Electric scooters were supposed to fix commuting in Rome. Then they became “death traps”

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Roma (CNN) — Rome, the Eternal City, has been invaded, conquered and plundered countless times since its founding nearly 2,800 years ago. Each attack left scars all over the city, from the ruins of the Roman Forum to the cavern of the Circus Maximus where chariots once raced.

Modern degradation also left the citizens angryfed up with what often looks like complacency in what is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

The current invasion of the Italian capital comes from electric scooters – more than 14,000 of them – modern tanks that block pavements, irritate drivers and kill.

Since rental scooters were introduced three years ago as an alternative to public transport during the Covid pandemic, four people have been killed riding them, according to Eugenio Patane, mobility adviser to Rome’s town hall. City emergency departments treat at least one major scooter-related injury every three days, according to health officials.

And yet only 2% (about 270) of the scooters for rent are used daily.

Rome City Hall has granted licenses to seven companies to change batteries, carry out repairs, move scooters to high-traffic areas and fish them out of the city’s Tiber.

It is the scooters that are not in use that present the greatest challenge, especially for people with disabilities.

“A Series of Scares”

Officials say only 2% of Rome’s 14,000 rental scooters are in use.

Lorenzo Di Cola/NurPhoto/Getty Images

As Giuliano Frittelli, head of the Italian Union of the Blind and Visually Impaired, navigates his cane around half a dozen scooters littering the sidewalk near his downtown office, he tells CNN that for people who do not see, they are a death trap.

“The first problem is wild parking,” Frittelli says, tapping his cane on the base of a scooter, explaining that their unusual shape also allows a visually impaired person to trip over them.

He also says that because they’re electric, they’re silent, which is also a threat to those who can’t see.

“You can’t hear them, so you can’t navigate around them,” says Frittelli, recalling an incident where a scooter passed so close to a blind person that their startled guide dog jumped off the sidewalk. , causing what he called “a series of scares”. “which, fortunately, did not end in physical injury.

Frittelli’s group is working with Rome City Hall to make it mandatory to park scooters only in designated stands. He also wants them to be adapted to produce a sound level of at least 30 decibels so that it can serve as a warning of their approach.

He says it’s not just people with disabilities, including those in wheelchairs, who find it difficult to use the streets when sidewalks are littered with scooters. Elderly people and parents pushing strollers are also affected.

Giuliano Frittelli

Giuliano Frittelli, left, wants scooters to be parked in designated places.

CNN

Eugenio Patanè, traffic councilor at Rome City Hall, agrees. He tells CNN that starting January 1, 2023, the city will renew the permit for just 9,000 scooters and reduce the number of companies allowed to rent them to three.

He says the city also plans to require a percentage of scooters to be placed in suburbs and other areas so ordinary citizens can use them for what he calls “the last mile” that could take them from subway station to their homes or allow them to run quick errands without jumping into a car.

“They are a danger for people, but they are also a problem for the city, for the beauty of the city,” says Patanè. “The center of the city is a UNESCO heritage site and is very fragile and we have to take care of it.”

ignore the rules

A tourist recently threw a scooter down the Spanish Steps.

A tourist recently threw a scooter down the Spanish Steps.

Roma Capital Police

In early June, two Americans were fined around $800 for throwing rental scooters down the Spanish Steps, causing around $26,000 in damage to the fragile marble. The incident was caught on camera by security cameras and by passersby who saw one of the tourists throw the heavy metal scooter, capturing the sound of it crashing down the steps.

Electric scooters are mainly used by tourists and young people, explains Patanè.

And the rules are often ignored, especially those that prohibit use on sidewalks and limit riders to one person. Renters are also expected to be 18 years old. And the city can’t force rental companies to provide helmets, which means very few people wear them.

Police checks are infrequent and fines are rare for scooter users who break the basic rules as it is difficult to enforce the no-curb rule when scooters are usually parked on sidewalks.

They seem to be a hit with tourists though. “To get around, especially in the historic center where it’s almost impossible by car, that’s all,” Walter Hughes, of Dallas, Texas, told CNN.

“For that [two- or three-mile radius] that you’re driving fast, you can’t find a parking space for a car, it’s too hot to walk for five hours, so that’s it.”

Not everyone agrees.

Taxi drivers who have had to weave between pedestrians and mopeds for years say electric scooters are a much bigger problem.

Eduardo Conticello has had many near-misses with his taxi and would like to see scooters abolished altogether.

He tells CNN that they often stop in front of him or fall. “When I see them, I drive very, very slowly,” he explains, which adds time to his trips, which means his passengers pay more because of them. “They are very dangerous.”

But life in the Eternal City has never been particularly easy in its 2,800 years. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say. And his problems won’t be solved in one either.

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