“The ban is here to stay, and it will kick off on the 1st of March 2024. Operators’ licences, which expire in December 2023 and February 2024, will not be renewed. In the meantime, Transport Malta is making the necessary legislative changes.”
Such were Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects Aaron Farrugia’s clear words after Bolt and Bird, two companies that rented out electronic scooters, requested a meeting to iron out differences and urge the Government to rethink a ban that has been placed on these scooters.
Let’s put things in context.
If you are currently residing in Malta and reading this, it’s highly likely that you’ve encountered e-scooters speeding by, often uncomfortably close. Alternatively, you may have stumbled upon one, or many, casually abandoned on a pavement or right in front of your garage, or even had to manoeuvre around them while driving.
The Government has recently announced a ban on rental electric scooters starting from the 1st March next year. This decision stems from the disturbances experienced by the community, despite increased enforcement and fines.
The objective behind the Government’s decision is to promote a more responsible use of electronic scooters. However, private e-scooters will still be permitted, and incentives will be introduced to encourage individuals to purchase their own.
Rented e-scooters no, private e-scooters yes: a contradiction?
The Minister responsible for Transport, Infrastructure, and Capital Projects, Aaron Farrugia, told The Journal that there is no contradiction in the fact that personal e-scooters will not only remain, but also be encouraged. He explained that personal ones are deemed acceptable because of the minimal number of associated violations daily.
“It appears that individuals using personal scooters have demonstrated respect for pedestrians and care towards the infrastructure, including roads and pavements,” said the Minister.
The existing regulations will remain fully in effect for personal e-scooters. This means that, as is currently the case, e-scooters must undergo inspection, registration, and licensing as stipulated by the existing regulations. There will be designated parking spots for e-scooters.
Regarding the measures to incentivise the purchase of e-scooters, the Government is currently considering introducing financial incentives, like those available for pedelecs or electric bikes.
Not out of the blue
When asked whether discussions were held with current operators before the rental e-scooter ban was decided, Minister Farrugia confirmed that multiple meetings took place, culminating in a final gathering held last September, bringing together all relevant operators and stakeholders.
“We re-emphasised our deep disappointment and concern regarding the events that transpired over the summer months,” he told The Journal, adding that the issue extends beyond scooters being a nuisance: “We experienced a skyrocketing of violations which not only created a road safety issue but also placed unprecedented pressure on our enforcement efforts.”
Rather than focusing on road safety and traffic management, enforcement officers were overwhelmed with traffic violations and complaints related to the use and misuse of rental e-scooters. People were riding rental e-scooters on prohibited arterial and distributary roads, resulting in several accidents.
To scoot or to walk? That was the question.
Minister Farrugia said that, as things turned out, rental e-scooters did not align with the government’s objectives for sustainable transportation. They have not helped people to switch from cars, but are instead being used instead of walking and other forms of active transportation.
Asked whether a ban on rental e-scooters would lead to an increase in the use of public buses, Minister Farrugia replied that public transport usage has been on the rise since bus trips became free of charge. Thirty new electric buses were recently added to the bus fleet, resulting in 410 new trips.
Apart from initiatives to strengthen public transport, the Minister highlighted a €35 million investment in active mobility routes, that was announced last April.
Turning the bicycle wheels of change
The country is investing heavily in incentivising people to use alternative methods of transportation. It will be a while, though, before people give up on the comfort of their own cars and opt for walking, cycling, and habitually hopping on buses.
As long as cars remain affordable, chances are that many will simply keep on using them. It certainly doesn’t help to see alternative options being allowed to infiltrate the market at first, only to be retracted because of the danger and nuisance they cause. Having said that, we also cannot negate the fact that a massive inconvenience will be taken off our streets, making them safer and more inviting for more sustainable means of transportation.
If we all want a less congested country, less parking problems, and a healthier lifestyle, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to put on our walking shoes and consider biking as our next sport of choice, should our roads be made safer to allow that. The upcoming National Cycling Strategy and Action Plan should give us more reasons to make biking a way of life.