The rise of electric scooters in the world: Friends or Foes?

Published 2021-08-24 20:00:01
Image by Christian Bueltemann from Pixabay

E-scooters are gaining popularity across the world. This has given rise to rental e-scooters which are now available in many cities and participate to the effort to minimise car traffic and toxic emissions. But the initial chaos that came with those schemes lead many countries to legislate and impose rules for riding them. A small number of countries are still reluctant to the new trend and still prohibit their use.

With the surge of e-scooters, those new vehicles are generally treated just like ordinary bicycles in most countries: they require no operational licenses, incur no parking fees, are not taxed, and can be carried on to most public means of transportation.

However, in some countries their use is still prohibited; while not more dangerous than bikes (those can travel faster, be heavier and more dangerous if used improperly) and powered similarly to e-bikes, part of the public see them as a nuisance and are opposed to their use. Some authorities are still very reluctant to the change. In Australia, the New South Wales transport minister, Andrew Constance, said he was “not in the mood” and described other schemes as “a disaster”.

Why e-scooters?

E-scooters are populare as they increase access to a cheaper, more convenient mode of public transport. Experts believe that this new “microbility” way of commuting will impact the environment to a similar extent as solar power and electric vehicles with the positive effects on the environment seen more rapidly. Scooters were found to be more than 1,000% more efficient per mile than an average vehicle using fuel, based on the energy needed to move them. Despite the scooter batteries being charged by an electricity grid that depends on fossil fuels, the emissions per mile from the electricity requirements is negligible. The cost of charging an e-scooter is almost one percent of the cost of fueling a very efficient car. Over weeks, months, and years of commuting, those savings add up.

Rental scooters are gaining popularity with commuters. They can be accessed via an app on your phone and dropped off at designated spots with ease, ready for the next user. Investors in e-scooter sharing companies see cities where congestion and air pollution are increasing as potential markets for their product. The city has to be big enough to make their venture financially viable (with enough people using the e-scooter service) but additionally the city needs to have adequate roads in good condition, and the space for the e-scooters (therefore, the city has to invest in the infrastructure required for running these e-scooters efficiently). And it is not enough to be popular, e-scooters must also co-exist with all other normal vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians on the road.

Innovative means of transport which needs regulation

Electric cars and e-bikes are still costly, but you can buy a e-scooter for less than €300 in Europe (and less than $100 in Asia), which makes them very popular, but also an issue for people crossing roads without looking, the nose on their mobile phone. Therefore, e-scooters' biggest criticism could simply be: too quiet! Increased use of e-scooters has compelled countries to regulate their use to address issues like road safety.

While some countries have labelled them illegal others have zero legislation to control their use on public roads. Despite varying responses to e-scooters there are a few common criteria that are usually addressed when constructing e-scooter policy:

  1. Designated zones where they are safe to be operated.
  2. Minimum age requirements.
  3. Road safety rules.
  4. Local authority’s ability to control the service operators. 

Examples of countries with e-scooter rules

  • Belgium has a maximum speed of 25km/h on normal roads. There is no age limit to who can operate an e-scooter. In Antwerp, service providers were more involved in policy-making and compiled usage rules and best practice to assist local law makers with regulations.
  • In Canada, e-scooters are usually legal and are treated in a very similar way to e-bikes. It may vary slightly between provinces though.
  • France: New traffic laws related to e-scooters allow children as young as 8 years to operate them. You cannot drive them on pavements and the maximum speed is 20km/h. E-scooter operators must incorporate a device on the scooter (using GPS) to limit the speed to 8km/h in heavy pedestrian zones. Additionally, Paris is limiting the number of e-scooter operators to exert more control over this industry.
  • Germany: New rules were introduced in July. The legal minimum age of a driver is 14 and the top speed is 20km/h. E-scooters may only be used in designated bicycle lanes. Regulations also require the e-scooters to be insured. They must also have lights, reflectors, brakes and a warning bell. The manufacture of e-scooters is regulated to meet specific requirements.
  • Italy: E-scooters are particularly favoured in cities like Milan, Turin and Rimini. New laws were introduced where the minimum age to operate them is 14, a helmet is mandatory for drivers under the age of 18, 25km/h should not be exceeded on normal roads and this is dropped to 6km/h in pedestrian areas. Here e-scooters are classed the same as bicycles.
  • In Japan, e-scooters can only be driven on roads, they need to carry license plates, and riders are required to procure a motorcycle license. Moreover, the National Police Agency (NPA) limited the speed to 15km/h. Tests a scheduled for Tokyo, Fukuoka, and other cities
  • Netherlands: E- scooters are grouped the same as mopeds and the minimum age to operate them is 16. The scooters also need insurance and endorsement from the national vehicle authority.
  • Sweden’s regulations insist on scooters having adequate brakes, a warning bell and drivers under the age of 15 must wear a helmet. There is no age limitation.
  • Spain’s national traffic authority caps the maximum speed at 25 km/hour and the e-scooters have to be insured.
  • In the United States, the federal law governing electric bikes is usually also applied to e-scooters, which means 20/25 mph and a motor power below 750W. In that case you do not require registration or a license. But rules can be different in some cities. While California, for instance, is accepting e-scooters on cycle lanes, pavements, and roads, San Francisco has got rules where you cannot park in some areas. It is banned in New York City ($500 fine). You will find a more detailed list of rules depending on states in this article.

Some countries where e-scooters are still (mostly) prohibited

  • Australia varies from state to state and therefore it is difficult to know whether you are following the rules or not. In some states users can ride an electric scooter up to 25km/h while in others they are simply banned and can only be used in private properties. For example, in Brisbane, you can travel on e-scooter at 25km/h but only on footpaths and not on road or cycle lines. In New South Wales it is illegal to ride an electric scooter. In Victoria it is only possible with a motorcycle license. In South Australia, it is only a trial limited to a few rental companies under strict rules (helmet, maximum 15km/h, only on footpaths or shared pathways). You will find a state-by-state explanation in this article.
  • To date, laws in the UK and Ireland have banned them from public areas like pavements and roads and can only be used on private property (but very hypocritically, their sale is allowed and you can buy them easily in many shops in London). This ruling is being reviewed under public pressure. The government has recently been trialing e-scooter use in some areas in the UK, especially since they offer a cheaper and safer way to travel during the pandemic. They are also making use of technology to control the speed in areas of high pedestrian-use.

The real impact of e-scooters on the environment still need to be assessed

In 2019, a study in the US found that scooters produce higher noxious gases per mile than when travelling by bus, bicycle, moped or on foot. Materials used in the manufacture of the scooters, like the frame, wheels and battery are not very environmentally friendly, according to that study. Another concern is their relatively short lifespan of about one year (for shared schemes), before they have to be discarded, which has its own ecological impact.

Most critics of electric scooters agree that the idea is very interesting, but their implementation needs to be carefully thought out: more energy-efficient scooters can be used, the collection of scooters at the end of the day can be reduced and better organized for instance.

As with all new ideas, the e-scooter needs time for people to get used to the concept. Once it becomes the norm, e-scooters could be an important part of urban mobility.

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Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert and content writer for

For other discussions, advice, question, point of view, get together, etc...: please use the forum.

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