“From a societal perspective, I’d be more concerned about e-scooters leaving Los Angeles than Paris,” David Zipper, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government, told TechCrunch. “Paris is so dense and has a great metro. It’s possible scooters there are replacing forms of transportation that are even greener. LA is different. It’s so car dominated and hungry for alternatives to the automobile.”

The fact that both cities – one sprawling, the other dense; one under-regulated (so say the shared scooter companies) with several operators, the other highly regulated with fewer operators – still haven’t quite got it right with e-scooters raises a key question. What type of market, if any, is the right one?

People walk or ride their electric scooter past the statue of the Marechal Joffre, in Paris, on May 19, 2020. (Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images)

If ever there were a city where you’d think shared e-scooters would thrive, it’s Paris. The city is one of the most densely populated in Europe. Most households don’t own a car, and if they do, they use them 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.

Despite these harsh regulations, the city is still on the verge of saying goodbye to shared scooters forever.

Shocked. Appalled. Frustrated. These are the feelings I had upon first hearing the news of the potential ban. So what if there are accidents? Car accidents happen all the time! Boohoo to your complaints about scooters on sidewalks! Build better bike lanes, then!

But looking at the scattered statistics of how scooters are used in Paris, it’s possible that scooters aren’t providing the value that cities need – namely, limiting car usage.

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 estimated that could have replaced 1.6 million car trips. Could have, but did they?

What is getting in the way of the ultimate goal – to shift travelers away from cars? Perhaps most people, in Paris at least, wouldn’t use a car anyway because the city is walkable and public transportation is sufficient. Or, maybe would-be car drivers and taxi riders just need more time to get used to the concept of scooter riding as a way of life. Or, maybe scooters just aren’t reliable as forms of transport for longer journeys.

Fluctuo, an aggregator of shared mobility data, found the average scooter trip length in Paris was 2.67 kilometers in July 2022 and 2.53 kilometers in November. A long enough journey that you might prefer not to walk it, but too short to drive it in a place like Paris.

Whether scooters are getting people out of cars or not, they’re certainly popular in Paris. A September Ipsos poll commissioned by Lime, Dott and Tier (and therefore taken with a grain of salt) found that most Parisians agree e-scooters are part of the daily mobility of the city and are consistent with City Hall’s broader 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.

Hannah Landau, Lime’s communications manager for France and southern Europe, told TechCrunch a ban would make Paris a global outlier.

“No major city in the world that introduced a shared e-scooter service has permanently banned them,” she said. “In fact, the major global trend today is cities renewing their programs – such as London – or even expanding them with more vehicles or larger service areas (NYC, Chicago, Washington D.C., Rome, Madrid, Lyon).”

– Rebecca Bellan

A shared scooter parked on a sidewalk in Koreatown, a neighborhood in central Los Angeles, on December 29, 2022.

Let’s add a couple more wheels back into this discussion. Yes, I’m about to get personal about the automobile. Buckle up!

All this is to say that, as an occasional driver and grudge-bearing pedestrian (the kind who bellows, “I’m walkin’ here!” in a vaguely New York accent), my heart aches when I see micromobility operators bail on cities, as Spin, Bolt and Lyft have in LA.

That depends on who you ask. At least one operator — Lime — says things have never been better in Tinseltown. A spokesperson recently told us that Los Angeles is Lime’s biggest American market today.

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 held, so we don’t get as much insight into it as we do Lyft and Bird.

Lime’s experience in LA may be an outlier. Both Spin and Lyft told TechCrunch that they needed to strike new, longer-term deals with municipalities here in order to return. “In a nutshell: The challenge with LA is that it is an open vendor market with no vehicle cap,” Spin’s chief executive Philip Reinckens said in an email to TechCrunch. “This had led to an imbalance of vehicle supply to rider demand as operators over-saturate the market.”

“A long-term arrangement for limited operators would be a necessary condition to consider re-entry,” Reinckens added.

– Harri Weber

Micromobility in limbo: Takeaways from Paris and LA by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch