Rome slams brakes on electric scooters after many crashes and near-misses

Rome's city government is readying to restrict use of the scooters to adults, who must provide formal ID. PHOTO: AFP

ROME (AFP) - The number of crashes and near-misses involving electric scooters has prompted Rome authorities to impose some order on a booming rental market that began two years ago.

The havoc came to a head earlier this month when two United States tourists attempted a night-time drive down the Spanish Steps, causing more than €25,000 (S$36,570) worth of damage to the 18th century monument.

Caught on security footage, the couple in their late 20s were fined €400 each.

For now, it's remarkably easy - requiring just a cellphone app - to hire one of the 14,500 scooters currently available in Rome, provided by seven licensed companies.

They are cheap too, costing just €1 to unlock the scooters and between 15 and 25 cents a minute after that.

And in the city known for its traffic jams and limited public transport, they appeal to everyone from commuters to tourists and teenagers, who often squeeze two at a time onto the narrow scooter deck.

But there are challenges to navigating the cobbled streets of Rome's cramped historic centre - where bike paths are virtually non-existent - leading some e-scooter drivers to weave dangerously around cars.

"They cut you off. They pass on the right, on the left, they get stuck in front of us and risk being crushed," said Mr Paolo Facioni, a 59-year-old bus driver.

Residents also complain the scooters are dumped haphazardly on narrow pavements, blocking access for prams and wheelchair users.

Like a 'video game'

Rented e-scooters have become a fixture in major cities around the world, from London to Paris to New York, part of a global move to diversify transport away from vehicles.

But Rome taxi driver Gianni Ranucci, 56, called them "a real disaster".

Tourists freewheeling around the bustling streets seem to "think they are in a video game!", he told AFP.

Figures on the number of scooter-related deaths and injuries show it is no such thing.

Seventeen people have been killed in Italy in the past two years in incidents involving e-scooters, according to consumer protection association Codacons.

Its chief Carlo Rienzi described Rome last month as "a Wild West, with scooters going where they shouldn't, often with two people on board, breaking the speed limit".

Rome police record an average of 15 accidents a month.

In light of the dangers, city hall is readying to tighten the rules, restricting use of the scooters to adults, who must provide formal ID.

The number of operators will be limited to three and there will be restrictions on parking - a move anticipated by one US company, Bird, which recently announced that its scooters in the city centre could be left in designated areas only.

Under new draft regulations seen by AFP, intended to come into force in January 2023, the speed limit will also be reduced from 25kmh to 20kmh on roads and 6kmh in pedestrian areas without cars.

Not all are happy with the proposed changes, however.

Twenty kilometres an hour "is too slow, we'll be run over" by other vehicles, said 60-year old Mariano Giorgi, who uses a scooter every day to get to work - and is one of the few people to be spotted wearing a safety helmet while riding.

"I live in the centre and they are very useful, otherwise I would have to take the car which would pollute a lot more," he said, as smog-belching traffic crawled around Piazza Venezia near the Colosseum. "If it's not practical, I won't use it anymore."

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