Paris: Managing the Shared Mobility Révolution

Shared Mobility in Practice

In Paris, the shared mobility revolution is well underway. We examine how Hôtel de Ville, Paris’ town hall, is trying to get a grip on the situation.

By Emma Latham-Jones and Will Duncan

Over 20,000 dockless trottinettes eléctrique, or electric scooters, have sprung up around the French capital since June 2018, quickly becoming a common sight on the city’s Haussmannian streets. Renting one is as simple as downloading an app and punching in your credit card details. With the scooters seemingly available everywhere – on sidewalks, squares, and by the banks of the Seine – it’s become easy to whizz around the city at a silent speed.

Parisians have been quick to recognise the potential of these new shared vehicles. The novelty of the electric e-scooter has swiftly given way to it being seen as a mainstream and significant mode of transport. As James Tapper wrote in The Guardian, “they’re cheaper than cabs, less effort than a bike and more convenient than buses.” They have a lot going for them.

Never have their benefits been more apparent than during December’s period of grèves – transport strikes – across the capital city. Zipping past tense car drivers stuck in traffic stretching out miles down Paris’ boulevards at rush hour, e-scooters defy both the public transport strikes and the increase in car traffic that’s accompanied it. For those otherwise stranded during the public transport turmoil, these e-scooters seem to be an early Christmas blessing.

But the sudden success of these new networks of scooters has created a dilemma for the city government. Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, ran on an especially green platform and has implemented a number of reforms to combat the city’s pollution levels and traffic congestion. While these new scooters appear to offer Parisians a greener way to get around the City of Light, their sudden arrival has been chaotic, prompting critics to label it an “invasion”.

From Bolt to Lime, the takeover of one-syllable brand names running e-scooter fleets is causing some serious problems. Tourists fly by silently through busy pedestrian areas. Disorganised clusters of scooters block sidewalks and doorways. The less-fortunate can be seen vandalised or discarded in an ugly heap. Tragically, Paris saw its first electric scooter-related death in June 2019, after a truck collided with a rider in the city’s 18th arrondissement.

The transport revolution is taking hold, but it’s causing some serious headaches.

Photo: martin_vmorris (CC), Flickr

Taking back control

In June 2019, Hidalgo declared an “end to the anarchy”. Her government established a new set of rules for shared electric scooters operating with Paris city limits, necessary “to assure road safety and to calm the streets, pavements, and neighbourhoods of our city.”

Riders were banned from rolling along the footpaths or through parks and gardens. Speeds were capped to 25km/h. The number of service operators would be reduced from twelve to an approved (and more manageable) three, and operators have been requested not to increase the number of scooters in circulation while the new national mobility law creates a more appropriate legal framework.

Perhaps the most significant intervention: scooters can no longer be abandoned on the sidewalks – possibly the biggest gripe amongst Parisians towards the new vehicles. E-scooters must be parked in legitimate parking spaces, the same used by cars or bikes. Paris will soon experiment with dedicated shared scooter and bicycle parking spots around the city.

The official Twitter account of the city of Paris

While Paris is in some sense, “cracking down” — these actions don’t really represent the big blow to shared mobility innovation that some may have expected, or feared. Free-floating scooters are in no way banned from operating in the city (like they are in London and Barcelona, for example). Clearly, Paris recognises the potential of free-floating shared vehicles. In fact, by calling for an end of the anarchy, the Parisian government has elected to take a leading role in the responsible management of shared mobility in its city.

“Under no circumstances should this mode of transport be pilloried,” assures a city press release. “[E-scooters] represent a new form of transport mobility and contribute to reducing the use of polluting cars. However, the City of Paris wishes to regulate this mode of transport more effectively to ensure road safety and calm streets and pavements.” 

According to Philippe Crist, Innovation Policy Analyst at the International Transport Forum, “Paris has established an ambitious regulatory framework in less than twelve months.” And in only 16 months, e-scooters were added to the Code de la Route. As a result, they are subject to the rules of the road, and there is now a ban on more than one person per scooter.

With the tender process well under way, the contracts for the three wining e-scooter service operators will be awarded from January 2020. This has prompted scooter companies to share more ambitious approaches to sustainability, declaring the creation of extra scooter repair facilities to extend the notoriously short lifespan. As they race to win the favour of Hôtel de Ville, they also rush to ditch gig workers and instead hire staff on permanent contracts.

Re-imagining the city street

“Why do these scooters often feel so anarchic? Because they’re whizzing down roads that aren’t designed for them,” says Crist.

“We devote a very large part of the road to a wall of steel — parked automobiles. If we managed public space better — if we adapted it to the needs and possibilities of today — it could be quite different,” he says.

Cities must look at how they can effectively regulate — and also benefit from — this kind of innovation. Like other city halls, Paris’ Hôtel de Ville recognises the extraordinary potential of shared mobility to reduce congestion and pollution, by encouraging the idea that owning a private vehicle is not necessary to have high-quality access to the city.

Disruptions like this invite us to imagine how cities could be. According to Crist, “we’re living in a very interesting time — something of a crossroads. We suddenly have so many more options in how we can get around, with an even greater promise for the future. But we haven’t yet thought about re-allocating space in the city to fit these modes.”

“Today’s roads are based off a 100-year-old model,” he points out. “How can governments adapt and lead to re-think the model for the next 100 years?”

ITF work has indicated that if widely adopted, some forms of shared mobility could halve the number of vehicle-kilometres travelled in urban areas, and reduce urban transport CO2 emissions by 30%. Free-floating e-scooters and other forms of micro-mobility can help achieve these outcomes, but it’s crucial that governments take them seriously and recognise the potential they represent.

Cities such as Paris are well-placed to imagine and invest in the future of transport at this exciting time.

This article is part of a series on Shared Mobility in Practice, which looks at how cities around the world are incorporating innovative transport solutions in real life, today. See also: Los Angeles: Harnessing Data for Transport Innovation, and: China: Explaining Ride-Hailing’s Rapid Rise. Shared mobility is one of the transport disruptions explored in the 2019 ITF Transport Outlook.