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Helsinki shuts down e-scooters on weekend nights

The new rules went into effect on Friday, initially as a trial that lasts until January.

Rentable e-scooters lined up by Helsinki Central Railway Station. Image: Miika Koskela / Yle

Electric scooter rental firms have agreed with the City of Helsinki to temporarily shut down all of their scooters late at night on the weekends, according to the city.

The trial affects the three electric scooter firms operating in Helsinki (Voi, Tier and Lime). It begins on Friday 3 September and continues until the end of this year, the city council said in a statement.

Earlier this week the rental companies agreed to reduce the top speeds of their scooters at all times in a move prompted by increasing numbers of accidents, particularly at weekends.

The e-scooter operators agreed to reduce the maximum speeds of the devices from 25kph to 20kph, as well as limit their speeds to 15kph from midnight to 5am across the city.

The city said that efforts to lower speed limits on the scooters were prompted by safety problems caused by the "rapid and large-scale introduction of this new mode of transport."

The city's traffic and street planning manager Reetta Putkonen said the city hopes that the speed and time limitations will reduce the number of accidents that have occurred on electric scooters, especially at weekends.

"Renting electric scooters has become a very popular service in Helsinki in a short time, which means that they have become a pleasant addition to the mobility options for many people. However the problems that have been seen show that the new service must also be developed nimbly, in cooperation between the companies and public authorities. The need for cooperation will certainly continue over the next few years," Putkonen said in the statement.

The release also noted that the city was looking into reducing the problems sometimes associated with e-scooter parking — including the possibility of restricting parking of the devices in certain "areas where parking is most problematic in terms of accessibility and comfort."

"It has not been clear to all e-scooter users that the place to ride scooters is not on the pedestrian sidewalk but on the bike path or on the side of the road," the city stated.

Voi responds

E-scooter rental firm Voi's senior operations manager in Finland, Reetta Alastalo, told Yle News by e-mail that the company did not think the weekend shutdowns were the right approach and that a long-term strategy was needed.

"To help to solve the urgent problem of drunk riding here and now we are willing to trial night shutdowns. However, in the long run, we feel that nightly closures of e-scooters are not the best way to solve irresponsible behaviour," Alastalo said.

She noted that, similar to the problems related to drink driving in cars, "we need a long-term awareness raising campaign and to enforce the existing limits on e-scooter usage at night."

The most significant change that the scooter companies agreed to, according to Alastalo, was the across-the-board reduction in maximum speeds.

As an alternative to shutting down use of the e-scooters on weekend nights, she said the firm suggested physically moving the devices away from nightlife hotspots.

"We also suggested… implementing in-app features like a mandatory, slowed-down "beginner mode" and a reaction time checker," she said, adding that the company encourages riders to use helmets more than they currently do.

Following talks with the scooter firms and the city earlier this week, transport and communications minister Timo Harakka said it would be too much work to move the scooters away from bars across many parts of the city, adding that it would be better to follow the example of Oslo, Norway, and ban the service on weekend nights outright.

On Friday, Alastalo said that the problem could be addressed by police enforcing traffic laws.

"We hope that the police will continue to focus on traffic control. Increased surveillance and the threat of a traffic error charge will encourage e-scooter riders to drive in accordance with traffic rules and are likely to reduce accidents through it. Voi is ready to share safety and mileage data with cities and other authorities as needed," she said.

Alastalo said that the late night weekend shutdowns would not significantly affect the company's bottom line and that late night rentals did not amount to a major part of its business, adding that most rentals were done during the day.

"Nonetheless, we have committed in many ways to improving nighttime safety as well, as for many users, such as those working at night, it is a safe and affordable way to get home without a private car," Alsastalo said.

This article was edited at 13:19 on 3 September 2021 to add comments from Voi senior operations manager in Finland, Reetta Alastalo.