Paris has recently been invaded. By e-scooters, or “trottinettes” as they are referred to by Parisians and not everyone is happy about it.
Le e-scooter Start Up est arrivé
Pioneered in San Francisco, micro mobility is the most rapidly expanding form of public transport in the world. 12 months ago, e-scooter start ups arrived in Paris to a fanfare of environmental enthusiasm. The capital is investing heavily in sustainable transport in a bid to tackle overcrowded city streets and a public transport system groaning under increasing demand.
An explosion of electric and non electric bikes, scooters and mono wheels have taken over Paris. US and European tech start ups have conscripted the city as their latest playground.
Paris is now an international mecca for micro transport companies and their apps. There are 12 start ups already based here. Brands like Bird, Lime, Bolt by Usain Bolt, Jet, Jump and Tier are increasingly recognisable. Up to 40,000 e-scooters for hire are expected to inundate the capital by the end of the year.
The E-Scooter Revolution
The e-scooter isn’t the first time that Paris has been involved in beta testing electric transport. Over a 120 years ago, the first ever electric tram line was opened in 1892. The route ran between Saint-Denis and Madeleine, in direct competition with horse drawn carriages, omnibuses and trams.
After that, electric transport mushroomed, eventually eclipsing horse drawn vehicles forever. Tramways, criss crossed the city, transporting Parisians, uninterrupted for the next 37 years, until the arrival of the automobile.
Serpollet’s steam powered engine, designed in Montmartre, sounded the death knell for electric transport. The internal combustion engine consigned electric vehicles into a transport abyss, until now. The site of Serpollet’s old work shop, sits just opposite my apartment on Rue de Cloys. A poignant and reassuring reminder, that if you hang around long enough, everything will come full circle, eventually.
The e-scooter represents a new iteration. With the planet hotting up, air pollution increasing and freak weather events like the current heatwave taking place in France, micro transport is one small part of the city’s attempt to fend off climate catastrophe.
The capital is at the vanguard of urban mobility, attempting to cut down on carbon emissions, combat air pollution and get cars off the road. Paris is cleaning up her act. At the same time, with no legislation in place to govern their use, e-scooters have become something of a political hot potato, or patate chaude if you will.
An E-Scooter Backlash
With a maximum speed of 26 mph e-scooters can, and do, inflict serious damage to both riders and pedestrians. In May, Paris Opera pianist, Isabelle Vanbrabant was hit by an e-scooter whilst walking along the pavement at night in Les Halles. France TV Info reported that her wrist was shattered in several places. She won’t be able to return to work at the Opera for at least a year. June 2019 saw the city’s first fatality of a scooter user in a collision with a van. They might look like a throwback to a 80s children’s toy, but they’re anything but.
Aren’t E-Scooters For Kids?
It’s not unusual to feel the hiss from the backdraft of an e-scooter hurtling past you on the pavement or see them weaving in and out of traffic, usually down the middle of the road. I’ve seen everything from a trio of cocksure teenage boys boldly breezing along in formation, blocking the traffic. To suited city gents clutching their briefcases, whooshing by, the summer Montmartre air gently ruffling their hair.
I know that we need to save the planet and I know that I am being totally unreasonable. There is, however, still some small, furtive part of me, deep inside, that secretly thinks adults on scooters look, well, a bit daft. Add a tweed suit, unfeasibly neat bob, sensible shoes and a laptop bag into the mix and I’m laughing like Mutley on the inside. Obviously this is not a particularly adult opinion to verbalise.
An E-scooter Graveyard
E-scooter start ups are coming up against a monumental PR nightmare. One not of their own making. Once a rider has finished using their scooter, they simply discard it. Scooters get dumped absolutely anywhere, without discernment and that’s bad for business. Abandoned scooters litter the streets of Paris, strewn across pavements or discarded in doorways. Understandably, Parisians are disgruntled, more recently, mobilising themselves to deal with the issue by unceremoniously dumping scooters with an undignified splash into the Seine. In my head I like to hear a chorus of “Vive la République” accompanying that splash.
On a bad day, Paris could be mistaken for an exceptionally untidy e-scooter Père–Lachaise. Metal cadavers lining every corner. Languishing in doorway mausoleums. Patiently waiting for the grim reaper to rescue and recharge them.
Parisians are irked. Even the mayor of the 13th arrondissement, Jérôme Courmet, took to Twitter in exasperation, exclaiming “enough of this bullshit.” Who can blame him? E-scooters are a fantastic idea in theory but the practice of everyday use clearly leaves a lot to be desired. Presenting Parisians with a conundrum; what to do with thousands of scooters that no one can be bothered to park considerately?
GPS & Geo Fencing to the Rescue
San Francisco based Bird, may just have the answer. Bird is partnering with the city in an attempt to counter the ditch and dump culture of the scooter. They’re piloting a new scheme to encourage scooter riders to park in designated spots. The city, for their part, have reclaimed existing car parking spaces, reinventing them as micro mobility parking bays, much to the chagrin of Parisian cab drivers.
Using an app, riders are able to identify established parking spaces with a GPS alert. The app uses visual reference points and landmarks to help riders locate a suitable spot to leave their scooters. What’s in it for the rider who can already effortlessly dispose of their scooter at will you may ask? A discount on their next ride as an incentive to do the right thing.
That smart tech also uses geo fencing, a digital boundary if you like, to stop users from leaving their scooters in no parking zones. When those geo fences roll out later this year, they’ll have the potential to stop a scooter dead in it’s tracks. You can bet that somebody, somewhere on a street corner of Paris will be laughing to themselves like Mutley when they do.