If you live in Florence, you’ll have seen the e-scooters. Not scooters in the motorino sense, the Vespas that we covet one and all; I’m talking about the monopattini that sprang up overnight and quietly slotted in between them. Their wheels would not look out of place on the Mars Rover, but they otherwise resemble the scooters that you pushed around as a child.
These scooters mark the latest addition to the fleet of personal public transport that has swept Florence in recent years. Various companies contest the Arno valley, including TiMove and Lime, but there are only so many apps that one can download in one’s life, so I choose the vehicles closest to my workplace: BiT Mobility. I start installing the app long before my lesson begins as I’m fully prepared for the long list of questions: address, passport number, favourite cocktail, mother’s maiden name… Whatever they want of me, I’m ready. There’s a bit of trouble with my driving licence, which doesn’t appear to have a security code, but eventually I find five acceptable digits. Away we go.
The BiC app—like its counterparts, I assume—supplies a map of your city, with little images of scooters and their official parking points dotted across the urban area. It even shows the current battery charge of each vehicle on the radar. I head to the nearest, on via Toselli. Sure enough, there’s my steed, nestling between its bigger petrol-powered cousins. I press the ‘Start Rental’ button on the app and hold my camera over the QR code on the handlebars. The app confirms the charges: 38% battery power and €0.15 per minute of ride time. I can take breaks for €0.05/minute too. I press ‘Start Rental’ again and an automated voice spits out: ‘Noleggio avviato’.
The city council requires that all monopattino users wear helmets, so I’ve borrowed one from a cyclist friend. I feel like a bit of a goose, then, when I spend three minutes standing on the curb, helmet on head, unable to fathom how I take my noleggio further. There’s a promising ‘push and go’ switch on the right handlebar: I push it, but there’s no go. I stand blankly on the footplate, squeezing the brake pedals. Anyone spotting me from afar might not be able to see my face, but they know I look puzzled.
Then the eureka moment. My thumb clamped down on the mysterious lever, I push off from the curb and the scooter seizes on this ounce of momentum. It whirrs into life. I zip to the crossroads and I turn left: now I’m bearing down on Porta al Prato. I try to hug the curb without pranging myself on the parked cars, but most of the overtaking drivers give me a generous berth. It can really go some, this thing: the speedo touches 25 kmph. Thank God the brakes are good. But when I veer left onto viale Belfiore, it’s because I’m getting a new ride, as they say in the heist movies. Before I set off, the app had alerted me to a little squadron of BiC scooters parked right here, positively bursting with juice.
Writing this up, I feel a bit disloyal to my first monopattino. It served me well for our 1.04 kilometres together, and I hope it’s treated equally well by others. I soon learn that I never should have ditched it: my new wheels may be fully charged, but one of them scrapes against the rear mudguard at the slightest irregularity in the road. I stop to put in my earphones and drown out the abrasions with some Judas Priest. The aging Brummies riff me down past Montelupo bus station and back up again; I charge back along viale Belfiore and emerge on lungarno Vespucci, where crowds of Florentines are making light of arancione rules on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. I cruise down the pista ciclabile cycle lane, noticing every so often that I’m hunching forward. I straighten up and almost lean back, keen to convey a nonchalant sprezzatura. That’s an ambition short-lived, for when I turn up via della Vigna Nuova, the brakes come down like an anvil, and I quickly infer that I’ve entered the historic centre, where mobility scooters are limited to 6 kmph.
I take it back where I found it, snapping the requested photo of the parked vehicle. But I’ve got a taste for monopattinare, so much so that the next day I drive one all the way up via Senese. Even on this punishing incline, it doesn’t run out of puff. I hope it has enough left for those exciting blue bits on the app map, where BiC raise their top speed to fifty kilometres per hour. But once I’ve crested the hill, that voice clangs out again: ‘Sei in un’area non autorizzata.’ Hmm. Maybe real speed is reserved only for BiC’s motorini, which I saw yesterday when I was parking up. No, no, resist…
It’s probably a good thing that I don’t have a helmet of my own. If I did, I’d be taking these toys out every day.
This article was published in Issue 276 of The Florentine.