Had Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck hopped on an electric scooter rather than a Vespa in the classic film Roman Holiday, their spin around the Eternal City might have ended in tears.
The number of crashes and near-misses involving the two-wheelers has prompted Rome authorities to impose some order on a booming rental market that began two years ago.
The havoc came to a head earlier this month when two US tourists attempted a night-time drive down the Spanish Steps, causing more than 25,000 euros (US$26,392) worth of damage to the 18th-century monument.
Caught on security footage, the couple in their late 20s were fined 400 euros each.
For now, it is remarkably easy — requiring just a cellphone app — to hire one of the 14,500 scooters available in Rome, provided by seven licensed companies.
They are cheap too, costing just 1 euro to unlock the scooters and between 15 to 25 euro cents a minute after that.
In the city known for its traffic jams and limited public transport, they appeal to everyone from commuters to tourists and teenagers, who often squeeze two at a time onto the narrow deck.
However, there are challenges to navigating the cobbled streets of Rome’s cramped historic center — where bike paths are virtually non-existent — leading some scooter drivers to weave dangerously around vehicles.
“They cut you off. They pass on the right, on the left, they get stuck in front of us and risk being crushed,” said Paolo Facioni, a 59-year-old bus driver.
Residents also complain they are dumped haphazardly on narrow sidewalks, blocking access for prams and wheelchair users.
Rented electric scooters have become a fixture in major cities around the world, from London to Paris and New York, part of a global move to diversify transport away from vehicles.
However, Rome taxi driver Gianni Ranucci, 56, called them “a real disaster.”
Tourists freewheeling around the bustling streets seem to “think they are in a video game,” he told reporters.
Figures on the number of scooter-related deaths and injuries show it is no such thing.
Seventeen people have been killed in Italy in the past two years in incidents involving electric scooters, according to consumer protection association Codacons.
Its director Carlo Rienzi last month described Rome as “a Wild West, with scooters going where they shouldn’t, often with two people on board, breaking the speed limit.”
Rome police record an average of 15 accidents a month.
In light of the dangers, city hall is readying to tighten the rules, restricting use of the scooters to adults who must provide formal ID.
The number of operators would be limited to three and there would be restrictions on parking — a move anticipated by one US company, Bird, which recently announced its scooters in the city center could only be left in designated areas.
Under new draft regulations seen by Agence France-Presse, intended to come into force in January next year, the speed limit would also be reduced from 25kph to 20kph on roads and 6kph in pedestrian areas without vehicles.
Not all are happy with the proposed changes.
Twenty kilometers an hour “is too slow, we’ll be run over” by other vehicles, said 60-year-old Mariano Giorgi, who uses a scooter every day to get to work — and is one of the few people to be spotted wearing a safety helmet while riding.
“I live in the center and they are very useful, otherwise I would have to take the car, which would pollute a lot more,” he said, as smog-belching traffic crawled around Piazza Venezia near the Colosseum.
“If it’s not practical, I won’t use it anymore,” he said.
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