PARIS – The wheels may be about to come off Paris' ubiquitous for-hire electric scooters.
Zipping around the City of Light on one of them, wind in the hair, or romantically but naughtily e-scooting à deux on one machine when the gendarmes aren't looking could soon be over if Parisians vote Sunday to do away with the 15,000 opinion-dividing micro-vehicles.
The question City Hall is asking in a citywide mini-referendum is: “For or against self-service scooters in Paris?"
The answer could doom a leading market for the swift two-wheelers that have expanded locomotion choices in the French capital and other urban centers and towns around the world.
Scattered around Paris, easy to locate and hire with a downloadable app and relatively cheap, the scooters are a hit with tourists who love their speed and the help-yourself freedom they offer. In the five years since their introduction, following in the wake of shared cars and shared bicycles, for-hire scooters have also built a following among Parisians who don't want or can't afford their own but like the option to escape the Metro and other public transport.
But amid complaints that e-scooters are an eyesore and a traffic menace, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and some of her deputies want to banish the “free floating” flotilla — so called because scooters are picked up and dropped off at their renters' whim — on safety, public nuisance and cost-benefit grounds before the capital hosts the Olympic Games next year.
Paris' deputy mayor for transport, David Belliard, says the scooters have been involved in hundreds of accidents. He also says they are more environmentally damaging than walking or riding a bike or bus, and too speedy and anarchic in a crowded, compact and historic city where space is at a premium.
They create “a feeling of overall insecurity in the public space, notably for the most vulnerable people, I’m thinking of seniors or people with disabilities,” he said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. “There are a few benefits but what I see today is that the costs are greater.”
Paris' contracts with the three rental companies — Dott, Lime and TIER — expire at the end of August. Whether for-hire e-scooters survive in Paris beyond that will depend on Sunday's poll that's open to all of the city's registered voters, including those from other European Union countries.
“Whatever the result, we will respect it," Belliard pledged. Hidalgo has promised likewise and said that she, too, hopes Parisians will vote against the scooters.
Scooter critics say the machines are particularly dangerous in the hands of tourists who don't know how to navigate Paris' frenetic, honk-honk, get-out-of-my-way traffic and the many users who flout the rules and risk fines by riding two to a scooter and by mounting sidewalks, sometimes barreling through pedestrians.
“I regularly, in fact pretty much all the time, see tourists riding them in pairs, people who often are oblivious to what they are doing, who aren’t in control of the scooter,” says Raphael Sicat, an IT manager who commutes on an electric monocycle to his Paris office. He says he often sees crashes involving for-hire scooters on his 40-kilometer (25-mile) round trip.
Swiss tourist Ler Detelj loves the adrenaline rush.
“It's fast and it's easy and it's cool," she said as she and two friends took scooters for a whirl from the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
The three scooter operators say they transported nearly 2 million people in the city last year and that 71% of Parisian users are under 35. They've used social media influencers, some of them paid, and messages on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok in a get-out-the-vote drive targeting that age group. They are also offering a free round-trip ride Sunday on their scooters or electric bikes to users who enter the words “Je vote" — I vote in French — into their apps.
Garance Lefèvre, a director of public policy for one of the operators, Lime, says women and LGBTQ+ people value the scooters as a safe mode of late-night travel and that the two-wheelers have generally become ingrained in Parisian habits. The city has “really raised the standards for the entire industry," she said, and operators have created “durable and responsible jobs."
“Paris has been the pioneer in terms of welcoming shared micro-mobility," she says. “Paris would really be an outlier if it decided to put an end to the service.”
Masha Macpherson in Paris contributed.