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ENVIRONMENT

German e-scooter startups band together over proposed restrictions

Up until now, there has not been a consensus in the e-scooter industry; everyone is fighting for themselves in a competitive market.

German e-scooter startups band together over proposed restrictions
A man with an e-scooter in Stuttgart in November 2019. Photo: DPA

But now the six largest sharing providers, Lime, Voi, Tier, Jump, Bird and Circ, see their existence threatened by a new proposal and have formed an unprecedented alliance, according to a report in Germany's Business Insider.

READ ALSO: What you think of the rise of electric scooters in Germany

For the first time, Germany is demanding a permit requirement for e-scooters which could significantly restrict their usage, according to the report. The move, part of a package to road traffic regulations, was to be voted on Friday.

How will a permit change the industry?

This would mean in practice that e-scooter startups would have to get a permit from German municipalities before their vehicles – which were officially legalized in Germany in June 2019 – are allowed to hit the streets.

Cities could also attach certain conditions to this permit, such as fleet ceilings, quotas and fees.

Up until now, being able able to park the e-scooters freely is part of the business model of the startups.

Via app, customers can rent and park the mini-motorized vehicles anywhere in the catchment area – the model is called “free-floating” in the jargon of the industry, and is intended to offer flexibility to park the vehicles in public spaces, even in front of the rider's front door.

An e-scooter rider in Cologne. Photo: DPA

READ ALSO: What happens to electric scooters in the colder months?

From the point of view of some cities, including Berlin, free floating causes parking chaos.

As the proposed amendment reads: “The commercial use of, in particular, pedestrian areas by commercial providers of rental electric scooters is increasingly causing traffic problems for other road users in cities and municipalities, in particular for pedestrians and persons with reduced mobility.”

Existence threatened

In a joint position paper, the six e-scooter companies called on the representatives of Germany's Federal Council not to approve the amendment.

“The current proposal allows cities and municipalities to ban e-scooters or rental bikes completely or to impose strict conditions on them,” it read. “Such strict regulation means the end of micro-mobility as an alternative to motorized individual transport.”

They stated that the bureaucratic burden would make the free-floating model so unattractive that only a station-based model – or picking and dropping off e-bikes at a particular station – would be considered by companies. But this in turn would be poorly accepted by the users.

In order to solve the parking chaos on the sidewalks, they see cities themselves as primarily responsible.

“In our view, the basic problem lies in the lack of infrastructure investments,” said Jashar Seyfi, Lime's German head, to Business Insider.

“Car parking spaces would have to be converted into parking spaces for e-scooters – but of course that doesn't make you popular as a politician in Germany as a car nation.”

‘Environmental friendly mobility’

According to Germany's Bundesrat, the amendment of the road traffic regulations serves to “promote sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility”. 

It also would increase the fines for parking and illegal use of sidewalks, ranging from the current  €25 today to up to €100. In addition, new traffic signs with e-scooter symbols are to be introduced.

In addition to e-scooters, greater safety for cyclists and better conditions for car sharing services are also an issue. The Federal Council was to vote on the changes on Friday.

READ ALSO: Fines and speed limits: Germany votes on new traffic rules

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ENVIRONMENT

Young activists take German states to court over climate inaction

Campaigners began a legal challenge against five German regions on Monday to force them to take stronger action on climate change, emboldened by a landmark recent court ruling in favour of environmental protection.

Young activists take German states to court over climate inaction
Demonstrators from the Fridays for Future movement protest in Gießen, Hesse, with a sign saying "No wishy-washy, no climate lashing". Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

The plaintiffs are basing their case on a sensational verdict by Germany’s constitutional court in April which found that Germany’s plans to curb CO2 emissions were insufficient to meet the targets of the Paris climate agreement and placed an unfair burden on future generations.

In a major win for activists, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s federal government then brought forward its date for carbon neutrality by five years to 2045, and raised its 2030 target for greenhouse gas reductions.

READ ALSO: 

On Monday, 16 children and young adults began proceedings against the regions of Hesse, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saarland, with support of environmental NGO Environmental Action Germany (DUH).

They are charging that none of the states targeted by the legal action have passed sufficiently strong climate legislation at the local level, according to DUH.

“The federal government can’t succeed on its own,” lead lawyer Remo Klinger said in a press conference, highlighting state competence in the area of transport.

DUH worked closely together with the youth climate movement Fridays For Future to find activists willing to front the challenges, the group said.

Seventeen-year-old plaintiff Alena Hochstadt said the western state of Hesse, known for its Frankfurt banking hub, had always been her home but she feared having “no future here”.

Concern about the risk of “floods, storms and droughts” led her and other campaigners to seek “a legal basis for binding climate protection”.

READ ALSO: Climate change made German floods ‘more likely and more intense’

Hesse’s ministers for climate and the economy said they were “surprised” by the announcement.

“DUH clearly has not yet understood that we in Hesse are well ahead,” Priska Hinz and Tarek Al-Wazir said in a joint statement, drawing attention to an energy future law from 2012, before the Paris climate agreement.

In July, DUH-supported activists took the states of Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg to court on similar grounds.

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