The director of one of Malta’s e-scooter rental companies thinks there should be fewer e-scooters on the roads but says the authorities are hell-bent on driving the companies out of the country.
Roberto Pestana, the 33-year-old Portuguese director of Bird e-scooters, says the electric vehicles remain one of the best alternative transport solutions for Malta but the system is rigged against them and the government is out to get them.
The situation has become so dire, he told Times of Malta, that his company is considering packing up and leaving the island.
Pestana admitted Malta’s infrastructure cannot handle the 5,000 e-scooters currently in circulation.
He believes the two rental companies – his and Bolt – should be allowed to operate with 800 to 1,000 e-scooters each during the winter months and perhaps get 300 to 500 more on the roads each during the peak summer months.
This is not due to a lack of demand but rather to avoid localities becoming saturated with too many scooters.
He also admits that e-scooter drivers often drive and park recklessly, with little regard for traffic rules. But they’re not the only ones to blame, he says. A big part of the problem is they have no infrastructure where to drive and park, so they’re perceived as a nuisance wherever they go.
They were one of the reasons Sliema residents left their homes last week to protest the poor quality of life.
In the same week Paris became the first European capital to abolish rented e-scooters altogether.
It is, however, replacing them with thousands of electric bicycles, for which it has pledged to add more bike lanes.
But Pestana is convinced e-scooters are only perceived as disruptive because they are a new technology and Malta’s roads are not equipped for them.
If only the government would take their infrastructure seriously, they could become one of the cleanest, safest and most efficient transport solutions for a small island with a growing population that has hardly begun to effectively curb traffic congestion and pollution, he says.
“If done right, e-scooters could really solve a big part of the problem.
"The government should for now reduce their amount but invest in more cycling lanes and parking bays every year, gradually increasing the number of e-scooters each year according to the infrastructure’s capacity.”
'Proposals fell on deaf ears'
But Pestana says most of his proposals have so far fallen on deaf ears. He has been fighting for better infrastructure since e-scooters landed in Malta a few years ago but the hundreds of emails and proposal documents he sent to local councils and the authorities have largely gone unheeded.
Only the San Ġwann local council was open to investing in more infrastructure since the service first appeared in Malta, in an effort to allow the service to flourish without becoming a nuisance to residents.
Even worse, Pestana says, the authorities seem hell-bent on driving e-scooter companies out of the country with an “excessive, continuous and unfair” stream of daily fines.
He points out there are few areas where e-scooters can be driven safely, while Transport Malta has so far installed only one parking bay for e-scooters, in Birkirkara.
This poor infrastructure means that e-scooters are parked illegally almost everywhere. To add insult to injury, he complains, the authorities are dishing out fines to e-scooters for not being parked in a designated area.
“How are people expected to park in a designated area if those areas don’t exist?!
“You can’t park in the white boxes for cars and motorcycles, you can’t park on most pavements because they’re too narrow, you can’t park close to a corner or in front of a garage, and rightly so.
“But we don’t have anywhere to drive and park. It’s like we can’t exist. We need to at least be given a chance. We’re not even getting that.”
Sometimes a driver manages to park an e-scooter legally but after they leave someone comes along and topples it over or moves it to an illegal parking position. Enforcement officers then fine the poor driver for illegal parking, according to Pestana.
And fines for illegal parking, reckless driving and driving without a licence for e-scooters are far harsher than they are for cars, he adds.
E-scooters are also the only electric vehicle for which one cannot apply for an EU grant for EVs, even though they are considered motor vehicles by law.
“It feels like the government is set on protecting cars and buses and abolishing the rest of the alternative mobilities.
“GoTo left, Nextbike left, Cool left, all the other e-scooter rental companies left. If things continue to go down this road, we’re next. They are killing us.”
Pestana says his office receives piles upon piles of court summons monthly over e-scooter contraventions, and his fight has become so grim it has started to seriously affect his health.
“Malta has so much potential for alternative mobility but my company is losing hope and we’re considering closing our Malta operations if real action is not taken soon.”
70,000 registered users in Malta
Bird operates in hundreds of cities across all continents and its Maltese partner company operates in four European cities and expects to venture into more cities soon.
The Maltese company manages 1,700 e-scooters its mobile application has 70,000 registered users who are residents in Malta, with the user base growing by 30,000 new users annually.
“We want to sort this out as quickly as possible. It would be good for us and it would end the nightmare for the residents as well
“You might wish to see fewer e-scooters because you don’t like them. But beware, because the fewer e-scooters, the more cars.”
On Monday afternoon, a Transport Ministry spokesperson said that while the government will continue promoting alternative and sustainable means of transport, it prioritised safety.
The spokesperson said scooters were predominantly used by tourists who use them for a few days. In such instances, walking and public transport could be an alternative means of transportation.
The authorities monitored the use of scooters throughout summer, and in the coming months, the government will take further decisions that ensure security and public order.