The RTA banned renting out of electric scooters in March, but private ownership and use is allowed and is growing in Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) banned electric scooter rental companies in March on grounds of safety, but that was only until regulations could be put in place over the next six months, meaning they could be back on our roads before the end of the year.

In the meantime private e-scooter ownership and use is still allowed and the craze is growing locally, leaving rental companies raring to go once they get the green light from authorities.

“I love using the e-scooter because it helps me connect with the [Dubai] Metro and that allows me a great deal of flexibility,” said Egyptian expat Waleed Shaalan, an architect, who not only uses it for his daily commute but also actively promotes it on social media.

They are particularly helpful when I have to go somewhere too close to take a cab, but too far to walk. I would prefer renting a scooter because that way I won’t have to charge or maintain it.

- Mohammad Saeed, Systems engineer from India

“I prefer owning my scooter because it is cheap, but I would rent if me and my friends were going somewhere and they didn’t have one,” he added.

Prefers to lease one

Mohammad Saeed, a Dubai-born systems engineer from India, said he would prefer renting.

“These scooters are really convenient,” he said. “I can pick it up from anywhere and drop it off anywhere I want. Scooters are particularly helpful when I have to go somewhere too close to take a cab but too far to walk. This offers the level convenience I haven’t seen in any other mode of transport. But, rather than buying, I would prefer renting a scooter because that way I won’t have to charge or maintain it and I won’t have to drag it along everywhere, like in a bus or a metro, neither will I have to worry about it getting stolen if I parked it outside.”

As well as catering to short distance requirements many said electric scooter would also help alleviate traffic and reduce pollution.

Saeed Kola, a commuter, on why he likes to use e-scooters.

But will they be as convenient in the heat of summer?

Beating the heat

Sean Fuller, general manager of Qwikly Mobility, one of the rental firms ready to roll out personal mobility devices (PMDs), believes the electric scooter concept will be even more successful during this time of year as people look to beat the heat.

“Its successful in many parts of the world, so there is no reason why it won’t work in Dubai,” he said. “Some of the cities where e-scooters rentals have been very successful also have extreme weather conditions, but people use it, because it is better than walking and using it will only reduce your exposure to the elements,” he added.

Qwikly Mobility had to discontinue their rental service in March after the government clampdown. They had only been in business 10 weeks before the notification came.

“Whatever the weather conditions, people still need to get from A to B,” he said. “People spend 10 minutes on an average during their last mile or first mile, so the e-scooters will make that journey shorter and quicker,” he added.

Docking points

Locating the scooter docking points conveniently, he said, was key to making the service successful however.

“We need to have [an adequate] number of scooters strategically located. People are not going to walk for 10 minutes to hire a scooter,” he said.

Nabeel Al Zaka, executive director, Surface Mobility Consultants, agreed.

“I feel that those that will use e-scooters will do so no matter what the weather and the same question can be asked for European cities where they are used when it is raining,” he said.

“For example if you are studying in a university that is located within a 500-metre distance of a bus station you will choose to use an e-scooter rather than walk in harsh weather or pay for a taxi for such a short distance,” he added.

But is it safe?

Zulfiqar Ali, a UK-based senior mobility consultant who visits the UAE regularly to offer consultant services, said: “The increasing use of e-scooters can definitely help in reducing journey time in busy and congested roads for minor journeys. However, e-scooters need to be managed through rules and regulations, otherwise we run the risk of inner city areas being potentially littered with scooters upsetting the local street environment and potentially increasing danger to other road users, mainly pedestrians.”

Architect Waleed Shalaan loves using the e-scooter for his daily commute, here he tells Gulf News why he prefers it over other modes of transport

As there have already been cases of pedestrian deaths in some cities involving PMDs, he suggested that the fatalities on roads could increase due to e-scooters rushing through streets amongst other traffic.

“Road safety training, regulations and control will be essential for e-scooters. Regulation is key to avoid an influx of e-scooters which may cause more harm than good within the area of traffic congestion, so governance is required prior to the mobility solution being brought to the masses, there is also the challenge of e-scooters on trafficked roads, so some form of regulation and monitoring will be required,” he added.

Do they need their own lanes?

Mohammad Rafy Asarmatta, co-founder of Sahal, a Dubai-based scooters logistics startup, said: “We recommend the electric scooters to be operated on dedicated bicycle lanes, whenever available. Dedicated safe paths are needed to ride safely, without having to use main roads. If we see massive adoption of electric scooters then making dedicated safe lanes is easier than building more roads.

“There should be a safe lane for micro-mobility vehicles such as electric scooters to ensure riders are feeling safe when moving from one point to another. People are riding on the sidewalks because there is no dedicated pathway. In some parts of Dubai there are sidewalks which are wide and if the city agrees for electric scooters to be on the sidewalks then based on the pedestrian footfall in the particular area, scooters will either slow down or turn off,” Asarmatta added.

Fuller agreed: “We are mainly looking at areas such as Downtown Dubai, JLT, Dubai Marina, Business Bay etc where the sidewalks are broader, other older areas will struggle to have e-scooters along with pedestrians.”

However, he highlighted a need for some form of infrastructure and awareness like signage and proper parking and docking stations.

Asarmatta added: “To avoid parking in a public right of way, users should be made aware of the requirements to park within urban furniture zones, and not to block sidewalks, pedestrian or specially designated access for disabled persons. We will work with the city staff on identifying specific areas where we want to encourage users to park, and identify those areas clearly in-app.”

This leaves plenty for the RTA to consider as they conduct their ongoing viability study, but until then e-scooter rental firms and enthusiasts will have to cool their heels.

What the RTA had to say:

“Mattar Al Tayer, director-general and chairman of the Board of Executive Directors at the RTA, met with the electric scooter rental companies on the ban relevant to renting of the scooters. His excellency highlighted that considering public safety is the RTA’s priority, and to regulate vehicle use in the city, the RTA has issued a circular to all electric scooter rental companies to stop their activities, until new regulations are in force, based on the findings of a study being conducted by RTA.”

What is an electric scooter?

An electric scooter is a motorised version of the two-wheel kick scooter mostly used by children. Bigger and sturdier than its toy equivalent, the electric scooter is swarming several major cities across the world as the micro-mobility device of choice. Powered by rechargeable batteries, a regular electric scooter has a battery life of 40km and runs at a maximum speed of around 20km/h, weighing around 15-17-kgs.

Why rent when you can buy?

Scooter rentals save money and hassle when it comes to operation and maintenance. They are available for between Dh500-Dh2,000 depending on the brand, while renting costs an average of a dirham a minute. A rental firm that operated in Dubai for a short period until recently, charged Dh3 to unlock the scooter and 50 fils for every minute of the ride. The operation of scooter rentals is similar to e-hail services, involving a mobile application to book and pay for the service.

What Paris has done

With a national legislation on electric scooters expected later this year in France, Paris is currently regulating use of electric scooters through fines for riding on the pavement, while introducing designated parking spots, and an annual fee for the rental firms. The city council of Paris has announced fines of €135 (Dh555) for riding on the pavement, and blocking the pavement with parked scooters will attract a fine of €35.

The Paris city authorities have also announced the construction of 2,500 dedicated parking spaces for e-scooters. According to the new rules, small rental firms with fleets of less than 500 scooters, operating in Paris will have to pay an annual fee of €50 per scooter, while those running more than 3,000 scooters will have to pay an annual fee of €65.

What Singapore has done

Singapore has issued a comprehensive law that not only governs scooter rentals but also regulates ownership and use of electric scooters in public areas. The use of e-scooters on public paths in Singapore is governed by the Active Mobility Act (AMA), which came into effect on May 1 last year.

The AMA requires riders to get their PMD models approved and registered with the land transport authority for a fee of 20 Singaporean dollars (Dh42). Only a person above the age of 16 can register a PMD in their name. Under the AMA, e-scooters/PMDs can only be used on footpaths and shared mobility paths. The law prohibits use of e-scooters on roads or on pedestrian-only paths. According to the law, riders of e-scooters violating the rules can be fined, jailed or even have their e-scooters/ PMDs seized. Fines for violations go up to 5,000 Singaporean dollars or six months behind bars.

Scooter stats from around the world

■ 64.2 per cent of Mexican citizens have been reported to use electric scooters as a last-mile solution this year

■ 25 per cent of New Yorkers used electric scooters to connect with a public transit system last year

■ 40 per cent of residents in Austin, Texas, chose to use e-scooters instead of private cars or taxis in 2018

■ 22 per cent of residents in Paris decided to rely on electric scooters as their last-mile solution last year

■ 40 per cent of residents in Kansas City chose to use electric scooters instead of private cars or taxis last year

■ 22 per cent of residents in Auckland, New Zealand, chose electric scooters to commute instead of using private cars in 2018

■ 34 per cent of residents in Portland and 48 per cent of visitors took an e-scooter instead of driving a personal car or using ride-hailing services last year

Source: micro-mobility platforms