Does it need an e-scooter death before Zurich acts?

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Does it need an e-scooter death before Zurich acts?

In Zurich the e-scooters have arrived en masse and like a virus they are now everywhere it seems downtown.The e-scooters seem to litter the streets and open spaces with no stated policy from the Mayor or the city officials in response to the outbreak.

Hence asking the question, will it take a death like it has in other cities for action and regulation to happen?

All Zurich residents hope not, we simply seek some action and some more thought from the Mayor of Zurich and other city officials.

The electric scooter or trottinette as it is known by many has a place, for how long no-one knows.
Users can ride for less than the fare of a taxi or a tram and local Zurich residents accept in part riders whizzing by in Europaallee at speed silently, with no helmets, carrying loads or listening to their music as they go. A few my express concern under their breath, in Seefeld, Enge or Wiedikon the mutterings are a little louder.

Like other city residents elsewhere in the world there is mounting concern. Many e-scooter users create problems they do not think of when hiring. They take risks with their rides or suffer injury and end up in hospital because of poor e-scooter tenders or standard adoption by Zurich city officials and e-scooter operators.

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Deaths in Auckland, Paris or other cities are a warning to Zurich

Yet Zurich is no different to any of the cities listed above or elsewhere.
It is only a matter of time before local Zurich residents will read the inevitable e-scooter accident report in their morning  20minuten or in their NZZ at work.

The first ever death attributed to an e-scooter in the USA was in downtown Cleveland in 2018.

In February 2019 the BBC reported on the death of an Irish exchange student Mark Sands, 21, in Austin Texas who died after a collision with an Uber car.

In Nashville the home to 700,000 residents, Nashville Mayor David Briley issued a public statement in June 2019 that he would recommend banning electric scooters after a 26-year-old resident died after a scooter accident (view USA Today local news article).

In Auckland New Zealand last year, a 58-year-old man died after an incident involving a Lime e-scooter in central Auckland. In another accident Police confirmed they were called after a Flamingo operated e-scooter was thrown from the Ghuznee St overpass onto cars below. Thankfully then no-one died. To read more on the issue in New Zealand

In Paris the trottinette ( e-scooter) was reported as the cause of two deaths. One an 80 year old person and the other a 26 year old rider who collided with a van.
In London the first death reported was that of a TV presenter and YouTube star. She died after her electric scooter collided with a lorry less than half a mile from her home.

One only has to look at the statistics for the USA to understand this problem in Zurich today is unlikely to change without some form of city intervention.

The e-scooter business model is profitable or is it?

The scooter business model is simple, dump enough of them around the city, offer a free ride or app bonus and make them available on every street corner.

All you have to do is install an application on your smartphone and register. You then use your phone to scan the QR code on the handlebars and you’re off.

Sometimes you may find these scooters next to shared e-bikes on stands. Yet unlike the bikes which must be returned to a specific docking point, e-scooters can be left anywhere, upright or on the ground.

Docking points mean property or space rental costs and e-scooters avoid the extra costs of e-bike operators. There is no need to advertise, you can find one every 50-200 meters in the streets of Zurich city centre.

It sounds like a quick way to make money and great profits. The reality is somewhat different and few city officials check the supplier finances. 

The e-scooter is not costed correctly and manufacturing, cobbled streets and other issues are creating major headaches for service providers in Zurich and elsewhere in Europe (more on Bloomberg news). 

Ark Invest researched the financial models and concluded:

Perhaps flooding the streets with scooters is a good short-term strategy to increase revenues and attract funding, but it is a poor strategy for the longer term. As scooters invade more public spaces, pedestrians, retail store owners, and others are pushing them out of the way, if not dumping them.

If scooter destruction leads to shorter lifespans, the unit economics never will work: our research shows that if the average lifespan of a scooter were to shrink from four months to one, the cost per mile would shoot up to $4.40 per mile.

How many e-scooters are there in Zurich?

Zurich residents and visitors literally trip over them in the oddest or most sensible of places.

Lime first launched in 2017 but later had to relaunch with 800 or so scooters after the fleet of e-scooters were recalled for faulty brakes in 2017. 

Lime customers were injured in Basel and Zurich, some were hospitalised prompting the US company to take action and check its fleet and the software it uses.

They have been joined by other operators in Zurich who are all fighting for the last mile market and include:

  • Circ (550 scooters)
  • Bird ( 400 scooters)
  • Tier (600 scooters)
  • Voi ( Zurich unknown, 100 plus in Winterthur)

The total e-scooter fleet in Zurich city is close to 2,300.

Each e-scooter operator pays the city of Zurich CHF 10 per scooter per month.

The total for all operators is CHF 273,000 per year based on a 2300 e-scooter fleet.

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What do the Zurich Mayor and officials need to address?

Zurich city officials and the Mayor are not alone as they experience the same issues that other city officials have with the e-scooter riders and their use.

Information on operator selection, environmental impact study reporting and other useful data is not in the public domain mirroring other cities in Europe and elsewhere.

Zurich city residents have one of the best transportation systems in the world, why the city officials sought to reduce its value, no-one knows. The low carbon footprint claims of an e-scooter are being challenged and disputed. The e-scooter whole life comparison to a tram powered by renewable energy serving more than one passenger is being disputed. The passenger walking to their  destination aids the tram or bus case.

Residents have little information on the next Zurich transport development either, the adoption and the projected take-up of micro-cars, their storage or placement.
Yet Zurich residents know they have the same problems as other city residents in other countries and they seek answers because:

Scooter riders more at risk than cyclists with their ride behaviour. They are seen regularly nipping into the tram lines to bypass automotive traffic queues or red traffic lights. Unlike cyclists, the smaller wheels, potholes and other issues make it more likely the riders will have an accident with another vehicle.

The scooters are typically large, heavy to move and are often seen blocking pavements. This makes it difficult for those pushing their babies in a pram, especially if they are in a double buggy. For those with reduced mobility or who are elderly pushing a partner in a wheelchair, it is especially annoying. Minneapolis and e-scooter startups are being sued by disability rights activists over blocked sidewalks.

Central Zurich residents moan about the scooter alarms being triggered by drunk people. The noise is triggered as they try without luck to ride them without paying in the early hours of the morning.

There is an under reporting of accidents, collisions at low speed or riders falling their e-scooters. The police reports are inaccurate. The Zurich police reported 30 e-scooter accidents in 2019.

The geo-control of the scooter system in Zurich is non-standard and inadequate. The scooter operators define the high density sectors in the city, for example Bahnhofstrasse or by the lake and Tiefenbrunnen. Zurich city do not state the standards for each operator to work by and adopt. Nor do they share them publicly for wider consultation.Today one operator may reduce the scooter speed in one area of Bahnhofstrasse by GPS control whilst another allows the scooter to travel at 20 km/hour. It simply does not make sense.

The city of Zurich requirements for e-scooter operators must be more than seemingly to offer a ride scooter which is road legal and ensure all operator payments to the city are up to date.

Zurich is on the brink, action is being taken elsewhere

Zurich has inadequate legislation and controls in place for e-scooters just like many other cities in the world.

The current e-scooter operators are failing to ensure that traffic rules are observed by their riders and they cannot.It is near impossible, rider behaviour is the weakest link.

In Switzerland like Germany, e-scooter riders and cyclists risk losing their drivers licence completely (414 lost their licence at the Munich Oktoberfest 2019) for irresponsible driving even though Zurich e-scooter operators do not require a driver to be licenced to ride.

In the UK two pieces of legislation including the Highways Act 1835 (section 72) ban e-scooters (or as the law refers to them ‘mechanically propelled vehicles’ ) from pavements, cycle paths and public footpaths. Riders could face a £300 fine and six points on their licence if they use them on public roads or pavements. Riding e-scooters on private land is, however, completely legal – with the landowner’s permission. (See House of Commons Library)

City officials and Mayors in cities across the globe are starting to ask more questions of the e-scooter operators.

A number want to see proof of the e-scooter green credentials and evidence to support the claims by e-scooter operators on:

  • Their supply chain and China or Asia sourcing
  • Policies and actions on management of battery life and their disposal
  • Component recycling or re-use.
  • Life-cycle and time on the street, control and location usage reports
  • How long does a app sharing e-scooter last on the street? Some operator staff say a month others 4 months. In food terms that is the shelf life difference between an apple or some refrigerated hard cheese (optimum condition storage at home).

The e-scooter fleet collection and pick up policies are being re-examined. Operators are supposed to ensure all scooters are collected and picked up and taken to their access or storage areas. The reality is it is not in their interest to do this. The more e-scooters that are out there, the higher the probability someone will start a journey and rent one.

In Brussels at 3am in the morning it was not uncommon for a city night owl to see a van stop, men get out, drop some e-scooters onto the pavement or on a high footfall crossing area.

Zurich residents may learn from actions of those living in St Josse, a commune in Brussels.They campaigned for returns to be placed in designated areas in spots where there is actually space for them. The city was forced to follow up and make the operators comply.

The policy is also failing because no-one knows how many are collected every week by the city of Zurich waste and recycling teams.Does the operator pay to get them back from the ditch they were collected from? If so how much?

This social cost to the city was addressed separately in Lisbon. There city employees are tasked with collecting e-scooters off the pavements. Enforcement officers patrol around town to keep the pavements clear. Once collected and impounded, the scooter is subject to a “removal fee” if an operator wants their e-scooter back.

In Paris the Mayor and city officials took action after residents became more vocal on the issue, some resorting to throwing the e-scooters into local canals or the Seine.

The problem of sustainability was one in particular because Paris found itself with 20,000 e-scooters operated by 12 different startups. City officials worked to reduce the number of suppliers and to take action on stricter speed limits in response to police and local Parisian demands.

Zurich residents can propose options on the e-scooter issue

No-one has to wait until a e-scooter death on the streets shames us to act and the Mayor or other city officials to suddenly propose action. 

Please think about how even a simple sharing of this post can help a discussion grow. 

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