Could Electric Scooters Replace Bicycles?


Bird, Bolt, Lime, Tier, Flash, Voi, Scoot … Aliens? Energy cocktails for seasoned skiers? Nicknames? No, it’s the list of electric scooter companies that dream of conquering Paris. No less than seven operators, since the arrival of the last comer, Flash, on February 16 this year. Seven is more than in all other cities of France combined. It’s even more than in any other megapolis in the world.

Easy E-Biking - e-bike and e-scooter city street, helping to make electric biking practical and fun

This Parisian exception can be explained. Paris is an ideal micro-market, a perfect playground: a high density of population, services, and shops, various modes of transport to which citizens are accustomed. The proportion of households is low, around 35%. 79% of trips are done on foot. And public transport is saturated at peak times.

Surprised by the growing number of scooters on the roads (and on the sidewalks)? Forget about skateboarding, rollerblading, cycling and even walking; the future is electric self-service scooter!

Weight, volume, speed

Bold, Lime or Flash are definitely a plus in the city. A scooter weighs 10 to 12 kilos, occupies relatively little space, and rolls fast enough. In short, to make a few kilometers in the city, it is much more logical and efficient to use this mode of transport, than to order an Uber. And that’s what people do. According to Bird, “71% of people say they use cars less than before”.

A scooter is not a bike

On the other hand, it would be presumptuous to assume that scooters will replace bikes as “active” modes of transportation. Firstly because they are not the same. Cyclists use their legs, their arms, weight, and eyes. Pedals and handlebars. This gives a bicycle rider more capacity to react that an electric scooter rider, who is standing upright with both feet together. This position reminds of a monoski, on which one tries to balance with his or her two legs …

Prices are high

Cost of the service remains high for riders. All of them agree: 1 € per rental, then 15 cents per minute of use. That is 10 € per hour, which explains why users ride as fast as possible. At this price to rent a traditional bike rental is much cheaper (5 € per day), or own your proper bike, or even buy your own scooter, which would cost around 400 € for a good electric model or as low as 30 € for a simple traditonal one.

From time to time, electric scooter operators are releasing staggering figures for their Paris playground: 5000 trips, or even 10,000 trips per day. That sounds impressive. Except when one makes fairly simple comparisons. Every day, despite persistent difficulties, electric biking service
Vélibs rents out its bikes for about 40000 trips. These represent only 20 to 25% of the bike trips in the city, against 40% before the market crash of 2018. And the bike reaches only 5%, at most, of all trips in Paris. In other words, when a scooter operator announces 10,000 days a day, this amounts to a “share” of 0.25 or 0.3% … We are far from any tsunami growth.

The precedent free-floating bikes

Will the seven companies that roam the pavement of Paris survive? It is impossible to predict the future. But we still remember the entry of free-floating bicycle companies, that came to Paris in the Fall of 2017. They were presented as the future of urban cycling. Up to 5 operators took part, and only 2 remain. And their usage became residual. Even earlier, there were multiple private driver passenger cars. There are still some of them today, but Uber has taken all of the market.

Moreover, scooter trips, like all trips made by any other means of transport, are not neutral. They create collisions. It is still too early to analyze accidents caused by scooter drivers. If scooters ride, despite the ban, on sidewalks, they are predators, just like cyclists. On the other hand, if they ride on the streets, they are vulnerable.

Sidewalks are not free

In addition, scooters are scattered in public spaces, most often on sidewalks. Even if an electric scooter occupies less space than a bike and even less than a traditional scooter, the pedestrians are not happy as it affects the “walkability” of the city, and the quality of life.

This has a cost. Public spaces are not free. They need to be maintained, cleaned, and circulated by the police. Birds, Lime and Bolt scooters are brought and removed each morning and evening by autoentrepreneurs who for the most part circulate using diesel cars. Kenneth Schlenker, Bird’s representative in France, is aware of this, but admits that he has not yet calculated the impact of this operation on his company’s “sustainable mobility” performance.

Several municipalities, such as Strasbourg, or Portland (Oregon), assess their actual mobility needs and then set rules for scooter operators before they start their operations in these cities, and then enforce these rules. In these cities, the scooter service is intended to facilitate short trips, and certainly not to cannibalize existing modes of transportation, such as cycling or simple walking.

Recent Content