Electric scooters have exploded onto the scene recently, scattering the streets from Paris to San Francisco, Singapore to Berlin, bringing VC backed scooter-sharing startups head to head with governments and city authorities.
Scooters are the battleground for a wider issue –how will the mobility industry (which will eventually include autonomous vehicles and drones) work with cities to ensure urban transport works for all citizens? As well as optimising for efficiency and sustainability, the inevitable risks that arise when merging artificial intelligence with physical urban environments need to be appropriately managed.
Since electric scooters and the companies that control them are new, there isn’t much of a precedent. The UK’s laws are notoriously strict, where they are classed as “powered transporters”, banned from use except on private land. Mainland Europe is generally more relaxed: for example in France, scooters can travel up to 25km/hour in a cycle lane and 6km/hour on the pavement.
Still, existing laws haven’t stopped several cities from banning them, including San Francisco, Madrid and Barcelona. San Francisco recently demonstrated that scooter companies needed to work with authorities, not against, when they awardedjust two licenses to Skip and Scoot, leaving out the bigger names like Bird,Lime and JUMP who had largely followed ride hailing companies with the strategy“roll out first, worry about regulators after”.
The reality is that both sides need each other: cooperation is vital in building smart cities of the future. Companies developing mobility as a service (MaaS) technologies argue that their services are vital in helping cities achieve their goals of reducing congestion, accidents, air pollution and minimising environmental impact. However as FrankMatarrese, Councilman of Alameda, California, points out: “[Scooter-sharing companies] are a profit-making business, using our sidewalks to sell their products.”
The battle is far from over.