Montreal eScooter Trial Exposes Micro-Mobility Flaw

I will not be the only urban dweller celebrating Montreal’s scrapping of its e-scooter trial citing an “80% delinquency rate” among users.

It follows a city-wide outcry over scooters badly parked and littering sidewalks while users also flouted the helmet wearing law accounting for most of the 333 tickets issued since the project started in June last year. The city had set up the pilot with 680 e-scooters and e-bikes but has now judged the experiment as a complete “failure”.

The decision follows sidewalk bans for using e-scooters in Singapore, Germany and France yet many of us city folk would like to see the trend extended to an outright ban. That’s driven by two main reasons: firstly, an inherent design flaw in the vehicles themselves and, secondly, a conceptual flaw in urban micro-mobility.

Scooters, with overly small wheels are just not stable enough to mix with other traffic and certainly not with pedestrians. Manually powered scooters at least have the advantage of constant stability corrections required by the rider in having to ‘paddle’ the vehicle regularly to keep moving forward.

However, put that same scooter on a steep hill, say on one of the notorious inclines in San Francisco, and the craft would descend into be very dangerous indeed. Yet, this is what an e-scooter is all the time.

Travelling at speeds often more than 20mph, these things pose a real hazard, as any two wheeled cyclist or motorcyclist would attest to, on a daily basis negotiating the city streets. Riders have to maintain a level of balance and concentration few others on the road have to employ while coping with a tiny front wheel that twitches and veers off course at the slightest irregularity in the pavement surface.

The vehicles are also an example of how micro-mobility may not be an appropriate solution for our crowded cities. Take at look at the effect new-wave ride-hailing providers, such as Uber, have had on the traffic conditions in the UK capital London.

Since the city’s transport regulator, Transport for London (TfL) relaxed restrictions on handing our private hire licenses, allowing the digital providers to vie for business against the heavily regulated ‘Black Cabs’, the numbers of vehicles entering the city have soared by tens of thousands. This is despite some proponents predicting the move would reduce traffic congestion with car owners deciding not to use their own vehicles.

Now, many in the mobility industry are in danger of employing the same muddled thinking when applying it to micro-mobility. The uncomfortable truth is that urban transportation is best left to public transport providers. Large high-volume buses, trams and trains that operate with lower overheads, high regulation and, preferably, zero private involvement in running mobility services to the benefit of the community rather than the bank balances of private investors.

That’s not to say free enterprise would not have a role in building the vehicles used by local authorities. Automakers are ideally placed to exploit their rich history of passenger and freight carrying expertise in creating the best, most cost effective, mobility solution vehicles to meet the needs of a burgeoning urban population.

Our crowded cities are just not the places for micro-mobility experiments especially when the money saved by local authorities would be much more efficiently invested in public services to enhance their urban dwellers’ lives.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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