as a mild A spring evening fell west of Paris and I needed to cross town to my apartment about three kilometers away. The streets were crowded, so I was hesitant to take a taxi or take the subway because the weather was hot and the station was far away. So I rented a battery-powered scooter available on the street, cut through traffic, and was right at my front door. The tour was fun, not to mention affordable and fast. It’s also green, I guess: electric scooters don’t spew smoke, so it has to be, right?
The launch of a large number of shared electric scooters is based on this premise: don’t use gas-guzzling cars, but electric two-wheelers. Save the earth and time. Lime operates around the world, but primarily in Europe and North America, with the goal of “building a shared, affordable and carbon-free future for transportation”. Another operator, Bird, suggested that users could “reduce CO2– One ride at a time. “
But research shows that renting electric scooters doesn’t actually reduce carbon emissions in cities. It’s complicated, said Juan Mattute, associate director of the UCLA Transportation Institute. Electric scooter programs can be green in many cases, but it depends on how and where they operate, he said.
Love them or hate them, rental electric scooters have flooded the world’s biggest cities. In 2019, before the pandemic disrupted nearly all forms of transportation, an estimated 86 million Americans took shared e-scooters. Even in the coronavirus-hit 2020 — the most recent year for which data is available — people in the U.S., Canada and Mexico managed to make more than 25 million trips. You can find electric scooter rentals in hundreds of cities on both sides of the Atlantic, including Seattle, London, Rome, and Kyiv. They also landed in New York and, increasingly, in Asian cities.
Micromobility company Bird launched the first of these projects in September 2017 in Santa Monica, California. Other projects quickly followed with immediate success. But as the market has expanded, there has been little rigorous analysis of the environmental impact of these rental schemes. The carbon footprint of e-scooters is considered negligible, which helps companies raise huge investments. As of May 2019, 14 electric scooter companies were operating in 97 U.S. cities.
To assess the environmental impact of these programs, you must consider the emissions of an electric scooter over its entire life cycle: the production of materials and components for each scooter; the manufacturing process; transporting the scooter to wherever it will be used; the skateboard Collection, charging and redistribution of vehicles; and their disposal. Once you do, it paints a bleak picture.
Shared electric scooters produce 202 grams of carbon dioxide, according to a 2019 study in North Carolina, USA2 per passenger mile over its entire lifetime – more than electric mopeds (119 grams), e-bikes (40 grams), bicycles (8 grams), and even diesel buses (82 grams) if it has a high passenger capacity. Although the study found that e-scooters had lower carbon emissions than shared cars (415 grams), only 34 percent of the e-scooter trips analyzed replaced rides that would otherwise have been taken.
By comparison, nearly half of trips were by bike or on foot, and 11% by bus. Without electric scooters, 7% of trips would not have happened at all. Because the additional emissions from scooters outweigh any benefits from traveling without a car, the study concluded that e-scooter rental programs increase overall transportation emissions.
These findings were further corroborated by a 2020 study in Paris, which concluded that the city’s shared e-scooters added 13,000 metric tons of additional greenhouse gases to the city’s carbon footprint in a year, the equivalent of a The town’s total annual emissions. Likewise, e-scooter travel often replaces travel in low-emission modes of transportation.
Earlier this year, a study by Daniel Reck and Kay Axhausen of ETH Zurich in Switzerland concluded that, on average, shared e-scooters produce 51 more grams of carbon dioxide2 per kilometer than the means of transportation it is replacing. “The bottom line is that shared electric scooters are currently destroying the climate,” Lake said in an interview with the German newspaper time.
A lot of this comes down to bad design. In the early days of e-scooter rentals, the industry deployed slightly modified versions of models sold directly to consumers. Made in China by companies like Xiaomi and Segway-Ninebot, they are not prepared for the harsh environment of the sharing economy. Battery casings are often not even waterproof, so batteries can catch fire in wet locations, and there is no protection against vandalism and theft. Where scooters are a novelty, they are often destroyed. “The first round of vehicles wasn’t really designed for the industry,” said Scott Rushforth, Bird’s chief vehicle officer.
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