a challenge that many stakeholders are yet to wrap their heads around.
Do these popular micro-vehicles provide a robust and viable option?
In the Wild West of transportation, no one knows what to do about scooters. They appeared suddenly in many cities, triggering complaints of clutter and blocked sidewalks. When ridden, scooters emerged as sidewalk bullies — fast enough to unsettle pedestrians and create safety issues. But force scooters into the streets and they are slow and vulnerable amid two-ton vehicles, not to mention potholes that can swallow small tires.
Now, governments, communities, and businesses — even the scooter companies themselves — are playing catchup on finding the right rules for scooters, and how to enforce them. Debates have emerged over when and where scooters should be ridden, and if the form of scooters needs to evolve, with bigger wheels, brighter lights or even a seat.
Their rapid proliferation has left municipal regulators struggling to keep up with the traffic impact, rising safety problems, and updating safety regulations that consider the future of all mobility.
Street design must also serve the safety of those using micro-vehicles, as rendering it safe creates an opportunity for forming a viable urban mobility landscape.
What are the safety risks?
A study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety a nonprofit financed by the insurance industry. Injuries to e-scooter riders were found to be more frequent than to bicyclists, but they tended to be less severe, possibly because most e-scooter rider injuries occurred on sidewalks.
“E-scooters can be a fun and useful way to get around, but they can also pose serious safety hazards,” says William Wallace, manager of safety policy at Consumer Reports. “Policymakers shouldn’t treat them just like bikes. E-scooters should be designed, built, and maintained with safety first, and riders should follow best practices to avoid hurting themselves and others.”
Institute researchers interviewed more than 100 e-scooter riders whose injuries brought them to the emergency room. Overall, the studies found that e-scooter riders suffered injuries more frequently per mile traveled than bicyclists, but bicyclists were three times as likely as scooter riders to be hit by motor vehicles. In contrast, e-scooter riders were twice as likely as bicyclists to get injured because of a pothole or crack in the pavement or other infrastructure like a signpost or curb.
Experience was found to be a factor in safety outcomes. Nearly 40 % of the interview subjects were injured on their first ride. In contrast, among the bicyclists interviewed in the emergency room, 80 % said they cycle most days of the week during their main riding season. Inexperience increases crash risk for virtually every form of transportation.
Another major source of annoyance is cluttering and vandalism. This is enabled by the way in which e-scooter rental schemes work: rather than having designated pick-up and drop-off areas, they can be found dotted around the city. An app shows users where the nearest scooters are, which you can activate online, use, and drop off wherever you want.
This system unsurprisingly leads to e-scooters being left in far from ideal places. E-scooters parked on sidewalks, thrown over fences, or ditched into rivers indicate that many of them have short lifetimes, a few months at most.
In response to these gripes, various cities have introduced a wide range of policies, often on an ad hoc basis – meaning that these new rules regularly need to be readjusted. Paris, for example, has repeatedly changed its legislation as to where e-scooters are allowed to drive, and at which speed, and where they should be parked.