Sorry, but slapping a ban on electric scooters isn’t the answer to our cities’ traffic problems…

Madrid City Hall on Tuesday issued an order revoking the licenses of the three operators of electric scooters in the Spanish capital, requiring them to remove the two-wheeled vehicles within 72 hours. City Hall justified the move saying that Lime, Wind and Voi must include geo-fencing on their apps as to where the scooters can be ridden. While the decision reflects valid safety concerns arising from the rapid growth of urban micro-transport options, it also highlights an inability to adapt to alternative mobility options.

In short, the problem isn’t electric scooters, but where they can be driven. Limiting them to special lanes and within certain areas reduces their value proposition from “I grab a scooter and get where I have to go” to the less attractive: “I grab a scooter and let’s see where I can get to.” Madrid City Hall’s ban basically reduces a valid, clean and efficient personal mobility alternative to that of a toy, based on arguments that it doesn’t comply with restrictions that are the real causes of the safety issue they purport to avoid.

Making electric scooters use the roads, surrounded by cars is, as with bicycles, is a recipe for disaster: cars, vans and lorries see them as a nuisance. Allowing them to use the sidewalk is dangerous to pedestrians. The alternative, clearly, means rethinking urban mobility overall by removing privately owned cars from the equation and assigning more space for micro-transportation options that are undoubtedly destined to play a very important role in our cities. The answer lies not in forcing them to share the roads with cars, but ending the car’s monopoly and distributing road space in a more logical and balanced manner.

The best way to free up more space is by preventing cars from parking on our streets. In the redesigned cities of the future, cars will have to park in specially designated spaces, rather than appropriating public areas that can be put to much more rational use. Doing so would also eliminate a major problem: a large part of air pollution is produced by cars driving round looking for somewhere to park. In the cities of the future, if you don’t have your own garage parking, you won’t be able to use a car. Such an approach will reduce an important part of the value proposition of the automobile, resulting in a smaller number of private cars and a radical and absolutely necessary rethinking of urban mobility. If you want to get to a city by car, you will have to park in special areas in the outskirts or in public or private underground parking.

As things stand, most people still see such options as radical and impossible to implement. But in the future, when our children see old photographs of cities, they will be surprised to see those long rows of multicolored vehicles hogging the road, and will be amazed that this was allowed. For the moment, it seems easier to ban scooters, to force cyclists to share the roads with cars, and to pretend that the current situation is sustainable, despite the evidence to the contrary.

The only alternative for our cities is to make it harder to use private cars through measures such as restricting them from more and more areas, along with tolls and by eliminating street parking: the car is an example of a hugely successful technology that has taken us to an unsustainable situation, and the use of which must be drastically curtailed in favor of already available alternatives.

So instead of banning electric scooters, how about rethinking and redesigning our cities and stepping out of the illusory comfort zone of private car use? Until we radically rethink urban mobility, the problem will simply get worse.


(En español, aquí)