Scooters: They’re too slow for the road and too fast for the bike path. They’re the bane of most cyclists’ existence, for both rational reasons (safety) and extremely irrational ones (that goddamn annoying horn).
Still, in theory, scooters are great for getting around town, especially in population- or traffic-dense cities. In Amsterdam, one of the best cities in the world for two-wheeled transportation, nearly 60,000 people use scooters to commute, according to the city.
In a city where bicycles outnumber people, scooters have become so popular they’re threatening the safety of cyclists—which is why the Netherlands recently made a new rule allowing municipalities to force them off the bike path and onto the road.
The new bill, passed by the Dutch government at the end of 2017 and expected to be finalized this spring, also now requires scooter drivers to wear helmets, to many drivers’ chagrin. (Cyclists aren’t required to wear them.) Amsterdam is so far the only city to take advantage of the new rule, but other municipalities in the country could follow suit. After all, it’s not the only city in the Netherlands with a whole lot of scooters: Nationwide, there are more than a million “blue-plate” light mopeds—a term used by the Dutch use to describe scooters permitted to travel at a maximum of 25 km/h (15 mph).
This comes after rules enacted on January 1 of this year that ban all scooters made before 2011 from Amsterdam’s low-emission zone (LEZ), which prevents certain types of motorized vehicles, including taxis, buses, and passenger and delivery vans, from entering the city’s urban core as a way to reduce pollution. This rule is enforced using cameras; offenders caught on pre-2011 scooters get a €90 ($108 USD) fine in the mail.
“There was a lot of support for the measures that are currently being taken in Amsterdam,” said Bram van Liere, the deputy campaign leader for Milieudefensie, an environmental organization in the Netherlands that was key in lobbying for a law to move scooters off bike paths.
A 2015 poll commissioned by Milieudefensie reported 56 percent of Dutch people in four major cities—Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague—find scooters really annoying.
In the past nine years, the number of light mopeds has increased from 8,000 to 35,000 in Amsterdam. Cyclists feel unsafe, and that’s terrible for the city’s plans to boost sustainable transport and improve air quality, van Liere explained. “Everyone was simply fed up with scooters on the cycle paths,” he said.
Regular mopeds—which have a yellow license plate, require helmet use, and can reach 45 km/h (28 mph)—were banned from the bike path in 1999. However, light mopeds—which are permitted to travel at a maximum of 25 km/h (15 mph)—have been roaming Dutch bike paths freely until now.
Those aren’t to be confused with electric bicycles, or e-bikes, which are still permitted on bike paths and aren’t targeted by this new bill.
“Research over the past five years has shown that 80 percent of the light mopeds in the city drive faster than allowed (the 2016 measuring even counted 87 percent of the light mopeds speeding),” a city spokesperson told Motherboard in an email. “For other road users this is the other way around; 80 percent follows the traffic rules.” The city has partly tied an increase in crashes—including one-sided crashes, like tipping over, where no one else is injured—to increased moped usage.
Independent research organization the Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research estimates that moving scooters onto the roadway in Amsterdam and making their drivers wear helmets will result in 260 fewer accidents per year, the city spokesperson continued (there are about 975 serious but non-fatal crashes in Amsterdam per year). It will also free up some space on Amsterdam’s maxed-out bike paths.
New York City recently announced it’d be vigorously enforcing its longstanding ban on scooters (and by extension, e-bikes) because of the danger they pose on busy city streets. Companies that use e-bikes as delivery vehicles are the prime target of the crackdown, though there is concern that low-wage food delivery workers will be the main ones to suffer under the ban.
Though Amsterdam is the first and only city in the Netherlands so far to get the national government’s permission for its scooter ban, others may follow.
That would be terrible for people like Bart Ramler, the owner of Scooter Experience just north of Amsterdam. His company organizes all-day scooter tours in the Dutch countryside and through small towns. Recently, he’s been spending a considerable amount of money to convert his 50-scooter fleet to electric, selling off his gas-fueled scooters at a loss.
He’s worried what will happen to his business if more cities apply to ban the machines from bike paths. “The concept of Scooter Experience will be worthless,” he said by email.
Correction: Bram van Liere's title is deputy campaign leader for Milieudefensie, not manager, as the piece initially stated. it has been updated.
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