Bicycles, e-bikes and scooters are more popular than ever – but they need regulation

Bicycles, e-bikes and scooters have been enjoying a surge in popularity as commuters become more and more aware of the effects of vehicle emissions, and our cities become ever more congested. Yet even these seemingly eco-friendly solutions face challenges from an unexpected source: regulation. As people switch to pedal and foot power, there are now emerging issues about the interaction of these various forms of mobility, and how we manage our cycle lanes.

In theory, bicycles, e-bikes, scooters and even hoverboards help get people out of polluting vehicles that clog up city streets. But they can be dangerous: their accident rates have surged. And the challenge is not just about organising the traffic, but also about how to run the market, and defining who needs insurance.

Criminalizing E-bikers

The question of insurance was addressed by the European Parliament on January 22, when MEPs in the Consumer Protection Committee decided not to continue with a rule change that would have required riders of electric bikes to buy motor-vehicle-style third-party liability insurance. It came after protests from groups like the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), which had warned that use and sales of e-bikes would suffer “substantial damage” if the EU passed a law that would “criminalize millions of current power-assisted bicycle users.”

When it comes to the market, the recent surge in e-bikes is at risk thanks to the EU’s trade defence measures. Most of the new models come from China, and the EU slapped tariffs on them on January 19 in reaction to imports tripling between 2014 and 2017, contributing to an estimated 10 million e-bikes being sold in total on the EU market as of 2017. EU officials say that without such measures, unchecked trade would bankrupt EU producers, which account for some 3,500 jobs.

As for the traffic itself, local officials worry if there is enough capacity. In the Netherlands, the most bicycle-friendly country on Earth, the number of mopeds has more than doubled to about 720,000. Big Dutch cities are looking at new rules stating what vehicles are allowed on their increasingly crowded lanes: Amsterdam now says that slower mopeds, known as a “snorfiets”, will be banned from the bike paths from April.

Finally, there is the question of rental bicycles and scooters that can be picked up on street corners, where they are unlocked with a special card or code – which has led to them being stranded in public spaces, where users last left them. This is partly because the legal framework does not define where they should be driven or parked.

Invasion of public space

Paris’s Deputy Mayor Christophe Najdovski has warned of an “invasion of public space, most of all the sidewalks.” In Belgium, every sharing system, including e-scooters, has to register and agree measures preventing high concentrations of the vehicles in one spot – and making sure broken ones are repaired within 24 hours.

As for Germany, e-scooters are still illegal on their roads. In Spain, where they are classified within the type of personal mobility vehicles (VMP), the city of Barcelona has threatened fines of up to €100 per unauthorized e-scooter.

All this shows how even mobility solutions that initially look like the most environmentally and socially responsible are not nearly as simple as they first seem.