Electric scooters write a new chapter for low-carbon travel

How environmentally friendly are electric scooters? This question has been in circulation ever since scooter-sharing systems began gaining real momentum in 2017. It was even challenged last fall in a North Carolina State University study that measured the carbon footprint of scooters. Then COVID-19 hit, and cities across the globe have been forced to stop in their tracks and ask how they can safely, efficiently, and sustainably rethink their roads and reliance on cars. The topic of whether electric scooter adults benefit the environment has shifted to how these vehicles can best be used to uphold sustainable practices as short-term relief measures become more permanent. 

With more bike lanes and legislation opening micro mobility to the masses, there are more reasons than ever to understand how energy-efficient, two-wheeled vehicles are successfully helping to reduce our carbon footprint and increase access to greener transportation options. 

Reducing emissions

One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to travel emission-free. Because electric scooters are powered by a rechargeable battery, they have no emissions and will not require you to visit a gas station to fill up your tank! Riding an electric scooter won’t just reduce emissions by an insignificant amount; it will reduce carbon emissions drastically. According to the EPA, the average passenger vehicle emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Each year, millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide are produced by cars in the US alone. Even if you factor in manufacturing, maintenance, and other emissions produced from a vehicle’s lifecycle, a car has nearly 7x the carbon dioxide output when compared to a motorized scooter for adults. No wonder many people have already made the switch from a car to an electric scooter for their commute.

Compare gas powered vehicles to the zero emissions produced by operating an electric scooter, and there is an obvious winner.

Charging hubs

While scooters are benefiting the environment, groundbreaking tech is helping the vehicles themselves. Earlier this week, Bill Gates wrote about the tremendous importance of tech innovation and electric-powered alternatives if we’re ever going to achieve a zero-carbon footprint. Through software-enabled charging hubs (or docking stations), scooters are maintained and charged in one designated area rather than left scattered across city streets. These stations lessen the need for gig workers to drive around in carbon-heavy, diesel-powered trucks to collect scooters and rebalance/charge them. (Even under the dock less system, more and more companies are using e-cargo bikes to maintain swappable battery scooters.) Meanwhile, charging hubs help extend the life of a scooter by keeping them safe from vandalization and abduction, which in turn lowers production tolls on the environment. 

 How can we make sure to reduce our carbon footprint?

Are shared e-scooters good or bad for cities and the climate? Do they reduce congestion and pollution, or not? In figuring out which side of the argument to take, the public, cities, and the media often miss the broader point—the answer is largely up to us. 

Electric scooter adults are clearly a sustainable option in the urban transport mix and, by replacing car use as well as complementing public transport networks, they can contribute to the decarbonization of urban transport. Indeed, the ITF projects that active mobility, micro-mobility, and shared mobility need to take up close to 60% of the urban transport mix by 2050 to increase sustainability and resilience of the transport system.

We already see a significant share of riders using the service to replace car rides and for intermodal trips that connect with public transport options. The latest Citizen Research project by TEIR, where it was surveyed over 8,000 people across different cities, shows that on average 17.3% of their rides already replace car rides, with the share being as high as 22% in cities such as Berlin.

  Early on, the manufacturing of e-scooter devices has gotten a lot of heat. In less than two years, the shared e-scooter market graduated from using cheap personal-use e-scooters, to e-scooters optimized for sharing, with greater durability and efficiency. This is one of the fastest evolving transportation segments today and determining the overall environmental impact can be complicated. In the early days, shared e-scooters would break down after 1-2 months of use, which required frequent replacement and the associated problems of disposal. Recognizing this issue, operators quickly moved to motorized scooters for adults designed for the use and abuse of a shared system. While making e-scooters more durable can increase their individual manufacturing emissions (producing durable products often requires more material and energy), this is usually more than offset by the fact that better product durability enables longer lifetimes and more trips before disposal or recycling.

The environmental benefits of owning a scooter have become even more apparent during the COVID-19 crisis, during which we have seen a historic drop in carbon emissions due to lockdowns, travel restrictions, and work-from-home orders. Anxiety about taking public transit in major cities has led to majorly increased demand for electric scooters. 

The industry is rebounding from a “nuclear winter,” says Quemuel Arroyo, the global head of community at Charge, a company setting up public charging stations for e-scooters. Electric scooters are now seeing a “much higher demand than ever before,” and that demand is trending toward more convenient and eco-friendly private scooters, investors believe. The more people in urban areas adopt micro mobility solutions like privately-owned electric scooters, the better the news will be for the environment. 

There may be little doubt about the harmful effects of fossil fuel emissions on global temperatures. Governments and private industry need to do much more to lower emissions in the coming years. Especially, since we have a record breaking high of gas prices, thanks to the Russian/Ukraine war. Gas powered anything seem to be a thing of the past, and electric vehicle purchases are rising.  But there should also be little doubt that owning a fast, reliable, portable, and fun electric scooter for adults is one of the best ways individuals can lessen their environmental impact and make positive change for the world.