El-scooter chaos all summer long

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There are now an estimated 30,000 electric scooters zipping along on Oslo’s streets and sidewalks, scaring pedestrians and causing a new rash of serious injuries. City officials now claim they’ll ban the scooters from operating after 11pm from September, in an effort to keep drunk riders from injuring themselves and others, but fear chaos through the summer months.

Electric scooters regularly line this stretch of Munkedamsveien in downtown Oslo, where riders leave them after arriving near the popular Aker Brygge and Tjuvholmen areas. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

An Oslo city government decision this week to render scooters inoperable late at night basically followed doctors’ orders. It took a recent press conference held by doctors at the capital’s emergency hospital to get the city to take more firm action.

The medical community in many Norwegian cities has been appalled by the sheer amount of serious injuries caused by reckless scooter riding, often by men who’ve been drinking. Injuries in downtown Oslo alone more than quadrupled from April through June, to more than 400 compared to less than 100 in the same period in 2019.

Women and children have also been involved, with one young woman rushed by air ambulance to the Oslo University Hospital this week with massive head injuries after falling off the scooter she was riding in Fredrikstad. Police reported that a girlfriend riding with her was also seriously injured. Hardly any scooter-riders wear helmets, and doctors spoke at the press conference about cranial factures and what one simply called “smashed faces” along with lots of broken shoulders, arms and legs.

“Of the 33 (scooter riders) who were injured last weekend, around five to six are injured for life,” Dr Henrik Siverts of Oslo Legevakt said at the doctors’ press conference. The emergency clinic has had to boost staffing at night and on weekends to treat electric scooter injuries, which have totalled 856 so far this year citywide. The average age of those injured was 27, while 17 percent were under age 18.

It’s a common site in Oslo to see young men riding scooters in a group and seemingly trying to compete with one another in speed, swerving among pedestrians and, in one recently witnessed case in Oslo’s Vika neighbourhood, riding with both hands held up in the air as they showed off alleged scooter skills. Police have started reacting to such reckless operation, heavily fining and even seizing the drivers’ licenses of two men in the 20s who were stopped riding on the same scooter that was traveling at a speed of more than 50 kilometers an hours (30mph) in the coastal city of Larvik last week. “Both tested positive for high levels of alcohol,” wrote the police district on its social media feed.

“We have to put public safety first and shut down the scooters at night, every day of the week,” Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party, who leads Oslo’s city government, said after ordering scooter companies to literally turn the scooters off between 11pm and 5am. The city had earlier called for a shutdown from 1am, but doctors could document how most injuries occur between 11pm and midnight. Alcohol was involved in fully 55 percent of them.

The city also intends to move forward this fall with cutting the sheer numbers of scooters in Oslo down to 8,000. Since it takes time to get new regulations on the books, the crackdown won’t take effect until after the summer holidays.

Operators were not pleased, even though some already had agreed to render the scooters inoperable at night. “The city has good intentions, but shows poor political handwork,” Christina Moe Gjerde of the Voi scooter firm told newspaper Aftenposten. “We have seen this solution go wrong elsewhere in Europe.” She and others also claim Oslo will cut off its new source of so-called “micro-mobility,” while critics claim users can simply walk instead: “It must be allowed to mention that walking is an effective alternative to skateboards and electric scooters,” editorialized Aftenposten on Thursday.

Johansen clearly agreed and remained adamant, admitting that “the (scooter) situation this summer has become worse than feared.” He wants operators to turn off the scooters at night before they’ll have to.

“I’m worried … and what we’ve experienced so far this summer is very negative,” Johansen said. “I understand that many people are scared and want restrictions.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund