Personal Electric Mobility Is Taking Over Paris

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CC BY 2.0. e-bikes in the Louvre/ Lloyd Alter

Instead of banning these technologies, we have to figure out how to manage them. Because they are inevitable.

Everybody everywhere seems to hate dockless e-scooters. 15,000 of them have been dropped on the streets of Paris, mostly by Bird and Lime. Paris was home to the first big bike share program, Velib, so is no stranger to new transportation technologies, and once again, the city shows both the problems and successes.

Jump Bikes

Jump Bikes/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0Wherever you go, you see fancy Jump electric bikes, Mobike dockless bikes, and, of course, e-scooters. It is illegal to ride e-scooters on the sidewalks and subject to a big 135 euro fine, but most tourists do, and you really cannot blame them; the roads are treacherous, with motorcyclists racing down the gaps between cars. According to the Guardian,

The City Council said that while it supported new forms of mobility to replace polluting vehicles, the increasing use of stand-up electric scooters was putting pedestrians at risk, notably older people and infants, while anarchic parking hindered parents with prams and people in wheelchairs.

Paid car parking removed for bike parking

Paid car parking removed for bike parking/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The city is also fining the companies 35 euros for blocking the pavement and perhaps this has worked; I didn't see any mayhem, or bikes and scooters strewn over sidewalks, scattered everywhere. There are corrals for bikes in what were previously parking spots and that's generally where the bikes are.

E-bike standing alone nest to empty Velib rack

E-bike standing alone nest to empty Velib rack/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I saw exactly one e-scooter in the middle of a sidewalk and it was left standing up, parallel to the sidewalk so that it wasn't much of an obstruction (to a sighted, able person).

Riding on the sidewalk over the bridge

Riding on the sidewalk over the bridge/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The users of the e-scooters are another story. E-scooter drivers do not really get the idea of right-of-way, whereas I found car drivers are surprisingly respectful of pedestrians. (There is no such thing as jaywalking and the fines and penalties for hitting a pedestrian are huge.)

Walking across one of the plazas inside the Louvre, an American woman on an e-scooter was coming straight across my path and I kept walking; she was a bit wobbly and had to slow down to go around me, saying sarcastically "thanks" as she passed, as if it was my responsibility to stop walking so that she could continue straight across a pedestrian plaza.

Scooters on the Seine

Scooters on the Seine/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Far worse was on the other side of the Seine from the Louvre, where I was crossing a street with a separated bike lane and had the green light, and the drivers in the street and the bike lane had red lights. Three young men on e-scooters came speeding down the bike lane and had to jam on the brakes when I stepped into the lane. I suppose it is good practice to always make sure that traffic has stopped before crossing a street, even with a green light, and given that e-scooter drivers have no licences or experience or even any idea of the rules in a foreign country, I should be even more careful in bike lanes than I am in the road.

Parisian on a scooter

Parisian on a scooter/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

There were far fewer tourists on the Left Bank, and fewer e-scooters. The ones I saw appeared to be used by locals and they seemed to know how to co-exist.

The Mayor of Paris doesn't want to ban e-scooters or dockless bikes, saying we need every tool in the box to get cars off the roads. Everyone who drives a car or truck is complaining that lanes are being lost to bike lanes that nobody uses. (I counted hundreds of bikes and scooters in the bike lanes, but drivers think that bike lanes should be as congested as car lanes.) The closure of the roads along the Seine make the drivers crazy, seeing all those people biking and sitting in lawn chairs and having a beer by the river when they are stuck on top looking down, and could be driving there.

Velib bike system

Velib bike system/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The Vélib system is a mess, the bike racks are all empty, nobody is happy with the new operator, and it has so much competition from the new dockless operators. I think it is inevitable that dockless systems will put the Citibike-style docked systems out of business; the dockless systems are cheaper and a lot more flexible. And they don't have to be disastrous; outside of the tourists riding them, Paris did not seem to be a mess of bikes and e-scooters, they seemed managed.

Jump Bike lock

Jump Bike lock/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Perhaps the future is something like the Jump Bike, which has a built-in cable lock. Unless you lock it to some authorised station or rack, you keep paying for it as you do with a docked bike.

Because it's increasingly clear that if you want to move around in a big city, this kind of personal electric mobility is the future.

E-bikes heading for Montmartre

E-bikes heading for Montmartre/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0