Nipping along the road on an E-Scooter sounds like a perfect way to get around which is touted as being easily-accessible, cheap and pollution-free. So, it should be a no-brainer, right? However, with some research now showing that rental E-Scooters haven’t reduced carbon emissions in cities, we look at whether they are as green an option as you may think.
2019 US research (Hollingsworth, Copeland, Johnson) showed that shared, dockless stand-up rental electric scooters produce 202 grams of CO2 per passenger mile over their lifecycle, which is actually more than an electric moped, electric bicycle, or a diesel bus!
A 2020 French study (Annede Bortoli, ZoiChristoforou) also showed that E-Scooter journeys were replacing lower-emitting forms of transport the point where they added 13,000 metric tons of additional greenhouse gases to the carbon footprint of Paris over a year (the same amount as a small town).
The causes of E-Scooter rentals in cities not cutting, but rather contributing to more carbon emissions identified in these research studies are:
– People taking E-Scooters journey where a lower-emitting form of transport would have sufficed. For examples, the US study found that only 34 percent of E-Scooter trips replaced a journey that would have been taken and 7 per cent of trips wouldn’t have happened without E-Scooters, thereby making them look even more like a cause rather than a solution for travel pollution. A 2022 Swiss study (Reck and Axhausen), confirmed this result by showing that a shared E-Scooter creates 51 more grams of CO2 per kilometre than the type of transport it is replacing.
– More carbon emissions being added by the collection and distribution distance of E-Scooter rentals (caused by their small batteries), using less efficient vehicles, and charging strategies that are too frequent.
– The poor design of some early E-Scooter imports, e.g. from some Chinese manufacturers, and their manufacturing emissions.
– Poor batteries and the environmental impact of lithium-ion battery replacement and disposal.
How To Make E-Scooters Greener
The conclusions from the many different research projects about E-Scooters suggest that measures to make E-Scooter rental in cities much greener could include:
– Delivering and collecting E-Scooters in electric vehicles and via optimised routes.
– Rental companies buying more robust and durable E-Scooters, e.g. from Segway-Ninebot or Okai, to increase their lifespan.
– Rental companies designing their own E-Scooters with a focus on shared use and longevity.
– Using swappable batteries with a greater capacity, thereby cutting down on the pollution caused by collection journeys.
– Putting rental E-Scooters in places where they are more likely to displace petrol and diesel cars, e.g. on the outskirts and not just the centre of cities and towns.
What Does This Mean For Your Organisation?
It surprising and disappointing that E-Scooter rental in cities is not reducing pollution. However, as shown by the US (North Carolina) study, more than 90 per cent of the carbon footprint of shared E-Scooters is down to manufacturing and operational emissions, e.g. having less efficient E-Scooters with small batteries and the need to make too many collection and delivery journeys. Rental companies buying better scooters, using swappable batteries with more capacity, and using electric vehicles for collection and distribution could all help make E-Scooter rental greener. Also, general green improvements in E-Scooter design and the design of many other types of vehicles in the coming years should have a more positive impact on the carbon footprint of cities.