A few quirks, but with the buses in disarray at present, scooters are a viable alternative
I am one of a small minority on this island not to own a car, and as a result I often find myself walking.
Walking an hour or two has never felt taxing to me. Even my usual morning commute involves me stepping out of my front door an hour and a half before I am due to arrive at the office, even if that trip usually involves a detour to my coffee shop of choice.
However, the appearance of rentable electric scooters around Nicosia, where I live, piqued my interest. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of them dotted around the capital, and when this week a few of them appeared at the bus shelter in front of the Cyprus Mail office, I decided I had to have a go.
To rent a scooter through the company I used, one must download a mobile app and go through a series of safeguarding checks.
I entered my date of birth to prove I was over the age of 18 (though was never asked to authenticate this), and then based on my location was shown a map of all available scooters.
I then scanned a QR code on the scooter’s handlebars, leading the app to prompt me to take a sobriety test in the form of a reaction time tester. While not foolproof, the margin for error in the sobriety test is low, and I have managed to fail it a couple of times despite not being on the sauce at any moment during my scooting exploits.
Upon failing the sobriety test, the app tells you to call a cab, but one can take the test a second time, and thankfully, focused and alert, I never failed the second test.
Finally, before riding, the app invited me to choose a top speed, either 15 or 20 kilometres an hour. It recommends that new riders choose 15km/h “while you master your riding skills”, but I am no chicken, and selected the upper limit from the get-go.
My first excursion saw me largely stick to footpaths, which felt like a good idea in terms of overall safety, as I was less likely to be hit by a bus, but did leave my hands red raw.
Nicosia’s uneven and cracked pavements all go straight through your hands when travelling over them at 20km/h on a vehicle which seemingly has no suspension, and as such my wrists had been through the wringer by the time I reached my destination.
Pursuant to that, I took more frequently to the open roads, and found that the increased smoothness makes the ride a lot more pleasant, but that at the same time, 20km/h feels a lot slower when compared to real traffic.
That being said, in the height of Nicosia’s morning rush hour, the ability to squeeze through stop start traffic and utilise the city’s few but nonetheless useful cycle lanes does speed up the journey considerably.
My hour-and-a-half commute was cut down at its quickest to an 18-minute zoom across the capital, although the scooter’s lack of cupholder meant I had to forego my usual coffee on the way to work.
It is great fun, too. There is a definite thrill to it. Whether that is because of the rapid acceleration generated by the electric motor, the challenge of navigating through Nicosia while keeping one’s balance, or the potential precariousness of sharing the roads with Cyprus’ notoriously shoddy motorists armed only with a scooter, I arrived at every destination with a smile on my face.
On more serious matters, usage of one of the scooters with the company from which I chose to rent costs 20 cents per minute, with no other fees. As a result, my morning commute cost me, at its cheapest, €3.34.
Given that to get from where I live to Cyprus Mail towers using public transport, I would require two buses, meaning two tickets costing €2.40 each, the scooter could be said to make economical sense.
Were I to live and work on a single major bus route, this would not be the case, but the pricing is in any case competitive.
The final stage in the process of renting a scooter is “ending the ride” via the app. One must park the scooter, reopen the app, and click “end ride”, before being prompted to take a photograph of where the scooter is parked, to prove that it has been left in a safe place.
Once the photograph has been taken, the scooter itself says the ride has been terminated and kindly says “don’t forget to wash your hands!”
The photograph system is not entirely foolproof. There have been complaints on social media of people waking up to find scooters parked across their driveways, as taken from the right angle, that would potentially not be obvious in a photograph.
However, the effort being made is better than nothing at all, and most of these scooters are parked in a more considerate fashion.
Questions were also raised over what happens if someone scoots to a location, parks the scooter, and then someone else rents it and takes it away.
This, for better or worse, is a consequence of not owning something. The short answer is that one can then either find a different scooter or walk, but realistically, with the amount of scooters which have appeared in all corners of the capital, finding another one in most areas does not appear to be a difficult task.
The other major point of order surrounds the issue of battery charge. When a scooter runs out, the company aims to replace the scooter with a fully charged one in the exact place it was left.
Should a scooter begin to run out of charge while on the road, however, there is a noticeable drop in power when dealing with inclines. One of my commutes eventually saw the scooter’s speed drop to as low as eight kiometres as it dealt with the final uphill stretch into the Cyprus Mail’s car park. The app also notifies you that the battery is low, but this is a useless feature given that you would have to be mad to attempt to check your phone while scooting.
In any case, the future is now. We have stumbled upon a sustainable and efficient method of personal transport, and one that for the time being at least is affordable too.