Paris votes on e-scooters: what you need to know

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The City of Paris is asking its residents whether they want to keep free-floating e-scooters. Transport Policy Matters is here to help Parisians weigh up the arguments to decide how they vote on 2 April.

By Philippe Crist, Rex Deighton-Smith and Ronan Mac Erlaine from the International Transport Forum

The big picture

City planners increasingly see e-scooters and other new mobility options as a way to help people to “join the dots” across multiple transport choices as they move around the city. Futurists look to the “Mobility as a Service” model as a move away from personally-owned transport to a transport ecosystem that makes it easy to get where you need, irrespective of the mode. Remove one of their options, or “dots”, and you make it harder for people to switch between transport modes.

E-scooters are already part of the French capital’s transport mix. Trottinettes are a relatively light, sustainable and safe additional way for Parisiens to get around. Free-floating e-scooters typically complement other transport options in a city where around 50% of trips are made on foot and 32% by public transport. Private cars only account for 13% of Paris trips.


Cities around the world have taken very different approaches to e-scooters. Paris took a hands-off attitude to their regulation around four and a half years ago, essentially adopting a “try it and see” approach. Many consultations later, inhabitants of the City of Lights will be asked to vote for or against this new form of micromobility. But the vote only concerns free-floating shared scooters, currently operated by Dott, Lime and Tier. No restrictions are proposed on privately owned e-scooters, as they are not subject to the same regulatory controls. With sales of private e-scooters reaching nearly one million units in all of France in 2021, the idea of banning only the 15 000 free-floating versions in Paris seems somewhat incongruous.

Are they safe?

ITF’s seminal 2020 report Safe Micromobility concluded e-scooters show similar levels of safety as classic pedal bicycles. This is to be expected, as they operate at similar speeds, and speed management is the key to ensuring safety.

A micromobility classic! Alexandre Santacreu’s 2020 deep dive into the new mobility mix

These findings were based on limited data since shared e-scooters had only just arrived on the global scene at the time. ITF is working on an update to this study, and emerging evidence seems to support those findings. More fundamentally, operators of shared e-scooter fleets have, or have been required to, implement safety upgrades. Speeds are automatically throttled down in high-risk zones, vehicles are maintained to stringent standards, and work is underway to prevent doubled-up riding by monitoring fluctuations in riders’ weight. None of those improvements affects the considerably more numerous privately owned e-scooter fleet.

A recurrent complaint is the cluttering of public space by free-floaters. To its credit, the city of Paris has been a world leader when it comes to addressing anarchic e-scooter parking. In 2019, a local ordinance banned parking e-scooters on sidewalks, in pedestrian zones or on the street. At the same time, the city converted 2 500 car parking places to dedicated shared e-scooter and bicycle parking and required operators to end trips only when the e-scooters were parked in these corrals.

A thing of the past? Champs-Elysées e-scooter dumping in August 2020

It’s still too soon to know whether city-instigated initiatives in Paris aimed to make free-floaters more acceptable – like reducing speeds, restricting parking zones and banning their use on pavements and for the under-16s – have increased their acceptance by those who do not use them. But it is in the public interest to pursue these policies. For instance, the fact that cities that have not attempted to manage “street clutter” have recorded an increase in falls by elderly pedestrians underlines the importance of continuing to pursue these initiatives.

How green are they?

Research into their environmental impact shows e-scooters perform similarly to e-bikes over their lifecycle, from manufacture to decommissioning and including operation and maintenance.

This wasn’t necessarily the case at the outset since many of the scooters were off-the-rack models not designed for intensive shared use. Longer vehicle life translates into lower lifecycle environmental impacts per kilometre. Over time, the average life of a shared e-scooter has increased from several months to up to five years. Now operators are purposively designing vehicles for shared use – they are heavier, sturdier and designed so that worn-out parts can be swapped out as needed without having to decommission the entire scooter.

The talk of the town when it comes to greener city transport is “modal shift”; moving travellers from more polluting to less polluting transport options. Someone swapping a trip in their petrol car in favour of a pedal bicycle is a step in the right direction. When an e-scooter trip replaces a walking trip, that’s a negative outcome, right? Most likely – but it could be that the scooter trip was to a public transport station and the combined e-scooter-train trip would be more sustainable than a car trip or even an off-peak hour bus trip.

Green credentials under media scrutiny from Le Monde

What trips get replaced by e-scooters also depends on the starting point, of course. With so few trips taking place by car in Paris, the likelihood of a scooter trip replacing a car trip is likely smaller than it would be in Toulouse or Dallas, where car travel dominates. Still, a recent study for the city of Paris shows that 19% of shared e-scooter trips replace trips made by a ride-hailed car, a taxi or a private car. That’s pretty impressive in a city where so few trips are made by car.

Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien

Eighteenth-century French thinker Voltaire may have proposed to keep the new free-floaters on the basis that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”. The mobility benefits of e-scooters are significant, and their use should be acceptable, provided that they are at least “no less safe” than the other transport options that we already accept. Conversely, there seems little reason to try to hold them to some higher standard of absolute safety.

It looks likely that e-scooters, in some form, will remain part of the future sustainable mobility system. With speed limits of 30 km/h now applied to all of the French capital’s roads outside of a very few major axes and a halving of car use in the past 30 years, the time may be ripe to further develop new mobility.

Given the take-up and popularity of the free-floaters, any ban that does not also rein in private e-scooter use is likely to see their share of the market grow massively. If this happens, the attempt to improve overall safety will be challenging, but the disappearance of scooters able to be hired by casual users will have created a problem for equity and accessibility. 

The International Transport Forum works for transport policies that improve peoples’ lives. Stay tuned for updates on our micromobility work.

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