Electric kick scooters seem to have become quite popular, to the extent that many citizens, especially elderly ones, have been complaining about their becoming a nuisance. Fines handed out to users for leaving them lying around on pavements, in the way of pedestrians, have skyrocketed.
Whether these are signs of rising interest in different, cleaner modes of transport or simply the latest fad is not clear. But the potential is there: an opportunity to promote micromobility should not be allowed to slip through our fingers.
About two years ago, Transport Malta’s Sustainable Mobility Unit had issued a document containing preliminary abridged guidelines for the regulation of the so-called micromobility class, which includes e-kick scooters and other personal light electric vehicles, or PLEVs.
It predicted that micromobility would be the first modal class to eliminate the internal combustion engine and to be powered by electric means only, except where human muscle can also be used for propulsion.
The document defined micromobility as a class of vehicles characteristically small, lightweight and nimble, offering mobility solutions that are low-cost and highly energy efficient.
Significantly, it noted that this development had the potential “to penetrate through the problems that have been plaguing the transport sector for a long time”.
So before rushing to impose as many restrictions as the law allows on the use of e-scooters, e-bikes and suchlike, it would be wise to stop and think, weigh the pros and the cons and look at the whole picture, for the short and long term. After all, Transport Malta itself accepts that e-scooters can be a convenient means of transport, their ease of use able to provide last mile journeys “in a complex multimodal transport ecosystem”.
The transport watchdog is, of course, right to express concerns that, as these technologies become more popular, so will the challenges, both with regard to road safety and enforcement. But the same argument could be made about any vehicles.
Over the past few years, there has been a lot of rhetoric about safer roads and proper traffic management. Still, not much of significance has been achieved up to now, bar the multimillion-euro road infrastructure projects primarily targeted at cars. It would appear that inadequate resources to deal with administrative difficulties deter regulators from taking the action they know is necessary.
The ever-rising number of vehicles is simply unsustainable, however wide our roads. The drastic drop in traffic seen during certain periods of the partial lockdowns had a silver lining: lower air pollution levels, less stress and road rage, and a smoother, faster passage. Sadly, we are back to the bad old days.
Not to be forgotten either are the
commitments, targets and standards set by international bodies, including the European Commission, that Malta is obliged to meet.
All the stakeholders, spearheaded by Transport Malta, should get behind any attempt, and move fast to exploit any opportunity, to diversify transport options, especially towards cleaner alternatives and, more so, if it gets people out of their cars.
New forms of transport will not be encouraged by fining people left, right and centre for minor infringements. Rather, it can be done through education campaigns on good use and by ensuring that the adequate supporting infrastructure is in place.
Generous incentive schemes, such as already exist on certain categories of electric vehicles, could also go a long way in popularising such modes of transport.
The statistics speak for themselves: the Maltese are enamoured with their cars. However, an aggressive drive to convince them there are smoother, cleaner, traffic-avoiding rides is both necessary and possible.
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