News this week that another 2,000 el-scooters will be added to the estimated 10,000 already rolling around Oslo has sparked more fury over the city’s failure to regulate them. Critics claim the scooters “litter the city,” pose a security threat and block sidewalks, after politicians have lost regulatory control.
Newspaper Aftenposten set off the new storm of protests after reporting how yet another el-scooter operator called Wind is entering the market. “It was easy to start up in Oslo,” Wind spokesman Felix Eggert told Aftenposten. “In some cities, there’s bidding competition before you’re allowed to start up. In Oslo, there were no special demands. We’re glad it was so easy.”
Opponents of the quiet el-scooters that can roll at speeds of up to 20 kilometers per hour are not glad at all. Oslo resident Stein Leikanger has launched a Facebook group called “Let us take the sidewalks back!” He’s among those angry over the city government’s failure to regulate what’s become big business for mostly foreign-based scooter rental firms.
“For nearly two years we’ve seen and heard how people have been run into, how those with poor vision have tripped and fallen over them on the sidewalks and how elderly people are afraid to go out,” Leikanger wrote in a commentary published Monday on state broadcaster NRK’s website. “These el-scooters must be removed from the sidewalks. Now the politicians have to act.”
Oslo’s Labour- and Greens-party-led city government has been accused of shirking all responsibility, however, blaming the state Conservatives-led government for failing to provide the regulatory authority needed to control the explosive use of el-scooters. They currently are classified like bicycles, giving scooter-lenders almost a free ride in setting them out for hire. As long as scooters have working brakes, headlights and tail lights and a bell to signal their presence, they’re free to roll.
That’s what prompted the Berlin-based Wind operator to start placing 2,000 of their scooters on the streets of Oslo. Like most other operators, they promote the scooters as an environmentally friendly transport option that can also be lucrative for them. “We see that there’s also been greater demand during Corona,” Eggert told Aftenposten. “People want to use transport alternatives that allow them to stay at a distance from one another.”
Rival scooter operator Lime issued a so-called “media alert” after its first year of operation last week, claiming that one of its scooters could boast 682 trips, another had traveled 1,312 kilometers and another had been used for 161 hours. Average trip length was 1.96 kilometers and average trip time 14 minutes.
Lime operators claim the scooters “have established themselves as part of urban mobility” and are acquiring “thousands of new users every week.” Oslo, Lime claimed, “has developed into one of the largest and most important micromobility markets in Europe.”
Even though scooters have been found dumped in the the fjord, the Aker River and lately even in a container downtown, Lime’s operations manager in Oslo claimed “it’s a myth that scooters only have a short lifespan.” Konstantin Morenko of Lime called its trip and distance statistics “proof” that its five top-performing scooters “have already taken hundreds of trips each since Lime’s launch in Oslo last year.”
Critics dispute Morenko’s claim that the scooters can “get riders around town in a safe and sustainable way.” Leikanger and not least the editorial writers in newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday blast the scooters over how their “uncontrolled usage” is also resulting in record numbers of injuries. “The police are alarmed,” Dagsavisen wrote, as are doctors at Oslo’s emergency hospital Legevakten.
Pedestrians can also feel forced off sidewalks by them, while residents claim they clutter their neighbourhoods. Operators in turn can simply blame reckless and inconsiderate users, and won’t be held responsible for how their renters use the scooters.
While top Oslo politicians including the Greens’ Arild Hermstad continue to “wash their hands” of responsibility, according to Dagsavisen, “money is streaming in to the companies that own the scooters.” Aftenposten has calculated that average rental rates mean a well-used scooter can generate NOK 35,000 (USD 3,800) a year, while operating costs are minimal. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that another scooter operator, Voi, logged a profitable month in June and has seen revenues soar during the Corona crisis. In good weather, many young scooter renters clearly think they’re fun to ride as they smile while swerving around pedestrians, and then leaving their scooter wherever they like. “This is good business,” Dagsavisen wrote.
It’s not good in the minds of all those complaining about the el-scooters in Leikanger’s Facebook group. Oslo officials claim they are trying to set up designated parking areas for the scooters, but it’s unclear whether they’ll be used. Others advocate the use of locked stands for the scooters, where they’d have to be unlocked and locked back up at the start and end of a trip, much like the city’s own bikes that are available for use around town.
As debate continued to rage in Oslo on Tuesday, another operator called Ryde was in court in Bergen, after setting out scooters without getting permission from city officials trying to regulate their use. The court will decide whether the city, which also has resorted to towing in scooters parked in the middle of sidewalks, can deny Ryde’s rental operation. The city of Trondheim, which has also tried to regulate scooter operations, lost a similar court case but has appealed. Transport Minister Knut Arild Hareide claims work is underway to make necessary changes in state law that could help cities enforce regulation, but it’s only in an early phase.