SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

TRAVEL

‘Improve cycling infrastructure’: Can Germany cope with electric scooters?

Thousands of e-scooters have been filling up Germany’s streets since they were given the green light this summer. But can cities cope with them? We spoke to an expert to find out.

'Improve cycling infrastructure': Can Germany cope with electric scooters?
E-scooter riders in Berlin. Photo: DPA

You’ve probably spotted them zoom past you on the street, parked on the pavement – or maybe you’ve even taken a ride on one yourself. 

We are, of course, talking about the electric scooter craze. Since the German government gave them the green light in May to hit the roads this summer, these small vehicles have been appearing all over the Bundesrepublik.

But there’s also been many questions about safety, and concerns over some riders not paying attention to the rules of the road – with some even riding them while under the influence of alcohol.

READ ALSO: Should electric scooter riders in Germany be forced to wear helmets?

So are e-scooters a good thing? Or are they clogging up our already busy roads?

Alexander Jung is senior associate in new mobility at Agora Verkehrswende, (transport transformation), a think tank which aims to promote the creation of a sustainable, climate friendly transport system. 

Jung told The Local that any sharing services should be welcomed because it gives people more options, making it more likely that they'll ditch the car.

“If we really want to achieve a shift in mobility behaviour and a shift away from the private car then we need to diversify the transport options,” he said. 

“Mobility services like bike sharing, car sharing, ride sharing – they are necessary to increase the options for people and, in this sense, I think also electric scooters can contribute to this.”

A rider in Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA

Why might local governments be concerned about e-scooters?

Jung said that when the bike sharing market opened up a few years ago in Germany, companies flooded cities with thousands of bikes “without even talking” to authorities beforehand. Not surprisingly, this didn't go down well.

“This burns a lot of bridges at the municipal level,” Jung added. 

So services like these are clearly a sensitive topic.

Here’s what else makes it a touchy subject: German cities don’t have any legal power when it comes to licencing these kinds of services (like in the US for example).

In Germany e-scooters are classed as a ‘common goods service’ (Gemeingebrauch) which means the companies don’t require a licence to roll them out. 

However, Jung said that the electric scooter firms are aware of what happened with bike sharing services and they are choosing to work more with authorities because of that. 

Are e-scooters safe?

Some officials worry they are not, and that 'e-scooter chaos' will overrun Germany's streets. After several accidents across Germany, the country's Road Safety Council described riding e-scooters as “dangerous” and suggested that compulsory helmets are introduced. 

However Jung said helmets wouldn't fix the problem and that the focus should be on the amount of traffic on roads and not purely on the e-scooters.

This is a topic that opinion is split on. 

Are there too many e-scooters out there?

Berlin broadcaster RBB revealed recently that there were 4,800 e-scooters in the capital alone. Meanwhile in Munich, the number of e-scooters is expected to increase over the summer to 10,000, according to the local Tz newspaper.

Jung told The Local there is likely to be a spike in numbers as companies test out the demand, but it should ease off. 

“Especially at the beginning we will see maybe more scooters than demand out there as companies compete for the market share,” he said.

READ ALSO: Impatient train passenger takes electric scooter onto German Autobahn

But he added: “That’s definitely not a long-term problem. We’ll definitely see a consolidation of the market as we did with bike sharing.

“We can also see that cities are asking for a cap so they only allow a certain amount of scooters for every company. There’s no legal basis to enforce this but they can ask for this.”

Jung said in future he thought firms needed to work together with cities – and customers – to get the balance right. 

“Most operators I talk to say that if the scooters are used less than three times per day per scooter they will most likely decrease the number of scooters in the city,” he said.

“The way forward is to have a good compromise so we don’t have extremely excessive scooter fleets in cities that are not used but we also avoid having fleets that are too small.”

And as for right now?

“I think we are still far away from cities being flooded with these scooters,” he said.

Electric scooters lined up in Hamburg. Photo: DPA

But roads and bike lanes are already busy in Germany. How can we make this situation better?

“Improve cycling infrastructure,” said Jung. “This is a win-win situation because it is good for cyclists and also e-scooter users who have to use bicycle lanes.”

It's true that e-scooters must be used on cycle paths – if there are none, users have to go on the road and avoid pavements. Users must also stick to a speed limit of 20 kilometres per hour and be aged 14 years or older.

Jung suggested that “more secure bicycle lanes” are implemented – and widened. 

“The scooters are usually slower than the bikes so you definitely have to make some space for cyclists to overtake the scooters,” he added. “So that means bigger and wider bike lanes – and maybe even less car lanes in the city. 

“I think that could improve safety dramatically for electric scooters and also cyclists,” he said.

What about e-scooters blocking pavements?

E-scooters are often left lying around on pavements when not being used. This can cause problems for pedestrians, including people with disabilities.

Jung said e-scooter riders needed to be aware of this.

“I think right now it’s not a dramatic problem because the fleet size is rather small in the cities of Germany but thinking back to bike sharing, this definitely caused some conflict with pedestrians,” he said. 

E-scooter firms are trying to educate their users by sending in-app messages and raising awareness of how to park vehicles properly, said Jung, with some requiring that users take a photo to show they have parked up correctly. 

READ ALSO: Will fines for electric scooter riders in Germany improve safety?

“I think the scooter companies can contribute a lot to educate the riders and maybe even work with the 'carrot and stick' approach: there are services where you get bonus points if you park properly and follow the rules. 

Jung also pointed out that some companies actually remove all scooters from the street at night to charge them and check their safety then put them out again at 7am. 

“But it causes a lot of additional transport and vehicle miles travelled which decreases the climate balance of these services,” he said. 

Germany is striving to reduce CO2 emissions and one way to do that is to encourage fewer people to own a car. Can e-scooters do this?

Jung said sharing services like e-scooters can’t persuade people to ditch their car on their own. As well as investing in public transport, Jung suggested some further action.

Alexander Jung. Photo courtesy of Alexander Jung. 

Authorities “need to take away the privileges of the private car that we already have,” he said. 

Jung cited the example of parking permits. In Berlin, a residential permit for parking a car costs €20 for two years. 

“This is basically nothing for a car occupying public space on a daily basis,” said Jung. “We give away public space to cars basically for free. This has to change, amongst other things, if we want to initiate a behaviour shift in mobility.”

Now tell us what you think!

Loading.

 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

TRAVEL NEWS

OPINION: Why Germany’s €49 travel ticket is far better than the previous €9 ticket

The €49 ticket is a lot more expensive than its €9 predecessor - but rightly so, writes Brian Melican. Here's how it's likely to improve train travel in Germany long-term.

OPINION: Why Germany's €49 travel ticket is far better than the previous €9 ticket

In politics, expectations management is crucial. If governments get it wrong, they risk becoming unpopular or – as happened recently in the UK – imploding wholesale: Liz Truss et al. overpromised to win control of the governing Tory party and then did an appalling job of managing market expectations (i.e. they neglected to manage them at all), tanking the UK economy and their own careers at record speed.

Next to this spectacle, of course, Germany’s tripartite government coalition’s performance looks pretty passable. Nevertheless, as the whole 9-Euro-49-Euro-ticket saga demonstrates, Scholz & Co. could well use a lesson in how not to unnecessarily raise expectations.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s €49 ticket

When, this spring, German transport minister Volker Wissing and the Green’s parliamentary leader Ricarda Lang presented a 90-day trial for a travel card covering all local public transport services across Germany at a bargain-basement €9 monthly flat-rate, they set pulses racing – something that, as second-rank figures lacking the heft of their respective party heavyweights Lindner and Habeck, neither of them get to do all that often.

Suddenly, the whole country was electrified by the possibility of riding pretty much everything except ICEs for little more than the cost of a Currywurst and those of us who criticised the idea as an ill-thought-out giveaway which would do little more than clog up an already over-stretched network looked like Scrooges.

Now, of course, after the end of the 90-day bonanza and months of wrangling, it is Wissing, Lang and the 16 state transport ministers who were, presenting its successor, left sounding like they are barking “Bah humbug!” in the run-up to Christmas. “€49 Euros a month?!” For those arguing for an extension of the €9 ticket, that is a difference of €40; even advocates of Austria’s more realistic 365-Euro-ticket are around €19 out. And so all the relief that there will now be a permanent cheap ticket is tinged with disappointment that it won’t be that cheap.

‘Public equivalent of joyriding’

Yes, the political expectations management here was awful, because, considered on its own merits, the €49 ticket is sound policy which will have a long-lasting effect on real incomes and travel patterns without the deleterious effects of its short-lived gimmicky predecessor.

So what was wrong with the €9 ticket and how is the €49 ticket better? The biggest problem with this summer’s eye-catching initiative was that, while it did achieve one stated aim of putting money in the pockets of existing season-ticket holders, the price was so crazily low as to encourage the public-transport equivalent of joyriding.

In milder instances, people who could perfectly well have afforded to use long-distance services switched to far slower and far more complicated itineraries because they were unbeatably cheap, contributing to overcrowding on regional lines; at its worst (i.e. on warm weekends), the ticket encouraged people to head to already busy tourist hotspots when they otherwise wouldn’t have travelled at all

READ ALSO: What happens to Germany’s €9 ticket at the end of August?

This ran completely counter to another of the policy’s aims of reducing emissions (the most carbon-neutral journey is, after all, the one that never happens). It was also counterproductive insofar as it added disruption to a network already struggling with staffing shortages and a chronic lack of capacity: rather than attracting new riders, in many instances, the overcrowded and heavily-delayed services of this summer will have confirmed car-drivers’ suspicions that public transport is a sweaty hell-hole best avoided.

Deutsche Bahn regional trains leave Munich station

Regional trains of German rail operator Deutsche Bahn leave the main train station in Munich, southern Germany, on March 28, 2022. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

All of this explains why the €9 ticket was a failure: studies tracking its effect showed that, more than anything, it created more traffic without making a serious dent in the number of car journeys undertaken. And while doing that, it drained the coffers of public transport operators who are now reliant on Berlin making up for missing ticket receipts, in turn adding a couple of billion Euros to an already maxed-out governmental credit card.

Avoiding excesses

Now, by cranking up the price from “Oh, sure, why the hell not?” up to “Hm, sounds okay, I guess…”, the €49 ticket will avoid these excesses while still offering considerable savings both to season-ticket holders and anyone looking to make more use of public transport options in their free time or on holiday. This will be a helpful tool in the box when it comes to trying to get a grip on rampant inflation and a boon to hard-pressed commuters and low-income households. What it won’t do is actively provoke people into travelling just for the sake of it – and won’t bankrupt either the federal or the state transport departments. 

Yet what is by far the most important thing about the €49 ticket is its radically simplifying effect. In many countries, public transport (especially rail) is plagued by complicated fare structures, and Germany is perhaps Europe’s worst offender here: within each region, there are dozens of local transport authorities who set their own rates, usually based on complicated geographical zoning and often with a peak/off-peak element; some offer 24-hours day-tickets, others passes only valid until midnight or until 6am on the following day; in addition, service operators tend to offer their own flat-rate tickets, weekend travelcards, and various other deals, often for groups of different sizes or with specific characteristics (youths/seniors, students, jobseekers)… 

So for everyone looking to buy a fare with €49.00 to spare but not 40 minutes, the new go-to monthly ticket offers a quick way out. And if €49 sounds like a lot, it’s worth bearing in mind that many longer return journeys with regional trains can end up costing that if an overnight stay is involved.

Anyone planning to take just one trip from, say, Hamburg to Flensburg, staying a few days there and taking the bus to get around, is quids in – and will be delighted that they can use HVV services back in Hamburg and that, if they end up in Berlin or Munich later that month, they can also ride the busses, trams, and underground trains there. 

By taking a machete to the thicket of fares, this new permanent ticket beats a path to a nationwide public transport experience smoother than at any point in the past. As of next year, most people looking to ride on even just a semi-regular basis will no longer have to think twice about ticketing and will be able to use busses and trains in the same way drivers use their cars.

This is genuinely transformative, and if we’d never had the €9 ticket, the €49 ticket would be a headline-grabbing shift in transport policy. As it is, though, this important moment seems like an anti-climax.

SHOW COMMENTS