E-Scooters are here to stay – for better or worse

E-Scooters are here to stay – for better or worse
Credit: Belga

Not everyone is a big fan of having shared e-scooters in their city as their popularity and success often leads to increased nuisance and accidents. In some cities, the number of scooters has been reduced to address these disadvantages. Will Brussels follow? Many people who use them expect them to remain in the Belgian capital.

Anyone who ventures out into the centre of Brussels will not fail to notice the thousands of scooters dotted around the pavements or see people go zooming past on one. According to the most recent figures, the capital has 18,060 shared e-scooters, distributed by seven providers. For comparison, there are 1,795 shared bicycles and 205 shared motor scooters. The e-scooter is clearly winning the personal mobility battle in Brussels.

"If you use a shared bike – especially with this warm weather – you will quickly be in a sweat,” says Anass, who pulls up on a Voi scooter on Boulevard Anspach. “That's not the case with the scooter."

Anass is a bus driver. Public transport also plays an important role in the choice of some people to use a shared e-scooter. Nayel, a 19-year-old student, has to take several buses to get home, so instead of waiting a long time, he uses a Bolt scooter. Zilke another e-scooter enthusiast, also points to public transport when it comes to her choice for the shared scooter: "If I go out at night, there is no bus to get me home."

E-scooter accidents

But car owners also often opt for the e-scooter in Brussels. Bank employee Gevorg has two cars, "but with the scooter I move faster through Brussels". The same applies to the Marius, who works as a lobbyist for the agricultural sector. "In my home city of Bucharest, I always use the car. But here in Brussels, the scooter is easier. Plus: as a non-Brussels citizen, I also get to know the city better. It's a pleasant form of sightseeing."

But there are also users who have been injured in accidents on a scooter but still resort to them out of necessity, like Lennerd who works for pharmaceutical company Pfizer. "I recently fell heavily. Admittedly, I had a passenger behind me on the scooter, which is not safe. I ended up in a tram track and hurt myself quite a bit, including a large wound to the knee. Since then, I only use the scooter when I have no alternative."

Student Nayel also recently had an accident. "I drove into an open taxi door. But I got away with some abrasions. It doesn't scare me." Chloe, another student, fared worse. She drove into a hole in the road, fell heavily, and had to go to the hospital. "Never again on a scooter for me! I've had a bit of a trauma from it."

It is striking that about half of the e-scooter users who spoke about their experiences said that they had had an accident while using them. They point to the tram tracks, the cobblestones, the slippery road surface in the rain and the not always impeccable condition of the Brussels streets.

Obstacle courses

And then there is also the feeling of insecurity among the non-users. Several Brussels residents express their displeasure about these 'rotten things'. "They are used by young people who have no idea about traffic etiquette and rules," is one of the arguments. And also: "In the pedestrian zone, it has become an obstacle course. Those steps are silent and fast. In the past, as a pedestrian you had to be proactive towards cars, now we have this added danger."

For these people, there is no way they would step foot on a scooter. What's more, they would prefer to see them disappear from the streets. Do the many accidents and the feeling of insecurity among non-users ensure that the success of the scooter in Brussels will turn out to be a temporary phenomenon?

Scandinavian example

In Scandinavian cities such as Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen, they have already taken measures against the nuisance. The Swedish capital halved the number of partial scooters from 23,000 to 12,000. In the Norwegian capital, the number of scooters was reduced from 20,000 to 8,000 and people are not allowed to use them between 11 pm and 5 am. And in the Danish capital, the scooters were even completely banned at the end of 2020, but were allowed to make a comeback a year later under very strict conditions.

Will Brussels follow the Scandinavian example? That is certainly not part of the plan, says Inge Paemen of Brussels Mobility. "Any means of transport that can reduce congestion and increase quality of life can be encouraged. However, it is of course important that road users take each other into account and comply with the traffic rules."

Also at Bolt, one of the seven providers of shared scooters in the capital, they do not believe that Brussels will follow the Scandinavian path. "We think the scooter will continue to be important here," says Bolt’s Marc Naether. "Everywhere in the world you see – especially in an urban environment – a switch from private car ownership to other forms of mobility that focus on shared use.

For example, people use public transport, but first have to get to the metro: so, they then take a scooter. Or they have to go to a place that is difficult to reach by public transport: then they do the entire route with a scooter. In addition, the Brussels government has already given many signals that it believes in the scooter as an important part of mobility in the city."

More scooters in the future?

Is the sky the limit then? Will we soon see 30,000 shared scooters in Brussels? Probably not, according to the experts. "Its use is largely a youth phenomenon and will remain so," says mobility expert Kris Peeters, lecturer at PXL University of Applied Sciences.

"For older people, the sharing scooter is less convenient. Because they are not easy to control, for example, with the narrow steering wheel, the small wheels and the relatively high speed. Plus: the number of falls with such a partial scooter is high, also among young people. But if you fall as an older person, the injuries are usually heavier, because the elderly have a less flexible body than young people. Also, do not forget that on such a scooter you are in a rigid position. If you then fall, the injuries are usually more serious than if you – like on a bicycle – have a body in motion."

The many accidents will put a brake on the growth of the scooter, says Peeters. "In some foreign cities, a helmet requirement has already been introduced. Perhaps Brussels will also evolve in that direction. But then of course you discourage people from using such a scooter, because not everyone wants a helmet on his head. It is – as with the riding itself – a balancing act."

"The partial scooter still has a growth margin in Brussels, but it is limited. Betting on more electric shared bikes would be better"

More regulations ahead

In the meantime, both the government and the providers are taking other initiatives to make the shared scooters safer. "We are introducing an alcohol test for those who use our scooters in the evening,” says Bolt’s Marc Naether. “But we are making them safer also by other measures: for example, our scooters automatically adjust their maximum speed as soon as they register that they are in the pedestrian zone."

"There is a new regulation for motorised vehicles such as e-scooters that will come into force on 1 July,” says Inge Paemen of Brussels Mobility. “This stipulates, among other things, that users must be at least 16 years old and that it is forbidden to carry passengers."

The cabinet of Minister of Mobility and Road Safety Elke Van den Brandt states that work is being done on 'drop-off zones', which should tackle the problem of the so-called 'stumbling scooters' that lie left and right in the way of other traffic users. Riders must leave their scooter in these zones after use. In addition, the minister is focusing on campaigns to inform the public about the new rules and the importance of complying with them.

Mobility expert Peeters thinks that these new rules will only temporarily slow down the use of scooters, if at all, but welcomes the initiatives. He does see one major shortcoming: enforcement. "I was recently in Brussels and saw several scooters that were very annoyingly left on the sidewalk, so that it was impossible for pedestrians to pass, and an unsafe situation arose. A police patrol passed by. You would think that they would intervene. They didn't. That worries me about the enforcement of the new measures."

Communication advisor and crime author Jan Van der Cruysse, at 61, is one of the few people over the age of forty who enthusiastically uses e-scooters. But he is annoyed by the lack of enforcement. "I recently drove behind a man who had stacked five others on his own scooter. That man was allowed to continue driving unhindered. If you then ask the police, they say: 'If we have to spend our time dealing with this, we don’t have time for other things'."

Infrastructure issues

Kris Peeters sees another problem: the infrastructure. "It is not yet working in Brussels and by extension in large parts of our country, not for cyclists, and certainly not for scooter riders. That too will not immediately encourage people who do not use the scooter to do so quickly and therefore puts a brake on further growth."

Inge Paemen of Brussels Mobility says that better infrastructure is being worked on. "We are fully engaged in the construction of cycle paths and that also benefits the users of scooters. For example, the breadth of new cycling infrastructure is a lot more ambitious than before."

Conclusion: are scooters here to stay?

The conclusion is that the e-scooter is here to stay for better or for worse. "The shared scooter still has room for growth in Brussels," says Kris Peeters, "but it is limited. It is also socially undesirable that many more would be added, because of the accidents and also because the shared scooter is not so inclusive.

In that respect, it would be better to focus more on electric shared bicycles. They are more inclusive: the teenagers who are too young for a scooter according to the new regulations can use such a bicycle, just like the elderly who do not feel safe on a scooter. Because let there be no misunderstanding: we need a modal shift from the car to other forms of mobility. The scooter is part of the solution."

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