Tech wonder or unsafe eyesore? Here’s what you think of electric scooters in Sweden

Tech wonder or unsafe eyesore? Here's what you think of electric scooters in Sweden
The popularity (and dislike) of electric scooters has shot up in the past year. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
The Local asked our readers for their true feelings on the electric scooters filling up streets in Sweden and it's safe to say few people held back.

The Local's readers were split when we asked whether electric scooters were a positive or negative addition to life in Sweden. More than 100 people responded to our survey, with 46 percent thinking they are “great” and 44 percent “annoying and/or unsafe”. Around 10 percent said they had no opinion.

“I think the idea is great but there are far too many and they go far too fast. The people who use them don't follow traffic rules, often have headphones in and never signal to move in and out of the cycle lanes, nor do they look over their shoulder pulling out. As a law-abiding cyclist it's not only frustrating but dangerous,” said Jen, 26, a Brit who lives in Stockholm.

Over the last year, a number of e-mobility startups have been dropping thousands of the scooters on the pavement of towns and cities across Sweden, encouraging people to borrow them via their apps.

They have been hailed as environmentally friendly, fun and a major part of the growing sharing economy in a tech-loving country such as Sweden, but their popularity has definitely not come without side effects.

Complaints have been raised about e-scooters strewn across pavements – an eyesore as well as an obstacle for wheelchair users or parents with baby strollers – and an increase in accidents as their use has grown.

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Sweden's infrastructure minister, while also noting their positive qualities, has described the lack of regulations and heaps of toppled-over scooters as “a mess” and many of The Local's readers agreed.

“They are unseemly. They aren't well taken care of, they clutter the streets and parks, and for the money that is charged for them they aren't really worth it, said Jake Catlett, 45, who works in Lund every few months.

“They have turned the city into a mess! They are everywhere in the way, they are unsafe, people use them irresponsibly,” said Laleh, 35, from Iran, who called for an outright ban on the electric scooters.

“I've seen pedestrians end up walking in the street because the sidewalks were filled up with discarded scooters. I get that people sometimes want quicker and easier means to get around the city, but these things are a nuisance to pedestrians when moving and when cluttered on the ground,” said Michael, 29, from the US.

Stockholm-based readers in particular argued that the city was getting too crowded. Many meant this in a dual sense: more and more e-scooter businesses filling up pavements as well as the business market.

“Too many companies offering the same thing. Too many scooters lying around. The city is full of them, even in dangerous places. I bike, and sometimes they are in the middle of the bike lane. Companies sell it as a better and cleaner option than the car, but I see the same cars, and a lot of scooters lying around like trash in Stockholm,” said Irene, 38, from Spain.

“I research the sharing economy, which some suggest the scooters belong to. I am quite critical of the e-scooter business model, particularly the sustainability implications of market competition. This competition creates an oversupply of scooters, which likely counters the sustainability benefits,” said Steven Curtis, 29, a PhD student at Lund University, originally from the US.

“Scooters are becoming a nuisance and pose a risk to riders, citizens, and the environment! However, if the business model is designed appropriately and cities regulate effectively, scooters have an important part contributing to micro-mobility in cities. I suggest that cities tender a single scooter company to provide scooters as part of the public transit offering, similar to how many cities have worked with bike-sharing schemes.”

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Half of respondents said they had used an electric scooter before, and the other half said they had never used one. It is important to note that the majority of readers who commented admitted to having mixed feelings about the popular vehicles, with only 27.5 percent calling for an outright ban on them.

And many were unapologetic fans of the new trend.

“I am positive. There is not scooter trash in Malmö,” said Hari, 28, from India, about the piled-up scooters on the pavement in some cities. “A few badly parked scooters is ok.”

“Another innovative product for transportation. And more amazing is the technology adaptation in society. Of course there should be regulation on scooter usage considering safety. Like compulsory helmet, front and back light, artificial sound to make pedestrians aware, third party insurance et cetera,” said Himansu, 38, also from India.

“I think the electric scooter is a great tool that could benefit the community immensely, but there needs to be rules around how to use them – just like we have rules for bikes, cars and pedestrians. Regulating the scooters is a completely reasonable idea,” said Elisabete, 27, a startup worker from Riga.


Many use the electric scooters to get from one part of the city to the other. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

So how do you regulate them?

Well, 57 percent of The Local's readers who responded to the survey thought that wearing a helmet should be made compulsory. Helmets are currently compulsory for mopeds and motorcycles in Sweden, but not for bicycles (unless the bike user is aged under 15).

Speed reduction was another suggestion. This has already been done in some areas of Swedish cities, where for example the companies have self-regulated by changing the scooters' maximum speed from 20 km/h to 6 km/h on some streets. However, some respondents argued this could affect usability.

“Define some parking areas that motivate people's mobility using this transportation method. The idea behind the scooters is to easily move from A to B, so restricting too much of their usability is not the solution. Rules should be there to guarantee safety and integrity, but at the same time, keep motivating companies to innovate and push forward new technologies,” said Joel Pérez, from Mexico, who lives in Lund.

READERS' BEST TIPS:

Most people seemed to agree on designated spots for parking to encourage users not to simply leave the vehicles wherever they want, and some suggested potentially fining those who violate the parking rules.

“Firstly, designated 'drop zones' around the city. These should be brand agnostic and there should be a very high volume. They should be maintained and tidied by a contractor appointed by the state and paid for by the companies. Secondly, I think the companies need a name-and-shame function, whereby poorly parked scooters can be reported and ultimately the users responsible banned,” said Matthew, 48, a Brit in Stockholm.

“They should be held accountable as other means of transport and not considered a toy,” said Uppsala resident Leon Isaacs, 39, from South Africa, who described electric scooters as “great” in general.

READ ALSO: All the latest news from Sweden by The Local

Electric scooters are currently classified as bicycles. This means, for example, that it is not itself illegal to ride them while under the influence of alcohol or on paths shared with pedestrians and bicycles. Nor is it currently possible to impose parking rules on them without also affecting bicycles. But as The Local reported earlier in autumn, Swedish authorities are investigating possible regulations that could crack down on scooter misuse.

Many, while in favour of regulations, urged Sweden not to take it too far.

“While a total ban is perhaps overboard, some more stringent rules should come into place, such as maximum number of scooters allowed in a zone at any given time. The scooters are smart and tracked, force the user to pay an 'overcrowded' fee if the zone is full and pass that to the city or a charity, alternatively give the user a discount if they park elsewhere. This will help manage the impact of heaps of scooters,” said Jeffrey, 34, from Toronto.

“One of the great things about Sweden vs the US is the increased feeling of personal freedom and these scooters really embrace that,” said Evan Nickel, 29, from Los Angeles.

“I knew it was only a matter of time before regulation happened though, I do understand the problems for the city and others, but personally, I've only had great experiences with them and hope there isn't a reactionary blanket law that comes down that greatly restricts the benefits we get from them.”

And Lawrence Mason, 81, from Washington DC, suggested that the issue will be solved given enough time.

“Perhaps some regulation is called for, but transportation of people is something Sweden does really well. And every means of non fossil fuel based transport should be tolerated,” he said. “It is a relatively new thing and as yet, riders and pedestrians have not adopted a universal ethic of courtesy towards each other.”

Many thanks to everyone who responded to our survey. All your comments contributed to this article, even though we weren't able to include each one. We would also like to take this opportunity to ask you: What's the next story we should write about on The Local? Please email us – we'd love your feedback.


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