Transport Malta officers will soon be allowed to enforce rental scooter illegalities

Kick scooters, a convenient and fast way for individual commuters to travel around busy Maltese towns, are turning into ‘something people hate’ because of the unruly manner in which they block pavements and with which they are used by its joyriding commuters

The debate surrounding rental kick scooters will heat up yet more, as politicians and concerned residents take to Facebook to vent their anger against illegally parked scooters.

Social media is awash with photos of electric rental scooters carelessly parked on pavements, blocking public walkways and even garages, with the tourist localities of Sliema, St Julian’s, as well as Gzira and Msida seemingly the worst-hit areas.

This is not the first time the issue has been raised, with MaltaToday reporting on the matter last year when one of the main scooter operators – ride-hailing platform company Bolt – saying it would be looking at and addressing complaints. Three main companies operate in Malta – Bolt, Whizascoot and Bird.

Replying to questions by this newspaper, Infrastructure Minister Aaron Farrugia said Transport Malta (TM) was now currently in the process of amending legislation to empower its enforcement officers to be able to enforce applicable legislation.

“The ministry has also held meetings with the Malta Insurance Association and the minister is in touch with the Malta Local Councils Association regarding the matter,” a ministry spokesperson said.

The amendments to the law follow a number of discussions with relevant stake holders such as councillors, who have not always felt being listened to by the ministry.

St Julian’s mayor Albert Buttigieg said issues had already been raised by a number of councillors, before the service was introduced, but authorities failed to take recommendations on board.

“We have been in discussions with operators, and when we raised the issues of scooters being driven on the promenade, they said that they were issued licensing by the transport authority. As a council there is little, we can do against that,” he said. “Now we are in a situation where providers don’t want to listen to our demands.”

Buttigieg said a proper transport alternative, which could be even more effective in densely populated towns like Sliema and St Julian’s, is now receiving flak due to the lack of planning. “Without the proper consultation, it has turned into something that people hate.”

Anthony Chircop, who heads the Eastern Region – a group of 12 councils – also said the regional council had proposed a number of changes for authorities to introduce. They met the transport authority back in November, and were promised new regulations. Since that meeting, TM is yet to come back with any feedback.

Chircop said that while the regional council does agree that rental scooters are a “very good” alternative, the reality is that most of users making use of the service are “joyriding”.

“The reality is that a large percentage of users use them for joyriding, around the clock. Even during the early hours of morning, you have groups of people using them for fun, and not to commute,” he said. “We need a broad approach to the problem. While it is the council’s prerogative, it would do little to solve the problem if each councillor or mayor just thinks about their locality only.”

Last week, the PN’s climate change spokesperson Eve Borg Bonello, who also contests the tenth district, even went as far as calling for the suspension of rental scooter licenses “until an adequate solution is found”.

MaltaToday reached out to the PN’s Infrastructure spokesperson Adrian Delia, on whether this was the party’s official position on the issue. Delia had also joined the social media mob against the rental scooters, calling on followers to send over photos of illegal parked vehicles.

But he said the PN doesn’t believe the issue should be resolved by local authorities, but a nation-wide effort by government. “It is necessary that although these means are affordable for wide use, they are regulated in such a way that security is guaranteed for both users and the rest of the people, and no inconvenience is created,” Delia said.

“It is also necessary for the government to immediately launch an educational campaign that ensures knowledge and respect in their use. There must be clear and effective consequences for offenders who abuse the system and cause danger or inconvenience to third parties,” he said.

The PN will also be launching a “consultation process” to draw up proposals for government to take on board.

Independent Ħaż-Żebbuġ councillor and long-time activist Steve Zammit Lupi also called for a unified approach among councils. He said there must be efforts by authorities to provide the needed infrastructure and facilities for users to safely use the service.  “Incentivise, regulate and enforce,” he said on Facebook.

Bolt reacts

The biggest operator of rental kick scooters in the country still remains Bolt, with their green scooters regularly spotted anywhere you go in Malta.

The company said it is aware of improper scooter parking, and its team is regularly working to introduce new feature which prevent illegalities.

“We recently developed the AI parking verification feature for scooters, and are currently testing it in small cities and we hope to release it soon in Malta. It has been developed in-house by Bolt’s engineering team. The feature automates the process of analysing scooter parking pictures. The real-time verification means that Bolt will help improve scooter parking habits,” a spokesperson said.

“If we find users breaking the traffic laws or not following the rules, we can block them from the application or fine them if necessary. Improperly-parked scooters can be reported to us via the QR code on the scooter, website or email.”

In other countries, the company also collaborated with various organisations and authorities to educate users on how to use scooters safely and correctly. “We hope to do the same in Malta.”

The company is also working on a feature which only allows users to park in specific zones, thanks to an inbuilt system in the scooter.

Bolt also said that it is currently in an open dialogue with the relevant authorities to identify the most suitable solutions in the interest of the local communities.

Questions sent to Whizascoot and Bird remained unanswered.