The ‘toy’ that conquered Belgian cities
The electric shared scooter dominates the street scene, but it is not quite sure it can get commuters out of their car. “It is surprising that a kind of toy conquered the streets of Antwerp and Brussels,” noticed technology journalist of the Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw. Even smaller cities like Mechelen, Ostend, and Courtrai experimented with the popular e-scooters.
Most of them are free-floating vehicles. An app on one’s smartphone indicates where they are situated and how to use them. To activate them, the user just scans the QR code, and payment is arranged through a credit card.
Apart from the shared scooters, more and more people buy one of their own. Registration is unnecessary, so there are no official figures available, but the Dutch webshop Bol.com registered to have sold seven times more e-scooters in the first six months of the year compared to the same period last year.
Supporters easily recognize the advantages: the vehicle is small, light, easy to fold away and to take along on train or bus. A survey of Brussels Mobility last summer showed that the average e-scooter user is 33 years old, two out of three are male, and in 75% of the cases, the user is highly educated.
Depending on the model, an e-scooter can reach a speed of 25 km/hour, and the vehicles are mostly used for short rides. Producers and platforms offer them as an environmentally friendly alternative for the car that is more and more banned from city centers.
There are questions, however, about their sustainability. According to the online technology magazine Quartz, the average e-scooter is already removed from traffic after 29 days. Of the 129 vehicles that Bird (the largest provider of e-steps worldwide) introduced on the market in August, only 7 survived 60 days; only one remained in circulation for 112 days.
Bird, however, denied those findings and emphasized the company is constantly working on more solid models. Also, other providers in Belgium, like the American Lime, and the French-Dutch Dott, say that their fleet has a longer life-span. Still, they admit that vandalism and the road infrastructure, especially in Brussels, influence the profitability, and the life-span of the vehicles, and, therefore, sustainability.
“To measure the durability of the e-scooters, you have to takes all factors into account,” says Cathy Macharis, professor of sustainable mobility at Brussels’ University (VUB). “Everything depends on how much they replace car trips, how they are collected and charged.” And she refers to the survey of Brussels Mobility that shows that the e-scooters mainly replace trips on foot or by public transport.
The fact is that the rapidly expanding fleet of e-scooters is causing inconveniences in the street, blocking the roads and pavements. Cities like Antwerp and Brussels, but also Paris, are trying to make order out of chaos by experimenting with drop off zones and parking bans.
While most European cities are flooded with shared e-scooters, in the Netherlands, they still are forbidden on public roads after an accident with a Stint, although the debates about allowing this type of vehicle have finally started.
Safety is an issue too. The relatively high speed, the small wheels, and the unadapted road infrastructure make the e-scooter an unstable vehicle. This year, Brussels had the first fatal accident in which an e-scooters was involved.
In the Brussels Metropolitan Region, eleven providers of shared e-scooters are registered, of which Lime, Circ, and Dott are the largest. Most of them are not operational during the cold and wet winter months.
Brussels Mobility estimates the city to have 6.100 shared e-scooters; last summer, Antwerp counted about 500. According to Lime, an average ride takes 7 minutes and covers 1,2 kilometers. The maximum speed on the public road is 25 km/hour. Prices vary, depending on the model, between 200 and 1.500 euros. Half of the owners use their vehicles at least once a week; users of the shared e-scooters three times per month.
“2019 was the year of the hype,” concludes Inge Paemen, spokeswoman for Brussels Mobility. “But we’re convinced that the e-scooter will remain.”