E-scooters in Norway: Motorized menace or an economic and eco-friendly micro-mobility solution?

NT_columnist_Jonathan e-scootersPhoto: Norway Today / Annika Byrde, NTB
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To ban, or not to ban – that is the question that politicians nationwide have been asking in the past few months as pavements and pathways have been congested with electric scooters. Their use, or misuse, has caused a raging and divisive debate. For the detractors, they are a motorized menace. They cause traffic accidents, are constantly parked illegally and illogically and can cause serious injury or harm. Their proponents, however, argue they are an ever-present cheap, equitable, and environmentally friendly means of transport which helps reduce car travel and public transport during peak times. With a broad political consensus about the need for stricter regulation, will the plug be pulled on their use? Or is their widespread use just an electric dream too far?

Exponential growth in recent years

Since the introduction of the first fleet of electric scooters to this country, back in 2018, their whizzing and whirring have become part of the background noise of everyday urban life. With over 6 companies competing nationwide, they are, literally, everywhere. First introduced into Oslo, they are widely available in all the larger cities throughout the country. Whilst Oslo had just 5.000 in the summer of 2019, this has now exploded to over 20.000 according to figures obtained by the newspaper Aftenposten.

A lack of clear rules and regulations, until recently, has led to their explosion. Having been originally classified as bicycles, e-scooters companies flooded the lucrative Norwegian market. Each level of government has blamed each other – the government stating that it is up to the individual municipalities to regulate their use and the municipalities blaming the government for their classification, the relative ease at which companies flooded into Norway, and a lack of a clear national framework for their regulation.

Why are they so popular?

Their popularity has been boosted by the societal lockdowns encountered all throughout Norway. With public transport actively discouraged throughout most of the past 18 months, e-scooters were seen as a safer and less infectious means of transport than piling onto a crowded bus, tram, or subway.

However, their popularity and spread have led to an ongoing debate about their safety due to a record number of accidents, injuries, and hospital visits this year. More than 52% of the country, according to the latest survey by YouGov, want them banned from sidewalks. Why then have they become such a part of everyday life here?

Accident and Emergency department in Oslo
Accident and Emergency department in Oslo.Photo: Jon Olav Nesvold / NTB scanpix

Cheap initial cost but is there a larger societal one?

Given the economic impacts of COVID-19 on budgets nationwide, e-scooters are seen as a cheap and cost-effective way of transport. Why buy a monthly bus pass, and be stuck in traffic, when you can simply whizz to work? For many price-sensitive consumers (especially students) they have become a cheap and reliable means of transport. The companies that service the Norwegian market charge an unlock fee of approximately NOK 10 and then between NOK 1-3 per minute. This means that a 10-minute ride can cost as little as NOK 20. They are absolutely perfect for those consumers with budgetary concerns.

Whilst the cost borne by the consumer is indeed ridiculously cheap what then of the broader costs borne by society? The use of electric scooters, often without helmets, has led to a spike in injuries and visits to the emergency room. How many extra hours have been wasted on treating accidents, injuries, and mishaps due to people riding them dangerously, haphazardly, or, even worse, under the influence of drugs or alcohol?

Statistics recently released by Oslo University Hospital further highlight the societal and personal cost born by riders. In June alone there were 421 accidents involving e-scooter and 55% of injuries, occurred during weekends, were suffered by people under the influence of alcohol. These statistics also show that, as of June 2021, there have been some 856 injuries involving e-scooters. Extrapolate this number throughout the country and that is a heavy price to pay for a quick whizz through town.

Convenient mobility or an inconvenient hazard?

The key to the rise in the popularity of e-scooters is centered on their convenience. For those that use rental schemes, it takes seconds to download the app, register, and unlock a convenient means of micro-mobility. With 6 companies serving the Norwegian market, it seems they are, quite literally, everywhere. In Oslo, for example, an analysis by the company Fluctuo stated that there is now one scooter for every 50 citizens, which is among the highest rates in Europe.

The fact they are located everywhere is both a blessing and a curse. A quick stroll through the center of any town or city and you will see why. Their availability and sheer numbers are beneficial if you need a quick ride, but how often are they parked in “non-designated areas”? They are often just left blocking a footpath, outside a shop door, or simply in the middle of the main road. The fact that it has taken almost 3 years, since their arrival, for the authorities to finally get their act together and start to fine and regulate their parking is just sheer ridiculousness.

Just how eco-friendly, green and environmental are they?

In an era ravaged with the effects of, and debate on, climate change companies have added, many often have been forced, to meet growing environmental demands from consumers. It seems that buzz words like “green,” “environmentally friendly,” and “sustainable” are now part of any marketing campaign for, literally, every product or service. The explosion of the use, and purchase, of e-scooters has tapped into this growing green consciousness.

Many of the companies that have entered the Norwegian market have branded themselves as an environmentally friendly zero emission method of transport. However, just how environmentally friendly are they? Factor in that many of these scooters are manufactured overseas, often still rely on fossil fuel-guzzling trucks to collect rental models and bring them back to a charging depot and their carbon footprint grows larger and larger.

Though many companies claim to have “sustainable” operations, the fact remains that a majority of the life cycle of an electric scooter still relies heavily on fossil-fuelled modes of transport, operation, and production.

Electric scooters
Photo: Geir Olsen / NTB

Driving in the fast (wrong) lane

The push to make society greener, and reduce its carbon footprint has seen both the Norwegian government and municipalities introduce plans to purchase emission-free transport or, in the case of Oslo, create “car free zones.” Enter the humble e-scooter. Many proponents of the scooters point out that they help to unclog the roads as people will use them to travel short distances rather than hopping into a car.

One company, Voi, proudly boasts, on their website, that between 2019 and 2020 there was a 20% increase in the “replacement rate” of consumers using their scooters instead of taking a short trip with a car or taxi. However, as we have all witnessed since 2018, they are often a law unto themselves.

Officially classified as a bicycle, they often zip in and out of the main road, bicycle lanes, and onto the pavement in the blink of an eye. Instead of freeing up space on the road, they are often a new hazard that buses, trams, and cars now have to watch out for. Instead of freeing up space on the roads, they often do not follow road rules, thus causing accidents, and are just yet another hazard for drivers to be wary of.

Political pressure to further regulate before injuries become deaths

The explosion in the use (and misuse) of e-scooters is now very much a political topic. In this country, e-scooters have somewhat surprisingly become a unifying political issue. Members from a broad political spectrum have united in order to try to legislate the regulation of their use. This has resulted in one company, Ryde, after consultation with local political, police, and medical authorities, suspending its service on weekends.

A hit and run (or ride) collision of a pedestrian and e-scooter saw a 32-year-old woman die of her injuries in Paris earlier last month. Though nothing like this has happened (yet) here, it is a timely reminder that these e-scooters are more than just a fun way of getting around. They are motorized, can travel up to 20 kilometers an hour, and can do serious damage to both rider and pedestrian.

In recent months, public sentiment has clearly turned against the use of e-scooters. Whilst they were once seen as cheap, convenient, and fun they now appear to be seen as hazardous, annoying, and a public nuisance. Now that long-overdue regulation is slowly occurring nationwide, there is a hope that these e-scooters remain the fun and convenient rides they were always intended to be and not the motorized menaces they have lately become.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Norway Today unless specifically stated.

About the author:

Jonathan is a lover of the written word. He believes the best way to combat this polarization of news and politics, in our time, is by having a balanced view. Both sides of the story are equally important. He also enjoys traveling and live music.

Source: #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews

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