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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

In Paris referendum, 89% of voters back a ban on electric scooters

Relatively few people turned out for the referendum about the scooters — only about 100,000 Parisians voted, less than 7.5 percent of those eligible — but nearly 89 percent backed the ban.

By Tom Nouvian

An overwhelming majority of Parisians who took part in a referendum on rental electric scooters have voted to ban the devices from the streets of the French capital, reflecting exhaustion with a public-transit alternative that was once seen as convenient and climate-friendly but is now largely regarded as dangerous and environmentally questionable.

Relatively few people turned out on Sunday for the referendum — only about 100,000 Parisians voted, less than 7.5% of those eligible — but those who did cast ballots left little doubt about what they wanted: Nearly 89% backed the ban.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who once backed the expansion of rental electric scooters to cut traffic, led the campaign against them, describing them as a “nuisance.”

Although the referendum, described as a “public consultation,” was nonbinding, Hidalgo, a member of the Socialist Party, said that she was “committed to respecting the results of the vote.”

With the operators’ contracts expiring at the end of August, Hidalgo said, “there will be no more self-service scooters in Paris” come Sept. 1. Privately owned scooters will still be permitted.

Many other cities, including Marseille in the south of France, have been closely watching the vote in Paris as they weigh the future of rental scooters on their own streets. Copenhagen, Denmark, and Montreal banned the electric scooters in 2020, although Copenhagen allowed them to return the next year under strict conditions.

International experts say Paris has long been a leader in the evolution of transportation. “Cities that were already planning or interested in banning scooters will now point to Paris as it is the largest city yet to ban them,” said Sarah M. Kaufman, the interim director of the New York University Rudin Center for Transportation.

Paris has been one of the largest markets for rental scooters in the world, recording about 20 million trips on 15,000 scooters in 2022. The same year, though, the national road safety department, Sécurité Routière, said that 34 people had died and 570 others had been seriously injured in France while riding an electric scooter or similar mobility device. The French National Academy of Medicine called electric rental scooters a “major health problem.”

“We consider it a victory. Paris is a symbol,” said Arnaud Kielbasa, who set up an association for victims in 2019 after someone riding a scooter knocked down his wife, who had been carrying their 7-week-old baby girl. The child was hospitalized with a concussion. Since then, Kielbasa had been publicly pushing against the rental operators’ promotion of the scooters as safe, environmentally friendly and an easy mode of public transportation.

“On top of saving people from death and injury, we also have the satisfaction of pushing back the uberization of our country,” he said.

In the United States, cities like Seattle and Portland saw rental scooter ridership soar during the pandemic, when people feared they could catch the coronavirus on trains or buses and opted for outdoor travel.

“All cities were caught flat-footed by the rise of micro-mobility,” said Sam Schwartz, an international transportation expert and former chief engineer for the New York City Department of Transportation, who said most municipalities are still struggling to regulate scooters.

First arriving in Paris in 2018, the motorized version of the children’s toy were welcomed by Hidalgo, in her efforts to make the city more green and reduce its congestion.

The next year, 16 companies were offering rental scooters in a marketing frenzy that resulted in reckless riders barreling down sidewalks at speeds of up to 19 mph. Parked scooters were thrown across roadways and into the Seine and lovers wove precariously through traffic, with two entwined people balancing on a platform the size of a skateboard.

In 2019, a rider was hit by a van and killed, becoming the first but far from the last rental scooter fatality in the city.

Afterward, City Hall implemented some basic rules and narrowed the operators to three — the San Francisco-based company Lime, the Dutch startup Dott and the German startup Tier.

Since then, their environmental value has also come under close scrutiny.

The three companies pointed to a city-sponsored study that found that the devices helped reduce pollution in Paris, as 19% of trips would have otherwise been made by car. But that same study also noted that more than three-quarters of riders would have traveled using another low-carbon method, like walking.

As City Hall hailed the vote as a “victory for local democracy,” opposition parties, including President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance, denounced what they characterized as a one-sided decision.

Calling the vote a “gigantic democratic fiasco,” Sylvain Maillard, a Renaissance lawmaker in the National Assembly representing Paris said Monday on Twitter that he was “thinking of the young Parisians who are the big losers in this binary vote organized by a municipality which has decided to pit one generation to another.”

The three scooter rental companies were critical that online voting — rare in France — had not been allowed, arguing that its absence discouraged the participation of younger voters who were most likely to use the scooters. They also complained that the geographic boundaries of who could vote, excluding people who live in the suburbs but spend time in the capital, were too restrictive.

“It’s as if they prefer traffic jams over getting to their job on time,” said Aymen Kouachi, a salesman who was picking up a scooter to leave his workplace on the Champs-Élysées on Monday. Kouachi, 22, was among the few who voted to keep the rental scooters on Sunday.

“I will have to find solutions, maybe buy my own electric scooter,” he said with resignation.

Before the vote, the companies operating in Paris organized a marketing campaign based on social-media influencers in the city, and offered free rides on the day of the referendum to try to mobilize young voters, their core customer base.

After spending the sunny afternoon cruising up and down the Champs-Élysées on a rented electric scooter, Dominik Metz, 41, struggled to find a place to park. Unaware of Sunday’s referendum, the German tourist said the news didn’t rattle him. “Next time I’ll just walk or take the subway,” he said. “It’s really no big deal.”

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