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But the dockless electric scooter, billed as being cheaper than a cab, less effort than a bike and more convenient than the bus, has finally met its match: the cobblestones of Bruges, the Unesco-protected Flemish city.
Months of negotiations with three companies that wanted to roll out on to the city’s medieval streets have been brought to an end by the mayor of Bruges, Dirk De fauw, who was elected in October under the slogan “Go with De fauw”.
City authorities feared riders toppling over Lovers Bridge, causing chaos under the Belfry or colliding with the swans and tourists by the Beguinage, the 13th-century closed garden once inhabited by single women or widows devoted to God.
E-scooter laws around the world
UK: Riding an e-scooter on the pavement is an offence against the Highway Act of 1835. Riding one on the road is an offence against the Road Traffic Act 1988 unless you have a driving licence, insurance, helmet, road tax and a registration plate which the DVLA will not provide to “unroadworthy” vehicles such as scooters.
Paris: A spot fine of €35 (£32) can be levied for bad parking and those those caught riding the pavement will be hit with a €135 (£124) penalty. A speed limit of 20 kilometres per hour (12mph) on the road has been imposed across the French capital.
Shanghai: They are banned from the roads and public pavements. Those infringing for the first time face a fine of 100 yuan (£12). Repeat offenders will have their vehicle impounded and be given a 500 yuan (£58) fine. E-scooters are only allowed to be ridden on private roads, residential estates and some parks.
New York: After holding out against the craze, the state is on the verge of legalising the riding of e-scooters on a road for those aged 16 and above. But local jurisdictions can still prohibit them as New York City currently does.
Rio de Janeiro: E-scooter companies must provide insurance and helmets to users, the wearing of which is mandatory. The scooters are banned from the Brazilian’s city’s pedestrian areas.
“It is not right for our city,” De fauw said. “We have the cobblestones and those kind of vehicles are not prepared for that kind of street. One of the companies said that they have a special kind of scooter with larger wheels and that could work on the cobblestones. We have said that they could lend us a scooter for us to test for a week but, really, we don’t think it is for us.”
Almost two years ago the first e-scooters appeared seemingly overnight in Santa Monica, California, before spreading around the globe. However, the setback in Bruges is not the first to their operators’ plans for global domination.
In Belgium alone, municipalities have struggled to get a grip on the new mode of transport but there are laws in the making.
Awake to the problems of pedestrians stumbling over the abandoned scooters, the cities of Brussels and Antwerp have announced plans to restrict where users can dump them after use.
The Brussels-Capital region has drawn up a map of “red zones” where parking is banned.
Helmet regulations are also being examined. The first scooter-related death in Belgium came last April when a 41-year-old-man was found seriously injured on a bench with one of the scooters lying at his feet.
Authorities expressed further alarm this summer when footage was posted on Facebook of a scooter being ridden through the 30mph Porte de Hal tunnel under Brussels.
The challenges and responses are similar around the world. France recorded its first death in June when a truck hit a 25-year-old man riding in Paris, prompting the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, to set a 20km/h (12mph) speed limit in most areas, and 8km/h (5mph) in areas with heavy foot traffic.
In the UK, a TV presenter and YouTube star, Emily Hartridge, was killed when her e-scooter collided with a lorry at a roundabout in Battersea, south-west London, in July. E-scooters are illegal on roads and pavements under the 1835 Highways Act but riders are increasingly spotted gliding along bike lanes and elsewhere.
Bruges authorities feared the e-scooters causing chaos under the Belfry. Photograph: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images
And in the US city of St Louis, Missouri, companies can only expand past 2,500 scooters if they develop and implement a social equity plan so the vehicles are not just available to the city’s middle-class hipsters. In China, where the vast majority of the stand-up e-scooters are made, they have been banned from the roads of Shanghai and Beijing since 2016.
For many the saving grace for the scooter has been the apparent environmental argument for their use – until now.
Research published recently by North Carolina State University suggests that travelling by scooter produces more greenhouse gas emissions per mile than making the journey by bus, bicycle, moped or on foot.
The environmental cost lies in the materials used to manufacture the frame, wheels and battery, as well as the effort at the end of each day to round them up, charge them and return them to the streets.
For the mayor of Bruges there is a further argument against the phenomenon, which might give others food for thought.