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E-scooters under fire: Can cities make them safer?

July 9, 2021

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Facing cluttered sidewalks, reckless drivers and now a fatality, cities are threatening to kill the e-scooter. But fans of the e-mobility option say the criticism is misplaced.

They have a low body, long neck, two plate-sized wheels and an electric hum that sneaks up on you: Once the newest e-mobility darling, e-scooters have since become the cause of everything from cluttered sidewalks to a fatal incident in Paris. Critics say they're a public menace. But others disagree.

"It makes you feel like a kid again," according to a 28-year-old user-Santosh Mani of his experience coasting on the battery-powered scooters around the western German city of Bonn. It's the convenience of e-scooters that had Mani using the controversial mode of transportation eight to 10 times a month before the pandemic.

In the US - where the e-scooting trend first took off - you can find e-scooter sharing services in over 100 cities. These provided close to 40 million trips in 2018, according to a transportation research study aptly named "To scoot or not to scoot." Even New York City, after many years of resisting the swans with wheels, finally gave in to demand in November 2020.

The transportation trend has since found its way onto every street of every major city in Europe, too.

Electronics Arts

Hackers broke into the systems of Electronic Arts, one of the world's biggest video game publishers, and stole source code used in company games. The company made the announcement earlier this month.

Online forum posts reviewed by CNN Business and vetted by an independent cybersecurity expert show that on June 6, hackers claimed to have obtained 780 gigabytes of data from EA (EA), including source code for Frostbite, the game engine that powers games that include titles in the FIFA, Madden and Battlefield series.

According to Brett Callow, a threat analyst at cybersecurity software maker Emsisoft, losing control over source code could be problematic for EA's business.

Source code could, theoretically, be copied by other developers or used to create hacks for games.

Accoring to An EA spokesperson, "no player data was accessed, and we have no reason to believe there is any risk to player privacy. Following the incident, we've already made security improvements and do not expect an impact on our games or our business."

Europe is catching up

Tier - a micromobility company and Europe's biggest e-scooter provider - was founded in 2018 in Berlin. With a valuation of $1 billion (€ 844 billion), today Tier has over 80,000 electric mobility offerings in 13 countries and 120 cities.

The pandemic hasn't put a spoke in the industry's wheel, either. On the contrary, it's gaining momentum. "We are still seeing a very positive trend when it comes to investors," according to Tier spokesperson Florian Anders. Investors want to help, push the concept into bigger markets.

Tier is just one of a handful of e-scooter providers riding the investor wave - Dott, Wind, and Voi are others worth mentioning. But the throng of scooters flooding onto the streets and sidewalks of Paris, Berlin, and, most recently, London have many feeling that these companies are moving faster than city regulators can keep up.

Safety concerns

On June 19th, a 31-year-old woman was killed in Paris when a couple riding an e-scooter knocked her to the ground, putting her in a coma. She died two days later. The incident has caused an uproar, and prompted the deputy mayor to summon all e-scooter executives to discuss safety concerns.

The French capital has even threatened to ban the electric rollers if the companies managing them don't implement stricter rules.

"For us, safety is top priority," according to Anders in response to the incident in Paris. "We are making the hardware as safe as possible, adding signals. It's also about education, like preventing tandem riding or drunk driving. It is a big issue for us."

Germany's Federal Ministry of Transport has also considered whether this new mode of mobility is safe for city streets. So far, the ministry has shown a moderate approach, saying that "the regulation on very small electric vehicles is a balanced solution between the new introduction of new forms of mobility on the one hand and ensuring road safety on the other."

In an attempt to find that balance, Germany has implemented a minimum riding age of 14, a maximum speed limit of 12 miles per hour (20 kilometers per hour), and required the vehicles be used in bike lanes.

But gaps in implementation have people concerned.

"It makes you feel like you have not been properly instructed on something," according to user, Mani about his first couple experiences riding.

An overreaction?

The car today takes up vast amounts of public space while claiming tens of thousands of lives every year. Some question the animosity towards an electric scooter that goes 12 miles per hour.

"I do want to caution, as horrifying as it is that this woman was killed, thousands of people die getting hit by cars. And I 100% support people feeling safe on sidewalks, but e-scooters should not be seen as public enemy No. 1," according Dr. Rebecca Sanders, owner of Safe Streets Research and Consulting.

It is about creating a transportation system that integrates this new form of mobility.

Selling sustainability

As companies like Tier continue to wrestle with regulators and address safety concerns, their biggest selling point is sustainability.

Tier wants to create a more sustainable environment, teach mobility for good and transform cities with micromobility.

Is it more sustainable than biking or walking? No. Is it more sustainable than driving? Definitely.

Are e-scooters really so sustainable? The fact that the lifespan of many models is only three years - or that many get tossed into the river by vandals long before that — takes some of the edge off the sustainability argument.

If we do it well, I think that this form of mobility could become a sustainable part of urban transportation infrastructure. If we do it well.

As for someone like Mani, who hops on a scooter when he misses the bus or is heading to a get-together nearby, the concern isn't so much safety or sustainability — it's convenience.



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