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Parisians’ affair with e-scooters appears to be fini.

In a recent plebiscite on the question: “For or against self-service scooters?” nearly 90 per cent cast a ballot in favour of banning the trottinettes, which Mayor Anne Hidalgo promised to do in the fall.

The scooters have become a source of contention around the world. The French capital was one of the first to embrace them after their debut in California in 2017. Paris promoted them a year later as a new and exciting, non-polluting form of public transport.

But as they proliferated on Paris roadways and sidewalks – there are about 15,000 today – so did complaints, accidents and fatalities. The death of a 31-year-old Italian woman in June 2021, killed after being hit by an e-scooter while walking along the Seine, sparked broad outrage.

It’s not just Paris re-evaluating its position on e-scooters; cities around the globe are doing the same. Several U.S. metropolises and university campuses have banned them after a precipitous rise in the number of accidents and serious injuries associated with their use. Their increasing popularity was linked to a 450 per cent increase in e-scooter-related emergency room visits across America between 2017 and 2021, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Over the same period, 68 died in scooter accidents.

Increasingly, there are altercations between cars and e-scooters. Last week in Seattle, one of those confrontations led to a shooting that killed a 23-year-old man. Something occurred to cause a verbal altercation and, according to police, the scooter driver fired into the car, killing the driver and injuring a passenger.

The majority of e-scooter drivers are responsible (many are helmeted) and ride with respect for the speeds their machines can reach – up to 40 kilometres an hour. Most travel in protected bike lanes. But then there are those who insist on thwarting bylaws, and whizzing down sidewalks and scaring people – particularly seniors – to death. You literally cannot hear them coming.

On a couple of recent trips to Calgary, I witnessed this firsthand. Weekends are particularly bad, with young people, many inebriated, using the scooters as a means to jump from bar to bar. They dart in and out of sidewalk traffic without any regard for people’s safety. I witnessed several near misses. Later, they leave the shared scooters strewn around the city.

An ongoing study out of the University of Calgary found, in 2022, that roughly one out of every 1,400 e-scooter rides ends in an injury so severe a trip to Emergency is required. Factors attributed to the injuries include risky behaviour – driving while drinking – and environmental elements such as potholes and curbs.

Many cities have e-scooter bylaws prohibiting driving on sidewalks, but they are difficult to enforce unless someone is literally caught in the act.

E-scooter rental companies such as Lime, Dott and Tier are aware of the reputational problem on their hands and the questionable future their machines have in many cities. They had hoped that “geofencing” – a technology that automatically modifies the speed of e-scooters (up to and including halting their movement entirely) depending on their GPS co-ordinates – would eliminate many of their issues. It hasn’t worked. They have geofencing in Paris. But many of the problems are caused by people using their own scooters and not ones from rental companies that have the geofencing technology.

Something has to give.

The reality is there is likely no going back now. The machines are here to stay. As the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said recently: “You can’t uninvent e-scooters.”

In a world in which social planners are encouraging people to ditch their cars and get around in a more environmentally sustainable way, e-scooters would seem a viable alternative, one those same planners would likely want to encourage as a mode of transportation.

Many cities already have a healthy network of bike lanes. They need to be expanded. Pathways that are separated from pedestrians and cars are ideal. Several cities are increasing the number of those as well.

But there needs to be a crackdown on those e-scooter drivers who are in clear violation of city bylaws. Those infractions must carry a penalty far greater than a mere slap on the risk (see $100 fine) many cities hand out now. Getting far more serious about those driving an e-scooter while impaired is also essential to discourage this widespread activity.

Cities weren’t prepared for the e-scooter craze and its associated problems. They are here now and not going away. What’s needed is a hard look at the consequences for those using them and putting the safety of others at risk.

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