Written by Monika Kiss.
Today, more than 70 % of the European Union (EU) population lives in cities – and this is projected to reach almost 84 % in 2050. As they attract more people, cities increasingly face traffic-related challenges, such as congestion, poor air quality and excessive noise.
A will to find ways to make cities more viable and to protect people’s health has been evident throughout the EU in recent years. Alternative transport methods, such as sustainable public transport or car sharing are on the rise, and there are incentives at local and EU-level to promote active mobility – notably cycling and walking. The uptake of zero-emission vehicles, as well as a more sustainable and healthier urban mobility are encouraged in the EU 2020 sustainable and smart mobility strategy and are priorities under the new European urban mobility framework, published in 2021.
Electric kick-scooters, also known as stand-up electric scooters or e-scooters, are a fairly new means of active mobility. They have gained popularity over the past few years with more and more companies launching their vehicles with ride-sharing programmes. However, the number of private e-scooters is also increasing steadily. A 2020 Eurobarometer survey shows that 8 % of EU citizens – mainly in big cities – use a privately owned bike or scooter as their main mode of daily transport, and an additional 1 % uses shared bikes or scooters on a daily basis. Numbers are the highest in the Netherlands (41 %), followed by Sweden (21 %). Privately owned scooters are also used in combination with public transport.
E-scooters have several advantages. Because they do not get held up in traffic, they are a relatively fast mode of transportation. They also take up little parking space. Unlike cars or motorbikes, they tend not to pollute the air, depending on how their electricity consumption is produced. All these characteristics would make them an ideal means of transport. However, they have some significant drawbacks. The main issue is the danger of accidents. Finnish researchers found that e-scooter riders are three to five times more likely to be injured than cyclists or motorcycle riders. In addition to scooter riders themselves, they may also injure pedestrians and drivers of other vehicles. Inappropriate parking of e-scooters is also an unresolved issue: as there is no parking space provided specifically for e-scooters, they are often parked in spaces reserved for cars or bicycles, or are abandoned in spaces needed for pedestrians to walk safely. For these reasons, they have already been banned from traffic in certain city areas. In other cases their number, or the periods they can be in use has been reduced by local authorities.
The maximum speed limit also varies between Member States. Limits are in general set at 20 or 25 km/h, but can also depend on the location (for instance 6 km/h in pedestrian zones v 25 km/h on roads in Italy).
These differences between national regulations can be very confusing, for instance for tourists visiting other countries or citizens who move to other Member States for work-related reasons. A possible harmonisation of rules at EU-level that also includes obligations for companies and local authorities (for instance providing appropriate parking spaces, making protective equipment mandatory or sanctioning infringements) could be considered.
In this way, the advantages of this new means of transport could be exploited more safely, for the benefit of cities and their inhabitants.