Hundreds of driving licenses cancelled as drunken e-scooter riders cause chaos at beer festival Oktoberfest

The German police had a field day marshalling people around at the world’s largest beer festival Oktoberfest, mediating in nearly 2,000 altercations at the 16-day event. Held annually in the months of September and October in Munich, Germany, Oktoberfest witnesses 7 million people every year, who consume over 7.5 million litres (~2 million gallons) of beer. 

Though mild road skirmishes have always occurred in the area surrounding Oktoberfest, this year saw the entry of e-scooters that added to the complexity. Throughout the length of the event, e-scooters were stopped en masse by the police as people under the influence drove them recklessly. Of the 414 people who were caught driving intoxicated, 254 e-scooter riders lost their automobile driving licenses on the spot. 

Understanding the impact of e-scooters on such a large-scale event, the city of Munich had imposed several restrictions on the movement of e-scooters in the vicinity of Oktoberfest, setting up large no-ride and no-park zones around the festival grounds. 

“Many see e-scooters as toys and unfortunately too often they’re ridden while drunk. In order to avoid this and to not tempt anyone, we city administrators, police and also rental companies want to keep e-scooters far away from the Wiesn (Oktoberfest),” said Thomas Böhle, Munich city administrator in a statement. 

With this comment, Böhle had hit the bullseye on the primary issue plaguing the e-scooter segment – users looking at these vehicles as part of a harmless mobility system where the ‘fun’ element trumps road safety. 

Munich had legalized the use of e-scooters within city boundaries in June this year and has since then penalized over 400 users for driving drunk (not including the people caught at Oktoberfest). 

Most of the e-scooter usage and their associated accidents happen on weekends and after hours, as people zip ahead at high speed without worrying about oncoming traffic or pedestrians on the pavement. Though the e-scooter segment emerged as an alternative to high-emission personal automobiles, it is a justification that cannot be substantiated today. E-scooter usage points to people using it for fun, rather than as a means of transport that replaces their daily transit medium. 

The German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) studied the impact of e-scooters in reducing vehicle density on the streets, and concluded that there were not enough positive indicators that pointed to reducing carbon emissions. On the contrary, the study suggested that proliferation of e-scooters will only put more vehicles on the road, and will have a negligible impact on displacing existing high-emission automobiles. 

Cities like Paris and London have come down heavily on the e-scooter menace after thousands of such vehicles flocked their streets and overflowed pavements. This September, Paris banned e-scooters from ever riding on the sidewalk, with violators fined €135. In the U.K., e-scooters are technically illegal to ride, as the battery-powered vehicle is classified as a Personal Light Electric Vehicle (PLEV), making it unlawful to ride on pavements and the roads. 

For now, e-scooter company Bird is the only company that is allowed to run scooters in London, as it is available for hire only on its private enclosure in Stratford. All the vehicles are mandated to have license plates, and the riders are required to have insurance, driving licenses, and their helmets on before they take to the road. However, navigating through the myriad of city and national road laws with regard to taxes and licensing is nearly impossible, making all e-scooters on U.K. roads essentially illegal. 

Meanwhile, German politicians are criticizing the government for passing a law that allows the use of e-scooters on German roads, without contemplating the repercussions that followed. 

The Austrian capital Vienna has taken a sensible approach towards e-scooters, by restricting the number of vehicles and also having a check on the number of e-scooter businesses that operate within city boundaries. Companies like Bird have dedicated e-scooter supervisors who manage a fleet of 100 vehicles, making sure there are minimal disruptions to regular traffic. Users are also required to take a picture of where they park their scooters to make sure Bird maintains cognizance of all its vehicles.