Safety concerns arise once again as 2023's e-scooter season starts

Bolt and Tuul electric scooters in Tallinn.
Bolt and Tuul electric scooters in Tallinn. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Today, Wednesday, March 22, marks the full arrival of e-scooter season as Bolt, one of the main service providers, rolls out its vehicles again, portal Delfi reports.

However, this also means the issue of safety while using e-scooters is being revisited, with using the mode of transport while under the influence of alcohol a particular concern, as despite the best efforts of both Bolt and the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) last season, the matter has not been fully resolved, Delfi reports (link in Estonian).

Bolt says every third Estonian resident has used an e-scooter rental service at some point and, while around 8,000 of the distinctive green electric velocipedes are to be let loose on the streets of 11 towns nationwide, the fact that around one third of e-scooter incidents as reported related to the use of alcohol, usually on the part of the rider, much still needs to be improved.

Bolt is one of two main companies renting out e-scooters for hire, the other being Tuul, whose scooters were available through much of the winter.

In either case, using the service requires downloading an app to a smartphone, used to reserve, locate, unlock and navigate with e-scooters.

Bolt e-scooters are often laid out en masse at set locations at the start of the day. Source: Jenny Va / ERR

When e-scooters first started appearing on the streets of Tallinn, in 2018, their use was confined to the high summer months, but since then the season has been prolonged greatly, as well as the geographical area of e-scooter availability.

Add to that private e-scooter ownership; these vehicles often have far higher top speeds than the rental variants, but the assumption is that e-scooter users who own their own vehicles will ride more considerately, even if only motivated by the protection of their own property.

The problem can work the other way round too – users should be alert for drivers not paying attention at pedestrian crossings, or for pedestrians occasionally lashing out at e-scooter users even when riding responsibly and on dedicated light traffic lanes, as well as poorly maintained roads and sidewalks leading to an up-ending, particularly early on and later on in the season, when conditions are poorer.

Bolt spokesperson: PPA e-scooter drunk test so stringent, even the sober sometimes failed it

Aleksandr Lilišentsev, head of Bolt Estonia's e-scooter division, told Delfi that a reaction test issued by the PPA last year turned out to be so stringent that even fully sober riders sometimes had difficulty passing it, adding that the PPA has the right, not to mention the duty, to conduct frequent e-scooter rider checks.

E-scooter speeds will be automatically limited to 17 km/h at weekends, bearing in mind the role alcohol reportedly plays in many incidents and accidents, and in all towns in Estonia, Lilišentsev added.

Delfi reports that last year, 352 traffic accidents involving light vehicles, including e-scooters, were reported, with 339 being injured as a result, and one fatality being reported.

This compares with 223 cases in 2021, with 208 injuries – though e-scooter rental was widely available in that year also.

Lilišentsev added that so far as alcohol is concerned, this remains the responsibility of the user, though those found using an e-scooter under the influence will be blocked from the app.

This year, 11 towns host Bolt scooter rental services – in addition to Tallinn and Tartu, Pärnu, Rakvere, Haapsalu, Kuressaare, Viljandi, Võru, Narva, Jõhvi and Kohtla-Järve also make the list.

Via a separate Bolt press release, Lilišentsev said that: "Nowadays, traveling via light scooter is undoubtedly the most convenient, fastest and cheapest way to get around a city center."

"This year, our team will focus on improving the safety of e-scooter use throughout the season. We believe in educating users first and foremost, but we are also prepared to call out those whose [app] alerts aren't being heeded. For example, as an innovation this year, we will start blocking scooter users who consistently abuse the service," he went on.

Maximum speeds, other conditions also vary from municipality to municipality

Lilišentsev told Delfi that in the ideal world, every town would have dedicated cycle lanes which e-scooters can also use; in the meantime features include notifying users of the requirement to match a pedestrian's speed when in their vicinity, and an automatic reduced speed for new users while they get the hang of riding.

The maximum speed varies from town to town also, as agreed with the local municipality, he said; users may have noticed in Tallinn that the automatic speed limit kicks in when traveling through pedestrian-heavy central zones, such as Vabaduse väljak, though since the automation is GPS-linked, oftentimes the speed can automatically drop after leaving the zone (or beforehand, or when riding adjacent to it).

An example of some not-so-great e-scooter parking. Source: Mait Ots / ERR

Other innovations for this season, Bolt says, include recognizing if an e-scooter is being illicitly ridden by two people at the same time, and barring parking on sidewalks narrower than 1.7m (Tartu only).

Delfi reports that Teili Piiskoppel, who heads up the PPA's eastern Tallinn district, told the media last September of a Friday night series of spot checks, which found that 32 of 150 e-scooter riders checked were under the influence of alcohol, while three were using an e-scooter illegally, as minors.

Lilišentsev said that more analysis and reporting on accidents and incidents will take place this season, and meetings with the PPA and the Transport Board (Transpordiamet) will convene each quarter, adding that given the growth in popularity, the trend is towards fewer accidents per kilometer than earlier.

Major concert in Tallinn even led to local government requesting e-scooter supply at venue

Sometimes local authorities encourage the use of e-scooters also – according to Lilišentsev, this happened in July last year when German heavy metal outfit Rammstein played in Tallinn to around 75,000 people, over half of them from outside Estonia, prompting the city's government to ask that Bolt ferry e-scooters to the immediate environs of the venue, the Song Festival Grounds, to help with crowd dispersal at the end of the gig.

e-scooters are distributed, and collected at the end of the day, using vans. Source: Mait Ots / ERR

Bolt is in any case unveiling a safety standards document from this year, using data pulled from far beyond Estonia – from 260 cities Europe-wide, in fact.

The original Delfi piece (in Estonian), which includes comparisons with London and Paris in e-scooter rental terms, as well as more PPA feedback, is here.

Other more recent developments with e-scooters include the provision of charging zones which not only help to top up batteries – the recharging takes place wirelessly – but also lead to a small discount on user's end fee, if parked in such areas.

Users must also photograph their e-scooter upon completing a trip, to ensure that the vehicle has been parked reasonably considerately, rather than right in the middle of a sidewalk or other public convenience.

Another top tip is to put an e-scooter on pause when parking it, if intending to continued a journey – for instance if going to a store. This would avoid a situation, anecdote would have it, where the user can be led on a wild goose chase as they see on the smartphone app their e-scooter mysteriously moving away from them, always at a pace slow enough to seem worth following, but too fast to ever catch up to. Either that, or they realize the ride can be terminated via the app there and then. They may also find the miscreant has dumped the e-scooter, on its side, in the middle of a walkway, in that case.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Delfi, Bolt

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