European media is failing to state the obvious about electric scooter reality: Our cities have to adapt.
Across Europe, newspapers and magazines continue to warn the public about the Biblical scourge of electric scooters. The stream of articles have turned into a tired trope: Start with the story of a recent electric scooter accident. Then move on to explain how the driver violated decades-old traffic rules — maybe he rode on the sidewalk or didn't wear a helmet or two people rode it at the same time. Then rant about how chaotic our streets have become after the coming of the scooters. And the article inevitably wraps up with a scathing indictment: Electric scooters should be banned or heavily restricted.
Such articles litter the media across the continent. We've seen them in Paris, where electric scooters are a mighty fearsome time bomb and prompted public outcry after an accident on the sidewalk caused the death of a young woman, as Le Parisien reported. The city of Lisbon has levied hefty fines for the electric scooters parked on its sidewalks. And the latest has come from Italy, where national media thundered against them after a young man died in an accident. (Plot twist: The man who lost his life was the e-scooter rider; a motorbike plowed into him. But I digress.)
If we find electric scooters so annoying, it's because most of our infrastructure was built to serve cars.
A few telling details are often missing. Accidents frequently happen on sidewalks or roads, because there is no adequate infrastructure for e-mobility. Often, it's the driver that gets hurt. In Italy, media emphasized that four people have lost their lives in e-scooter accidents in 2021 so far — but failed to compare that with the number of casualties of car, motorbike, bicycle, boat or plane accidents. Demand for this new technology is high, and it's not hard to see why given how inexpensive it is, how little public space it takes and how convenient it is for short-haul commutes.
A woman rides a scooter on the Black Sea coast in Russia — Photo: Dmitry Feoktistov/TASS/ZUMA
But such stories are frequently awash with suggestions: Electric scooters should carry plates; minors shouldn't be allowed to drive them; users should be forced to wear helmets and high-vis gear; they shouldn't park on the sidewalk; there should be speed limits and hefty fines if two people ride one same scooter; they should be banned from the sidewalk, the cycle lanes and the road ... Earlier this week, a La Stampa article summed up the mood in Italy with the headline "Stop the scooters!" (The author then admitted in the piece that he'd never ridden an e-scooter, e-bike or even a bicycle in his life.)
Maybe it's time we stop demonizing electric scooters.
I'm not criticizing those who think that this emerging tool should be better regulated: Such calls are indisputable. Nor do I resent the pushback against them: Resistance to change is understandable. But I find it striking that amid this furor, none of these stories go through the trouble of stating the obvious, that if we find electric scooters so annoying, it's because most of our infrastructure was built or rebuilt in the 20th century, and was designed to serve cars. But that could change. If micro-mobility continues to boom in the same staggering way it has in the last few years, maybe it's time we stop demonizing electric scooters and calling for them to be banned. Maybe it's time we roll up our sleeves and make sure that our cities adapt to the times.
*The author of this article does not own an electric scooter and does not subscribe to a scooter sharing app. He is, however, very jealous of the people who do.
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