New laws could end e-scooter chaos

While providers may be required to offer more equitable service, politicians may also cut them some breaks on parking fees.

What unregulated capitalism looks like.
What unregulated capitalism looks like.Eric Richard

Berlin-They may still be outnumbered by private cars, but the e-scooters lurking on sidewalks and in parking spaces have irked more than just a few. And Berlin has heard their cries and has prepared a bill to better regulate electric scooters, rental bikes, car-sharing cars and other free-floating rental vehicles.

The draft would add a new paragraph to the city's traffic laws with provisions for the "commercial offering of rental vehicles". The vehicles would then be considered a special use of public roads and require a permit.

Providers would have to apply and politicians could include conditions to ensure the products fulfill the goals of the Berlin Mobility Act. Parking as well as permit lengths and regions could be defined and, should a provider fail to live up to its commitments, have its permit revoked.

"Special use contracts are the only way to get the rental vehicle chaos under control. Bremen has been doing it successfully for over a year," said Roland Stimpel, spokesman for the German Foot Traffic Association (FUSS). "It can get really expensive for rental companies there if their scooters stand and lie in the way of others".

Quick action by Berlin's Senat could save the city centre from a third "summer of chaos" in 2021, he said. "And of course, companies will finally have to pay for doing business on public land. At the same time, the creation of special parking spaces at the street's edge should be continued."

Broken contracts? No problem, he said: "The vehicles will disappear from the city" like many electric scooters from Copenhagen.

Berlin has been considered the sharing capital of Germany. Five e-scooter companies had 16,000 vehicles on Berlin streets in January, according to government figures. Seven bike rental companies also had 14,000 bicycles and one electric scooter company manages 800 two-wheelers.

We have to deal with negative consequences.

Kristian Ronneburg

And that doesn't count car sharing, which saw the fleet size double in Berlin last year to more than 6,000 cars and vans. In Mitte alone, floating rental vehicles occupy 15 percent of the paid parking spaces, according to the resolution. There are also constant conflicts on sidewalks.

"To be able to regulate and control them in the future in keeping with the mobility law, the senate will now, as demanded by left-wing parliamentarians, change the traffic laws," said Kristian Ronneburg (Die Linke). Up to now, he said, sharing providers hadn't kept their word on integrating into the city and reducing traffic.

"We have to deal with negative consequences such as increased traffic since services are concentrated in the city centre," he said. Die Linke party wants to ensure that - unlike at present - the services are also available in the outskirts.

Providers don't have to just fear the proposed law. The new law would likely allow the providers to pay less while better regulating benefits to users city-wide.

"States such as Bremen, North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria have long since integrated the requirements of the [federal] Car-Sharing Act into their own traffic laws," said Andreas Knie, mobility researcher at the Social Science Research Center Berlin. "In Berlin, on the other hand, we still have a situation where we pay nothing or a maximum of €10, €20 per year for parking private cars, while car-sharing providers are treated by the boroughs like normal third-party parkers and have to pay an average of around €100 euros per month."

This article was adapted from the German original by Andrew Bulkeley for the English Edition.