The Environmental Cost of Shared Scooters and eBikes

Cycling in the UK -

The Environmental Cost of Shared Scooters and eBikes

In a troubling new study published by Swiss researchers from the Institute for Transport Planning and Systems at ETH Zurich university has suggested that shared schemes for eBikes and scooters may emit more emissions than the journeys they replace.

While eBikes and scooters are dramatically better for the environment than private cars, it is the way that the shared schemes are being used that their benefits are diluted. 

Using data collected from Zurich, the researchers used GPS tracking and surveys to explore trends in shared transport use. What they found is that shared scooters and eBikes are more often used to replace more sustainable methods of transport, like walking, cycling and public transport, rather than more polluting forms of transport like cars and motorbikes, in effect emitting more carbon than the journeys they replace.

Interestingly, the picture is reversed in the case of privately-owned electric scooters and electric bikes, which do tend to be used on trips in lieu of cars. Nevertheless, the study is worrying as there is potential for it to be used as ammunition by the anti-cycling lobby to discredit micromobility and the benefits of these shared schemes.

In response to the study's findings, Cycling UK stated that the location and travel habits of these schemes has a large effect on the way that they are used. For example, in the US, e-scooters will replace car trips in automotive-dependent cities, whereas the opposite is true in European cities. The policy director of the charity, Roger Geffen, said that the all of this needs to be borne in mind when coming to implement micromobility 'including [its impact] on safety, congestion and air quality, as well as the climate - and hence deciding how to regulate [it].'

In the UK, where the government is currently supporting shared e-scooter trials across the country, there are plans to update the legislation private-use scooters at some point in 2022. In September we reported on a study that recommended this, suggesting that private ownership of e-scooters (and eBikes) would help to reduce car use, cut carbon emissions, and improve air quality in the capital.

That said, safe ridership of e-scooters is a point of contention, representing a danger to pedestrians and themselves when ridden irresponsibly. Therefore, the September report recommended that schemes are introduced to encourage safe riding, delivering micromobility training to new riders and giving the police the ability to enforce bans where unsafe riding persists. The report also recommends that all vehicles must meet minimum safety standards both at the point of sale and while being ridden, such as a maximum permitted speed and having lights to ensure they can be ridden safely alongside bicycles. As Geffen states, 'the Government needs to take great care in striking this balance, taking account of all the evidence.” 

A possible solution to this is to remove the current inconsistencies in schemes and more successfully integrate them with current public transport options, but whatever is decided, micromobility must play an essential role in the decarbonisation of transport, to encourage more people to move away from cars, leave behind congestion and pollution and embrace electric transport.

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