Scooter sharing: renting an electric scooter in Rome

A bewildering variety of electric scooters (also known as micro scooters) are scattered all over the sidewalks of Rome city center and inner suburbs, for use on the roads of the city. Here’s everything you need to know about them.

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Where did the e-scooters in Rome come from?

During the summer months of 2020, all over the streets of Rome appeared an army of different types of e-scooter, known in Italian as “monopattino“.

The following operators, some local, some global, have been observed between July and September, but more appear to be arriving every few weeks: Bird, Dott, Helbiz, Keri, Lime, Link, Voi, and Wire.

Presumably the explosion of companies offering electric scooters in Rome is to take advantage of a reluctance to use public transport during the pandemic, though some of the larger operators – in particular Lime – have been eyeing Rome and other major cities around the world for a couple of years.

How do I rent an e-scooter in Rome?

1. Download the relevant e-scooter app

E-scooters in Rome can only be rented using the specific app for that particular brand of scooter. 

Click on the individual operator to reveal the websites and apps to rent the e-scooter.

2. Register with the e-scooter app

Registering for an e-scooter app in Rome requires you to provide your name, email address, phone number, and home address (preferably the billing address for your credit card). If you’re officially resident in Italy you are also required to give your codice fiscale.

You will then need to verify your email address and/or phone number, and then provide a means of payment. In addition to accepting most debit or credit cards (provided they’re on a major international circuit such as Visa or MasterCard), most of the apps accept Apple Pay and G Pay, and some of them also accept PayPal.

The registration process can be fiddly on a cellphone, particularly if you’re in the street in Rome and you need to get somewhere, so you may want to consider installing the apps and registering before setting off. But given the random nature of e-scooter distribution in Rome, you can never tell which e-scooter you may encounter first, and installing and registering on seven different apps may also prove something of a burden.

3. Use the app to scan the QR code on the e-scooter

Each scooter has a QR code sticker, usually on the handlebars, that the app will allow you to scan (when installing you have to give permission to the app for both your GPS location data, and your camera). If the QR code doesn’t scan, some apps allow you to enter the scooter’s serial number.

4. Ride the e-scooter around Rome

With extreme caution (see below). You should also note that there are areas of Rome that are prohibited to scooter riders, and the law says that scooters are only suitable for use on the roads, not the sidewalks. Each app will show you a map of the extent of the zones in Rome which you can ride your e-scooter.

If you should happen to exit into a zone for which your scooter company does not have coverage, the scooter will just suddenly stop and must be parked, or pushed back to the allowable area. This can be very disconcerting and potentially dangerous.

5. Park the e-scooter safely away from Rome traffic

In addition to permitted riding areas, there are also allowable parking areas. Always consult the map before you park to make sure you’re in the right place. If you are outside a legitimate parking area, the app may refuse to let you finish the ride.

One major issue with e-scooters in Rome is that unscrupulous commuters have taken to hiding a scooter in their house or apartment building in the evening, so that they won’t have to search for one the next day. To get round this, some of the apps have started defining any building, including those with a public parking lot, as a “no parking” zone.

Furthermore while the scooter should be parked off the road, don’t park the scooter where it may block traffic on the sidewalk. Some of the apps require that you take a final photograph of where you have parked the scooter to ensure you have done so correctly.

How much do e-scooters in Rome cost to rent?

Amazingly, given the lack of comfort offered by e-scooters in Rome, they’re not always cost-effective transport solutions.

Most of the electric scooter schemes in Rome have an unlock fee whenever you book an e-scooter, usually of €1, and they will then charge you a fraction of a euro per minute, though some charge by distance, or even a combination of both. 

The most expensive e-scooter service in Rome is Lime, which charges a €1 unlocking fee, and 25c per minute afterwards, but fixes the rider into a minimum 30-minute rental. This means that the lowest possible price for a single ride is €6. For most short journeys, this works out more expensive than a taxi.

We tested some prices by renting a share car (ShareNow) to travel 5 km one way, and then took a Helbiz scooter on the way back. The outward journey in the comfort of a Smart Car was €3.65, and the very uncomfortable return journey that didn’t even go the entire way (see information about zones) took 20 minutes and cost €5. That price was €1 to unlock the vehicle and 25c per minute after.

We also took a Bird scooter on a very short journey – just a quarter-mile – and the cost was €2.16 including €1 unlock fee.

Do I need a driving license to ride an e-scooter in Rome?

No, there is no current requirement to do so. By law you must be a minimum of 14 years old to ride a private e-scooter in Rome. However most of the apps also have a lower age limit for use of the vehicles that is greater than 14 years old – usually 18.

Are Rome’s roads suitable to ride electric scooters on?

While they may look fun, the reality of riding these vehicles is rather less so.

Regular streets in Rome have hazards and potholes galore, but worse still are the ubiquitous cobblestones (the traditional square basalt “sampietrini“) that carpet many of Rome’s streets, which cause the scooters – which have minimal suspension – to judder up and down to a painful degree, and the cobblestones are also very slippery when wet.

Is it safe to ride an e-scooter in Rome?

In a word, no.

Traffic in Rome has a certain ‘style‘ that appears to pay scant attention to other vehicles – especially not wobbly riders on scooters with a high center of gravity.

Though the companies that operate them suggest that people who ride electric scooters in Rome wear a helmet, almost nobody does (you’d have to buy one and carry it with you).

There have already been a number of high-profile crashes and injuries already, the first of which was an elderly pedestrian who was hospitalized by a teenager on an e-scooter at the bottom of the Spanish Steps. Every week there are more reports of injuries to riders – some of them serious – as the use of these vehicles increases.

Additionally, people have been spotted using the scooters in the most inappropriate of settings, such as the notoriously busy Viale di Muro Torto, and even on the G.R.A. freeway around Rome.

Is it possible to rent e-bikes in Rome?

Two of the e-scooter operators, Lime and Helbiz, also operate e-bikes. You can rent the using the same app. Read more about bikes in Rome…

The first company to launch e-bikes in Rome was in fact Uber with its ‘Jump’ electric bikes, but the bikes were withdrawn soon after launch, only to reappear a few months later as a joint venture between Uber and Lime. These bikes are black and green, where Helbiz’s are white, and in the experience of this author, Jump bikes have significantly more powerful batteries than those of Helbiz. 

What’s your recommended e-scooter in Rome?

Wind electric scooter - Rome Vacation Tips

This is based not on quality, price, nor performance, but just on aesthetics: the Wind e-scooters look chunkier and more solid than the others and have a cool retro 1950s-style color scheme and design ethic.

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Photo credit: AFP

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