Electric scooters are the latest addition to the urban mobility mix and the list of benefits is long. Dockless, shareable two-wheelers are convenient. There’s the environmental aspect, easy access via app and the positive effect active modes of transportation have on your health. With more and more people using shared micro mobility and public transport, the quality of life in cities increases. Mobility that is more efficient and sustainable than the private car is shifting habits. How does micro mobility in San Francisco, Vienna and Tel Aviv look like?
San Francisco: Regulating electric scooters with 12-month pilot
In early 2018, dockless electric scooters flooded the city and were often parked or left on pavements, crosswalks and bus stops, obstructing traffic and blocking entryways. People were not prepared how to use them and caused accidents or hurt themselves and others. Plus, when Bird, Lime and Spin first launched, they didn’t need an operating permit. As a reaction to solve the series of incidents, the city changed their policy last April. San Francisco temporarily banned e-scooters and asked the scooter companies to apply for a city permit to get back in the game.
The micro mobility providers had to apply for a one-year pilot programme, which all three companies did, but none of them got the okay from the city officials. The reasons: Their offers were not inclusive enough when it comes to people with lower income, a concept for parking and docking stations and an education programme on the rules of the road were lacking.
The two providers that did get the permit are Skip and Scoot. Since October 2018 electric scooters are back on San Francisco’s streets and so far it’s going well. In fact, after the 12-month period, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has decided that other operators will be able to apply again. With the yearlong pilot programme running out on October 15, Skip and Scoot may even add more scooters to their respective fleets, under one condition: They have to increase equitable access and prove they have increased signing up low-income riders.
Vienna: 6,000 electric scooters and six operators
In Austria’s capital, you can choose between dockless scooters from six different companies. To prevent people from dumping them on the streets indiscriminately, there are fees between 50€ and 100€ in place for abandoning the transportation devices anywhere outside the operating areas. And it works: Electric scooter popularity is growing, but with currently around 6,000 in Vienna we’re still talking about a rather small number, compared to other European cities, like Paris, where there are around 15K to 20K available operated by 12 different companies.
While most operators pick up their scooters for overnight charging, Circ is the only one in Vienna to offer a 24-hour service availability. However, during winter and especially in extreme weather with snow and black ice, it is up to the micro mobility providers to temporarily pause the service.
At first, the city of Vienna only had few regulations in place, but new rules are effective since June 2019 to set a clear framework that legally considers electric scooters as bikes, so they are no longer allowed on sidewalks, only on bike lanes and streets where bikes are allowed. The maximum speed per hour is 25 km. In the neighbouring country of Germany, where electric scooters have just been legalised this summer, speed is capped at 20 km/h.
Tel Aviv: Electric scooters taking over the city by storm
Since 2018, electric scooters have been scattered around the city offering an alternative for short distances in one of the most congested cities of the world. Despite some issues of scooters being ditched in the middle of bike lanes and sidewalks, there has been very little push back so far. Is Tel Aviv then scooter heaven, or what are they doing differently?
Well, to being with, it’s an old city with a relatively young population. More than 40% of its residents are under the age of 30 among whom micro mobility is a popular way of navigating the city. But Tel Aviv’s citizens do not only use electric scooters for their daily commute because due to the warm climate, biking might not be an option for everyone. Electric scooters are a great way to navigate the city during shabbat. When public transport shuts down from Friday night sundown until Sunday morning, micro mobility is a pollution-free option in a city with approximately four million residents, but not a single underground line.
Collectors, sometimes also called Bird hunters, who pick up electric scooters, charge them at home and re-distribute them, compete with each other especially on weekends. For every charged scooter they earn a certain collection price, but have to return it to a so-called nest until 7am. Just like in San Francisco, riders need to hold a valid driver’s licence. This is different from Austria where a driving licence is not necessary and wearing a helmet is not a requirement either.
Micro mobility – a question of infrastructure?
So, does wearing a helmet make riding e-scooters safer? Yes, riders are responsible for their own safety and helmets do help. But when we look at great cycling cities, like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, there’s something else that matters: It’s the infrastructure. While the success of electric scooters certainly depends on the uptake, if it’s a dockless or station-based system and which role regulation plays, the bigger question remains: Can we rethink urban mobility without rethinking urban infrastructure?