Micromobility in limbo: Takeaways from Paris and LA
Shared electric bikes were introduced to the market five years ago . They had a vision of moving people from cars to more sustainable modes of transportation. Despite billions of dollars in VC , and plenty hype , the future promised by micromobility companies has not yet arrived.
In cities like Paris, most people aren’t replacing car trips with shared e-scooter jaunts in a meaningful way; the cost of riding scooters makes them an expensive option for last-mile transit connections and equitable access; and the public disclosures of Bird and Helbiz have shown us that achieving profitability is incredibly difficult. Cities that allow shared e-scooter businesses in their neighborhoods are making it increasingly difficult for scooter companies and other companies to survive.
Alternatives to cars are needed for traffic flow and carbon emission ,. Are shared e-scooters the solution or another shtick option? What has shared micromobility brought to cities?
We decided to take a look at two cities that were at the forefront of the e-scooter revolution – Los Angeles and Paris. The first has a reputation for being a bit free-for-all with a laissez faire capitalist regulatory approach that allows multiple operators compete for rides. This latter has some the most stringent regulations in the game, including limited operator permits. In fact, they are still considering banning shared-e-scooters completely.
” From a societal standpoint, I’d be more worried about e-scooters departing Los Angeles than Paris,” David Zipper (a visiting fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Centre for State and Local Government) told TechCrunch. “Paris is dense and has a great Metro. It is possible that scooters in Paris are replacing other forms of transportation that are greener. LA is different. It’s so car dominated and hungry for alternatives to the automobile.”
Despite that apparent hunger, two scooter operators – Lyft and Spin – recently exited the Los Angeles area, blaming a lack of favorable regulations and too much competition, which apparently made it difficult to turn a profit. There are six remaining operators in LA: Bird, Lime Veo, Superpedestrians, Wheels (now owned and operated by Helbiz) and Tuk Tuk.
The fact that both cities are sprawling and dense, one with many operators, the other with fewer operators, is a sign of a crucial question.
The fact that both cities – one dense and one sprawling – have e-scooters in their respective markets raises a key question.
Paris: To ban or not to ban?
Paris is a city where shared e-scooters are likely to thrive. It is home to one of Europe’s most densely populated cities. The majority of households don’t have a car and those who do own one use it very rarely. And Paris is led by Mayor Anne Hidalgo, an advocate for the reclamation of public space from roads and vehicles for a more liveable, “15-minute city.” In her time in office, Hidalgo has removed parking spots, turned streets into walkable areas and opened new bike lanes.
And yet, Paris is in the midst of potentially banning its 15,000 shared e-scooters as politicians from several parties call on Hidalgo not to renew the contracts of Lime, Dott and Tier when they expire in February 2023. She is expected to make her decision any day now, and indeed there are some rumors floating around that she already has.
Paris has been responding to safety concerns over the years with more stringent regulations. Last summer, following the death of someone who was hit by two women riding a scooter near the Seine, Paris implemented “slow zones” for scooters. A year later, the whole city turned into a slow zone, with shared e-scooter speeds capped at just over 6 miles per hour.
Despite these strict regulations, the city is not yet ready to say goodbye to shared scooters forever.
Shocked. Appalled. Frustrated. These are the feelings I had upon first hearing the news of the potential ban. What if there are some accidents? Car accidents happen all of the time! Boohoo for your complaints about scooters riding on sidewalks! Make bike lanes safer!
However, looking at scattered statistics about how scooters are used around Paris, it’s possible scooters aren’t providing the value cities need, namely limiting car use.
Lime told TechCrunch that 90% of its fleet in Paris is used everyday, and a scooter trip starts every four seconds in the city. In 2021, over 1.2 million scooter riders, 85% of whom were Parisian residents, took a total of 10 million rides across all three operators. Lime estimates that this could have replaced 1.6 millions car trips. Could have, but did they?
One study from 2021 found that e-scooter users in Paris are mainly men aged 18 to 29, have a high educational level, and usually jump on a scooter for travel time savings. Most riders (72%) in the study said they shifted from walking and public transportation, not cars. Another survey of French scooter riders found that shared scooters were “more likely to replace walking trips than other modes of transport.”
These results are not limited to Paris. A survey among customers who were registered with five different shared e-scooter apps in Norway in the fall of 2021 found that in all circumstances except for night rides, e-scooters most often replace walking. The study found that e-scooters can replace cars with longer trips on e-scooters if the user is a male and if the escooter is privately owned and to places not served by public transport.
What’s preventing us from achieving our ultimate goal of reducing the number of car-dependent travelers? Many people in Paris wouldn’t need a car because it is easy to walk around the city and use public transport. Maybe taxi drivers and car drivers who want to become scooter riders need to take more time to adjust to the idea of scooter riding as a way to live. Maybe scooters aren’t reliable for long distance travel.
Fluctuo, a aggregator of data on shared mobility, found that the average scooter trip in Paris was 2. 67 kilometers in July 2022 and 2. 53 kilometers in November. It is a long enough trip that you may prefer not to walk it, but it is too short to drive in Paris.
Whether scooters are helping people get out of cars, or not, they are very popular in Paris. A September Ipsos poll, commissioned by Tier, Dott and Tier, found that most Parisians agree that e-scooters are an integral part of daily mobility and are consistent with City Hall’s wider transport policy. Most of the respondents (68%) said they are satisfied with the number of self-service scooters on the streets of Paris, while a quarter indicated they would actually like to see more.
And in response to the potential ban, a recent petition launched by a Paris resident has garnered more than 19,000 signatures in opposition.
Hannah Landau is Lime’s communications manager in France and southern Europe. She told TechCrunch that a ban on Paris would make it a global outlier.
“No major cities in the world have ever banned shared e-scooter services.” she stated. “In fact, the main global trend today is cities renewing or expanding their programs – like London, New York, Washington D.C., and Madrid ).
Lime, Dott, and Tier have presented a range of measures to Paris’ city council, which they claim will address safety concerns and ensure that scooter licenses are renewed next year. Among the proposals are a joint campaign to raise awareness about traffic laws; a fine system that uses cameras on public roads; expanding use of scooter ADAS to prevent sidewalk riding; and equipping scooters with registration plates.
Among major cities, Paris may be unique in weighing a blanket ban, but other locales have recently shown an appetite for limiting scooters, including Stockholm, Tenerife, Spain, Boston College and Fordham University.
– Rebecca Bellan
Los Angeles: City of Autos
Let us add a few more wheels to this discussion. Yes, I am about to get personal about the automobile. Get ready!
Automakers rewired American cities over the last century, and if you ask me, we’re all suffering for it – especially Angelenos. Gas-powered cars, SUVs and trucks infamously clog LA’s arteries. They muck up the air, driving climate change and health issues alike. Plus, a driver in an SUV once hit me while I was standing on the sidewalk, innocently looking for a nearby ramen joint. It was personal, you see!
All this is to say, as a driver and pedestrian who occasionally drives (the one who bellows “I’m walking here!” in a New York accent), I feel hurt when micromobility operators leave cities like Lyft, Spin, Bolt, and Bolt in LA.
This isn’t because I ride scooters regularly, and it’s not because scooters are now scarce (a block from my apartment in central LA, I can find several Limes and Links on sidewalks and in the crooks of curbs). I want cars to be reined-in, to balance the city around public transportation, walking, biking, and even scooting — whatever it takes, to reduce fumes and free up streets. But what future do scooters and the like have here, given the recent exits, and Bird’s financial struggles to boot?
It all depends on who you ask. Lime, at least one operator, says that things are better than ever in Tinseltown. According to a spokesperson, Lime’s largest American market is Los Angeles.
While acknowledging LA’s shortcomings for scooters, including its sprawling geography, the spokesperson likened 2022 to a “wow moment” that showed how “micromobility is here to stay.” Lime credited its local staff, work with city officials and investments in hardware for the apparently strong year, but the company did not respond when TechCrunch asked if its LA operations are currently profitable. Lime is privately owned, so we don’t have as much information as Lyft or Bird.
Lime may have had a different experience in LA. TechCrunch was told by Lyft and Spin that they needed to make long-term, new deals with local governments in order to return to the city. “In a brief: The challenge in LA is that it’s an open vendor market without any vehicle cap,” Spin chief executive Philip Reinckens stated in an email to TechCrunch. “This had caused an imbalance in vehicle supply to rider demand because operators over-saturated the market .”
” A long-term arrangement for a few operators would be a condition for re-entry,” Reinckens said.
Santa Monica is a coastal city in LA County that seems to be open to this approach. Next year, Santa Monica says it plans to limit the number of permitted scooter operators from four to just one to two.
Zooming out: Greater LA area has a mixed reputation among cyclists, but officials have shown some willingness to accommodate things other than cars lately. There are a few interesting public initiatives underway, including recently announced efforts to promote cycling in South LA, North Hollywood and San Pedro. Although it’s not a revolution, it could make the city safer for all lightweight modes, including e-scooters.
Taken together, LA’s scooter free-for-all seems destined for consolidation, leaving fewer operators with a whole lot of ground to cover. Paris is not at risk of having shared e-scooters, but they don’t seem to be at all at risk.
– Harri Weber
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.