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E-scooters: How it all began

Enjoyed by many, despised by more and vilified by local media, e-scooters were the topic that dominated politics, news and Späti discussions this summer. Now with thousands of e-scooters on Berlin streets, here's how it all began.

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Photo courtesy of Tier. The back story to Berlin’s e-revolution.
Well before they captured Berliners’ passions and hijacked the news, e-scooters were the subject of intense political debate. Landing on the Bundestag’s agenda in March last year, they pitted pro-pedestrian safety voices against those supporting all things ‘e’-related (think conservative AFD vs libertarian FDP). Germany’s lawmakers eventually agreed on a compromise: yes to e-scooters, but not on the sidewalks. On June 14, e-scooters were officially legalised. Within two weeks, four companies jumped on the new ‘market’, with the gradual invasion into Berlin seeing hundreds of e-vehicles dropped on virtually every street within the S-Bahn ring each night. Local papers were quick to pick up on the new reality, reporting on accidents and running polls that led to expected conclusions: ‘Berliners hate the scooters with a passion’. The hatred even morphed into calls for sabotage! Meanwhile, tourists and visitors seem to have embraced the gadgets with oblivious enthusiasm. And why not, it’s fun and relatively simple: if you’ve got a smartphone and a credit card (or PayPal account), all you need to do is download one of the four apps available, scan the barcode on the nearest scooter (triggering the €1 unlocking fee) and you’ll be on your way – at the speed of up to 20 km/h and 15 to 20 cents per minute. There are four companies currently on the local market – Lime, Tier, Circ and Voi – with some 5000 vehicles scattered around Berlin’s streets.