For some time now we have been witnessing electric scooters on our roads, sidewalks and cycle paths. Their numbers have skyrocketed over the last six months, to which the electric scooter rental providers have made a significant contribution. As was the case abroad, this technological novelty caught the Slovenian legislature of guard.
Sustainable mobility on paper and the development in practice
The transport sector is one of the most polluting industries in the world. To reduce the amount of gas emissions into the environment, Slovenia increased the tax on motor vehicles with regard to the amount of CO2 emitted (g/km), type of fuel (petrol, diesel), hard particles emission and the European emission standards by amending the Motor Vehicles Tax Act (Zakon o davku na motorna vozila) in 2010. In the years that followed, the Slovenian transport policy turned towards sustainable development. Both the state and numerous local authorities began to emphasise the importance of limiting the consumption of fossil fuels and actively encouraging electromobility as a new way of environmentally friendly mobility.
In 2016, Slovenia saw the beginning of operations of the first car sharing company, offering short-term electric car rentals to users. While they are a more environmentally friendly means of transport, intended for overcoming long distances, they do not provide the appropriate solution for transport in city centres, which are usually hit the hardest by traffic.
Micro mobility is a mode of transport by light electric vehicles. In 2017, companies in the United States started to rent out electric scooters for the short term, kickstarting the development of micro mobility.
Electric scooters provide a fast way of moving around the city centre, allowing the users to avoid the all too common traffic congestions. Their another important advantage is certainly the fact that their use requires little to no physical effort. The users liked this innovative solution and its success was immediate. In the first half of 2019, the first providers of electric scooter rental entered the Slovenian market.
Electric Scooter Rental - How Does It Work?
Electric scooter rental platforms are easy to use and resemble electric car sharing platforms. A user unlocks the electric scooter using a mobile app, rides the scooter and, once finished, parks it in a place where it does not obstruct other road users. The user is charged based on the amount of time of use, with the app directly debiting the user’s bank account.
The main difference between short-term rental of electric cars and electric scooters therefore lies in the end of the ride. While it is allowed to park electric cars only in their designated parking spaces, users of electric scooters can leave them virtually anywhere, which represents a great advantage for the user.
Unfortunately, this advantage has proven to pose a problem abroad. The irresponsible behaviour of users who parked electric scooters in inappropriate places has contributed to the restrictions to their use.
Difficulties with the interpretation of the law
Shortly after the first electric scooter rental providers appeared in Slovenia, a public controversy began to emerge as to whether or not this means of transport was even allowed on the roads. And if it were, where?
The Ministry of Infrastructure (MI) and the General Police Directorate (GPD) expressed their opinions on the issue. At first, the MI took the view that electric scooters are allowed in road traffic, and the GPD agreed. After a while, however, the MI changed their position, saying that with regards to the legislation currently in place, use of electric scooters is not allowed.
The GPD did not share the MI’s opinion. In a press release, the journalists were told that the Road Traffic Rules Act (Zakon o pravilih cestnega prometa, ZPrCP ) can be interpreted in a number of ways. According to the interpretation the police adopted, the use of electric scooters is authorised, therefore police officers will not fine people who use them.
Changes to the Road Traffic Rules Act in the pipeline
For the time being, it is clear that in Slovenia electric scooters should not be used on the roads, since the ZPrCP clearly states that special means of transport, including scooters (without electric drive), can only be used on sidewalks, pedestrian paths, cycling paths and areas of calm traffic, as long as pedestrians or cyclists are not endangered. The law further specifies that a special vehicle driven by an engine that moves at a speed greater than the pedestrian speed (e.g. an electric scooter) is prohibited in road traffic.
It is the latter that lies at the heart of the disagreement between the MI and the GPD. While the GPD believes that the use of electric scooters on pedestrian surfaces is permitted as long as the users of electric scooters do not drive at a speed greater than pedestrians, the ministry is convinced that the use of electric scooters is entirely unlawful, since they are electric vehicles, which can at any time exceed the speed of pedestrian movement.
The MI has quickly recognised that the current legal framework is inadequate and is lagging behind the development in practice. Thus, they undertook the task of drafting an amendment to the ZPrCP. If adopted, users of electric special vehicles (including electric scooters) will be able to drive on sidewalks and cycle paths, provided that they do not exceed the speed of 25 km/h, and will have to adjust their driving speed to the surface on which they are moving. In residential areas, where the maximum permissible driving speed is limited to 50 km/h and where traffic surfaces such as sidewalks and cycle paths do not exist or are inappropriate to be used, electric special means of transport will also be allowed to drive on the right side of the road.
Diverse legal solutions abroad
If the existing amendment to the ZPrCP is adopted, the Slovenian regulation will be quite similar to the Finnish, where the use of electric vehicles is allowed on sidewalks, provided that their users do not endanger pedestrians and move at pedestrian speeds. Otherwise, electric vehicles are subject to the same rules as bicycles.
In Belgium, electric scooter users abide by similar rules to cyclists. The difference is that electric scooters are only allowed to be used by persons over the age of 18 and their speed limit is 25 km/h.
Germany, for example, banned electric scooters at first, but reversed its decision on the grounds that the speed of electric scooters was comparable to that of cyclists. From mid-June 2019, the use of electric scooters is allowed on roads and cycle paths, with a maximum speed of 20 km/h and for users of over 14 years of age. The original proposal of the German regulation also envisaged the possibility of driving electric scooters on pedestrian surfaces at a speed limit of 12 km/h but has been withdrawn due to a public outcry.
The number of electric scooters in Paris, which is currently home to about 20,000, is expected to double by the end of the year. The French legislative body has therefore decided to remove electric scooters from sidewalks and other pedestrian surfaces. The uncontrolled parking of electric scooters has also caused much controversy in the French capital. As a result, parking electric scooters on pedestrian surfaces was banned in Paris in late July 2019. Now, they can only be parked in car and motorcycle parking spaces.
The popularity of electric scooters is on the rise in South America as well. In Peru, following a serious accident in which an electric scooter user crashed into a pedestrian who suffered head and arm injuries, the use of electric scooters was restricted to the right side of the road and cycle paths, with speed limit reduced to 20km/h.
At the moment, the UK has one of the most inflexible arrangements for the use of electric scooters, banning them both on the roads and on the sidewalks. They can be driven on private property only. The reason for this arrangement lies in the definition of the electric scooter, which is treated as a light electric vehicle, equivalent to a motor vehicle for which it is necessary to have license plates and insurance. Since electric scooters cannot be registered under current arrangements, they remain illegal means of transport until further notice.
Looking at how to support the development of electromobility in the future
Undoubtedly, Slovenia must strive for the sustainable development of transport, which promotes walking, cycling, the use of public transport and other alternative forms of sustainable mobility, including the (co)use of electric vehicles. Only this way will we be able to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the long term and provide cleaner air for the urban population and thus improve the quality of life.
As stated in the introduction, Slovenia has taken first action in 2010 by amending the Motor Vehicle Tax Act and has continued with infrastructure projects, such as setting up fast charging stations for electric vehicles and subsidising electric vehicles. For example, a subsidy of up to EUR 7,500.00 can currently be received for the purchase of a new electric car in Slovenia.
It should be borne in mind that sustainable modes of transport require certain transport infrastructure for their operation, which is why it would make sense in urban centres to extend cycle paths at the expense of roads. At the same time, additional financial incentives for electromobility companies should be considered as well as an increase in the subsidy fund for people who decide to buy electric vehicles.