(CNN) — Rome, the eternal city, has been invaded, conquered and sacked countless times since its founding nearly 2,800 years ago. Each attack left scars across the city, from the ruins of the Roman Forum to the cavern of the Circus Maximus, where chariots once raced.
The current invasion in the Italian capital comes from the hand of electric scooters -more than 14,000-, modern skateboards that block the streets, drive drivers crazy and kill.
Since rental scooters were introduced three years ago as an alternative to public transport during the Covid-19 pandemic, four people have died while riding them, according to Eugenio Patanè, Rome city councilor for mobility. The city’s emergency services treat at least one serious scooter-related injury every three days, according to health authorities.
And that only 2% (about 270) of rental scooters are used daily.
Rome’s city council has licensed seven companies that are responsible for changing batteries, carrying out repairs, moving the scooters to high-traffic areas and removing them from the city’s Tiber River.
Scooters that are not in use present the biggest challenge, especially for people with disabilities.
“A Series of Frights”
As Giuliano Frittelli, director of the Italian Union of the Blind and Visually Impaired, navigates with his cane between a half-dozen scooters that line the street near his downtown office, he tells CNN that for people who do not see are a death trap.
“The first problem is wild parking,” Frittelli says as he bangs his cane against the base of a scooter, explaining that its unusual shape also makes it easy for someone with impaired vision to trip over it.
He also says that, being electric, they are silent, which is also a threat to those who cannot see.
“You don’t hear them, so you can’t get around them,” Frittelli says, recalling an incident in which a scooter passed so close to a blind person that his startled guide dog jumped out of the street, causing what he calls “a series of scares” that, luckily, did not end in physical injuries.
Frittelli’s group is working with Rome’s city hall to make it mandatory for scooters to park only in designated stalls. He also wants them to be tuned to produce a noise level of at least 30 decibels, to serve as a warning of his approach.
He says it’s not just people with disabilities, including those in wheelchairs, who find it difficult to use the streets when they are full of scooters. Older people and parents who push baby carriages are also affected.
Councilman Eugenio Patanè 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 notes that the city also plans to require that a percentage of the scooters be placed in the suburbs and other areas so that ordinary citizens can use them for what he calls “the last mile,” which could take them from a subway stop to their homes. or allow them to run quick errands without getting into a car.
“They are a danger to the people, but they are also a problem for the city, for the beauty of the city,” says Patanè. “The city center is a UNESCO heritage site and it is very fragile and we have to take care of it.”
ignoring the rules
In early June, two Americans were fined for throwing rental scooters into the Plaza de España, causing some $26,000 worth of damage to the fragile marble. The incident was captured by security cameras and by passers-by who saw one of the tourists launch the heavy metal scooter, capturing the sound of it falling against the steps.
Electric scooters are mainly used by tourists and young people, says Patanè.
And regulations are often ignored, especially those that prohibit their use on the streets and limit their use to one person. Also, renters must be 18 years old. And the city can’t force rental companies to provide helmets, which means very few wear them.
Police checks are infrequent and fines few for scooter users who break the basic rules, as it is difficult to enforce the rule of not driving on the streets when scooters are often parked on the pavements.
However, they seem to be a hit with tourists. “For getting around, especially in the historic center, where it’s almost impossible to get around by car, this is the best,” Walter Hughes, of Dallas, Texas, told CNN.
“For that (three or five kilometer radius) you’re speeding through, you can’t find parking for a car, it’s too hot to walk for five hours, so this is it.”
Not everyone agrees.
Taxi drivers who have had to dodge pedestrians and mopeds for years say electric scooters are a much bigger problem.
Eduardo Conticello has been about to collide with his taxi and would like to see scooters completely abolished.
He tells CNN that they often stop in their tracks in front of him or fall over. “When I see them, I drive very, very slowly,” he explains, adding time to his journeys, which means his passengers pay more because of him. “They are very dangerous.”
But life in the eternal city has never been particularly easy in its 2,800 years. Rome was not built in a day, as they say. And your problems will not be solved in one either.